Mark Taylor Editor-in-Chief
Mark writes for Bikes.org.uk on a wide range of cycling topics. Bikes.org.uk is a bike review site dedicated to all things to do with bikes, including mountain bikes, road bikes, bmx bikes and lots more.
Welcome to Northern Ireland's Outdoor Adventure Blog. This blog will keep readers up to speed with all things ‘adventure’ in Northern Ireland this year. The OutdoorNI team will be posting up new and exciting information on the best ways to get out and enjoy the Northern Irish countryside whilst industry professionals will be letting us into their tips of the trade in order to get the best from Northern Ireland’s ultimate activity playground!
This blog is packed full of useful information for everybody looking to take part in outdoor activities from the hardcore adrenaline junkie to those simply looking for some fun ideas for all the family.
This outdoor adventure blog will cover a range of land, water and air based activities such as caving, coasteering, hover crafting, zorbing, surfing, sky diving and many more. You can also find more activity specific information by visiting the other three blog sections on cycling, canoeing and walking.
May 13, 2013
May 13, 2013
May 7, 2013
April 29, 2013
April 23, 2013
Charity bike events are a great way to get involved with your local community, raise money for good causes and have fun too. I did my first charity bike ride several years ago and this year will be my seventh Wirral Bikeathon, a charity bike ride near Liverpool.
Truth be told, I didn't enter myself into the first one, it was my Wife. Before we had children, I used to cycle a lot but when they were young (we had twins) it was a never ending cycle of feeding, washing, cleaning, shopping and sleeping (me as well as the kids!). So there was never any time to go cycling and I gradually withdrew from any form of exercise. As a middle-aged man, this was bad news and the love-handles became a spare tyre of more tractor proportions than a bicycle.
Ever supportive, unbeknown to me, my Wife entered me into that first Bikeathon. Bit of a shock, and an even bigger one when I realised it was just six weeks away and I hadn't been on my bike for around five years. I needed a plan. Here's what I did.
I had just six weeks to prepare so I needed to get back on my bike and build up my fitness levels. At first I found it a little daunting but then I said to myself, I can walk a mile, so I must be able to cycle five. The first circuit of the Wirral Bikeathon is just 14 miles so all I had to do was a small amount of cycling in each of the six weeks and I'd be fine. In the first week I did one ride lasting 30 mins, that's it, nothing too strenuous there. The following week I increased this to 45 mins and 60 mins the week after, all of which were on the flat.
For those of you asking if you have to do any fitness training, you can just turn up on the day but with just a small amount of preparation, you'll enjoy the event so much more. My article on How to Prepare for a Charity Cycling Event gives advice on a wide range of topics and is well worth a read. The article looks at basic fitness training as well as what you should eat, drink and wear. In addition, it gives guidance on how to prepare your bike and what bike gear you'll need.
So having done three gentle rides, I wanted to step it up a little. My fourth ride was for 60 mins again but this time I included a gentle climb. The following week I did this again but added an extra climb, nothing too steep or difficult. Finally, the week before the actual event, I was feeling good so I did a 90 min ride and included a couple of small inclines.
The big day came and I was really excited but a little nervous if the truth be known. I got to the event early and was amazed at how many people were there, all as excited as me! It was such a buzz to be surrounded by one thousand (yes, a thousand) other cyclists. There were people aged from 8 to 80 (truly), people on road bikes, mountain bikes and several tandems. There was a real party atmosphere and everyone was clearly looking forward to setting off.
So off we went. The Wirral event is split into two circuits, both of 14 miles, but most do just the first one and this is what I had intended to do. However, by the time I'd finished the first circuit, I felt so good that I decided to complete the full 28 miles. And believe it or not, I could have kept going (but didn't). I was so proud of myself for having taken part and I enjoyed it so much, I've entered every year since.
So, as well as raising money for a great charity, cycling events like these are a way to motivate yourself into getting fit and having fun.
OutdoorNI’s Sarah Nelson spent a morning horse trekking at Sheans Horse Farm. Here’s how she got on…
Helping to fulfil the stereotypical view that all little girls love ponies I went to horse riding lessons as a child however those days are now long gone and apart from one brief hack many years ago I hadn’t been on a horse since. So with my visit to Sheans Horse Farm booked it was safe to say I was very much looking forward to quite literally getting back in the saddle. Situated just outside Armoy, Sheans Horse Farm is a riding school and trekking centre on the 400 acre McKinley family farm in the hills of North Antrim.
Not wanting to miss out, Beverley our seasoned horse riding pro from the office came along too. Beverley took up horse riding 4 years ago so was definitely more skilled than me however our differing abilities weren’t a problem as on arrival our instructor Maggie made sure to find out our individual capabilities and what we would feel comfortable doing.
While Beverley had come prepared with all the gear I was in need of being suited and booted up which thankfully wasn’t a problem as there was a big stock of riding boots and helmets available. After this it wasn’t long before Maggie introduced us to our chaperones for the morning; Archie and Phillip, our two very handsome…. horses! All tacked up and ready to go we wasted no time in getting started. Thankfully for 5 foot nothing people like me there were steps to easily mount the horses to help avoid any undignified clambering (that would be saved for the dismount!)
Having discussed our abilities at the start it was then time for Maggie to see how we were able to handle the horses which for me meant a trot around the sand school to refresh my memory. It was great to be able to build my confidence on the horse within the school before heading out on the trek.
Maggie and Shan then joined us on Pepsi and Trim, and explained what we would be doing before we headed off. I felt very confident on Archie and it didn’t take me long to realise he was my kind of horse - willing to do what I wanted when prompted but not willing to put any unnecessary extra effort in! Which meant he went at the perfect pace for me.
The trails started right from the stable yard so there was no need to go anywhere near a road as we began our off-road hack into the beautiful North Antrim Hills. With countryside stretching as far as the eye could see I could tell this was going to be a great experience. With nothing but the hooves to hear on the ground (and of course our occasional chatter) it was a very peaceful way to start our morning.
Although I would have been happy enough riding along with not a care in the world, Maggie really made it interesting for us by getting us to go up mounds and hills, learning to lean forward and back to help navigate the horse. We even travelled up through rivers with the horses drinking from the streams - I felt like I was on the set of Game of Thrones!
With green grass continuing for miles in the distance it really did feel like we were riding the horses in the perfect environment which was only emphasised further when we past the farms other horses frolicking freely in the fields before galloping past us on their way to be fed.
We continued up hill, walking and trotting before Beverley and Maggie went on ahead so they could have a go at cantering whilst Shan took me for a trot. The views were amazing the whole way up and seeing them from the height of the horse (plus the fact we didn’t have to walk uphill) made it even better! At the top, thanks to the sun splitting the skies we had stunning, uninterrupted views as far as Lough Foyle and the Sperrin mountains, Inishowen and even as far as Malin Head in Donegal. Evidence of the traditional hand turf cutting that takes place at the farm could also be seen at the top of the hill. After a lot of ‘ohhing’ and ‘ahhing’ at the views we began to make our way back down to the stable yard again having some fun trotting and cantering along the way. Before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye to our new four legged friends – however going by how much fun we both had I think it is safe to say we will be seeing them again!
Sheans Horse Farm
38 Coolkeeran Rd,
£25 for a 1 ½ hour trek
A quick word from the team at Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland
After the opening of 4 key trail centres in as many weeks, Northern Ireland now boasts over 100km of exhilerating mountain bike trails across 3 national trail centres in Davagh Forest, Castlewellan and Rostrevor which includes two simply epic downhill trails on the shores of Carlingford Lough. With 16km of cross-country trails across the regional centres of Blessingbourne Estate and the newly launched Barnett Demesne Trails we now also have the first and only official dirt jumps park in Ireland as well as a purpose-built MTB Skills Course at the Tollymore National Outdoor Centre.
With approximately 50,000 mountain bikers expected to use these brand new facilities in the first year alone, we are in a position to make the most of Northern Ireland's incredible natural landscape which has always been ideally suited for mountain biking. Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it?!
Needless to say, a lot of blood, sweat and tears have gone into these projects behind the scenes to indeed make this a reality! The fact is that these developments would never have been possible without strong partnerships from land owners, funders, councils, trail designers, consultants, contractors, local mountain bikers and the team at Outdoor Recreation NI. In truth, there are far too many people to mention individually here but they all can and should look back with a great deal of pride in what has been achieved.
Never content to rest on our laurels, we have now launched MountainBikeNI.com and are kick starting a marketing programme with official trail sponsors Chain Reaction Cycles, who themselves have been instrumental in the development of mountain biking in Northern Ireland over the last decade. Having this strong endorsement and marketing support from such a world renowned brand offers us an unparalleled opportunity to reach mountain bikers from far and wide and showcase what Northern Ireland has to offer!
Our team are also now working on a Phase II which will double the length of the trail network in Blessingbourne Estate (work starting June 2013) and are liaising with Omagh District Council re: potential developments in Gortin Glen Forest Park. Any future projects will be an outcome of Outdoor Recreation NI's Mountain Biking Strategy which is currently under development!
For now though, we are looking forward to a great summer ahead on Northern Ireland's very own network of MTB trails! Thank you to everyone for your ongoing support throughout the years - you know who you are!
Hi Don, Glenariff Forest Park is very much on our radar for mountain biking developments moving forward! We will be sure to keep you up to speed with progress in the coming months. Read more >
It’s not often everyone gets a long weekend away from work so make sure you make the most of the three day weekend by spending some quality time with the family or having a laugh with your mates in the great outdoors this May Bank Holiday Weekend.
Here is just some of what Northern Ireland’s great outdoors has to offer over the 4th-6th May 2013...
There are plenty of options when it comes to family activities happening in Northern Ireland over the bank holiday weekend, here are just a few of our favourites:
Bank Holiday Family Fun Day, Jungle NI, Moneymore, Co. Londonderry, 6th May
Enjoy some quality time with the family at the Jungle NI as they celebrate the bank holiday with an exciting array of adventure activities. From archery to karting, segways to climbing walls and body zorbs to llama trekking there are loads of activities happening from just £3pp and suitable for children as young as 5 years.
Surfing, Long Line Surf School, Benone Beach, Co. Londonderry, 4th-6th May
Join in on the fun on the Family Surfing Day on the 5th May or drop the kids off and let them have an adventure with children their own age on the Kids Surf Camp running from 4th-6th May. Created solely for families, the family surfing day is a great way to try something new together and with Long Line providing all equipment you won’t even have to worry about packing up the car simply head to the beach and get ready to have some fun! Alternatively leave the kids to have fun on the beach while you go away and relax for a couple of hours knowing they’re in safe hands on the kids surf camp - an experience the children will remember forever!
May Day Activity Shindig, Action Outdoors, Delamont Country Park, Co. Down, 6th May
Based in Delamont Country Park, on the edge of the stunning Strangford Lough, Action Outdoors is offering 5 great activities including canoeing, kayaking, climbing, archery and grass sledging. Can’t decide which one to do? At such great value you’ll be able to have a go at them all!
Strangford Sea Safari, Clearsky Adventure Centre, Strangford Lough, Co. Down, 5th May
Hop aboard Clearsky’s Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) for an exhilarating sightseeing boat tour of Strangford Lough. See the Angus Rocks Lighthouse, the SeaGen (world's first tidal turbine) and some of the many seals at Cloughy Rocks Nature Reserve. If you’re lucky you might even get to see a pod of porpoises or even a Basking Shark!
With loads of activities from hovercrafting to surfing and horse riding to kayaking being offered for discount prices Benone will be the place to be when it comes to adventure over the May Bank Holiday Weekend. Sessions will run in the morning and afternoon with a shuttle bus taking everyone from the hub at Benone Complex to a whole host of different adventures. Make sure to pack a picnic!
For the thrill seekers out there if you want to get your adrenaline pumping this May Bank Holiday then Northern Ireland is the place to be! Check out the events section for a full list of adventures, here are just a few to provide you with some inspiration:
If you want to get your heart racing then Teambuild Ireland can sort you out. They are hosting an action packed day with rock climbing and abseiling in the morning followed by a wet and wild coasteering session in the afternoon. Test your limits and over come your fears scaling new heights before jumping off the cliffs of the rugged north coast...and the best part is they are offering 20% off!
Guaranteed to be the most exciting sightseeing tour you will ever experience. Visit where the famous Titanic was built and discover its fascinating history all whilst gliding along on your very own Segway! The tour will visit all the key sites of the famous ship's history including the Titanic Dock and Pump House.
The long weekend is the perfect chance to try out the newly opened Barnett Demsene Mountain Bike Trails. With 3.4km green trail and a 3.9km blue trail with 3 red loop options (1.5km) there is something for everyone, from novices to experts, to try for free. If you’re feeling daring then you can pay a visit to Ireland’s first official dirt jumps park under the shadow of the Mary Peters Track.
Located approximately 6 miles north west of Cookstown, Davagh Forest offers gentle mountain biking and walking trails as well as an impressive 16km red trail with some rock slab drops you will never forget! Starting on wide forest roads, the green trail is the perfect way to get to know your mountain bike and get a feel for riding off-road trails in a forest environment whereas the exhilarating red trail offers heart-racing singletrack, berms, rock drops and extreme slab features for the more experienced to try.
Take to the largest body of fresh water in Ireland and have a go at canoeing. This session is aimed at those who want to try canoeing in a safe environment with qualified staff. No previous experience is necessary and all "the basics" will be taught as you go, making it perfect for trying something new over the May Bank Holiday Weekend.
Have a great May bank holiday weekend 2013!
With Spring finally in full swing, Conor McKInney from the Ulster Wildlife Trust has put together a fantastic blog on what everyone should be looking out for when it comes to wildlife this Spring....
Spring has finally arrived to Northern Ireland and the recent episodes of good weather have stimulated our resident wildlife into a flurry of activity. The term “spring” itself is deemed to have originated from the spikes of green shoots that appear in woodlands as our days begin to lengthen and I really can think of no better place to spend warm spring days than in some of the fine examples of woodland habitats that we have throughout Northern Ireland.
By now the early weather has awoken some of the earlier rising woodland butterflies who will be frantically chasing potential mates and seeking out food sources. The orange tip butterfly is one of our earliest risers and can be seen flitting between patches of bluebells and red campion, two of our most common woodland flowers. The speckled wood is another early riser and can often be seen feeding on honeydew, dandelion and cuckooflower. For such a delicate looking butterfly they are actually highly territorial and can often be seen perching in prominent sunlit perches where they will try to entice passing females or chase off rival males.
Photo Courtesy of Les Binns
Another alluring aspect of our woodland habitats is the sheer volume of bird call. At this time a lot of our species are busy singing their little hearts out to advertise themselves to potential suitors as well as establishing and defending territories, in short our woodlands are full of the sounds of avian sex and violence. Now is a particularly good time to start to learn to identify particular species by their calls as foliage cover is patchy at best. Among some of our best songsters is the little wren, which despite only weighing the same as a £1 coin can hammer out a song at 92 db – roughly equivalent to the noise from a passing lorry! Mainly the male wrens sing and interestingly each has several phrases in their repertoire that will change according to region, much like the change in local accents and sayings thoughout Northern Ireland.
Although any woodland is a pleasure at this time of the year there are a few that are real jewels in Northern Ireland’s crown. I am going to shamelessly plug 2 of Ulster Wildlife’s nature reserves at Straidkilly and Glenarm because of the importance of some of the flora and fauna there and the beauty of each site. Straidkilly in particular has some wonderful glades a little off the beaten track that host a phenomenal range of butterflies including the newly discovered cryptic wood white butterfly. Glenarm is one of only 2 different sites in Northern Ireland that has the stunning wood cranesbill, both sites also boast rarities such as toothwort, a rather fetching parasitic plant and of course the charismatic red squirrel which will be commonly seen ground feeding at this time of year as it enthusiastically tries to build up it’s fat stores. These sites also boast some of our common favourites such as wood anemone and bluebells which create sweeping blue and white carpets across the woodland floor.
Photo Courtesy of Adam Cormack
Another excellent woodland walk, and one close to my heart, is NIEA’s Ness Country Park just outside of L/Derry. Right now the wood is alive with birdsong from our migrants such as willow warblers, black caps and chiff chaffs as well as our resident tits and thrushes, it is also a great spot to see the dipper dutifully bobbing away. Outside the allure of our songbirds it is also a great place to spot signs of secretive otters who leave regular signs along the banks of the Burntollet river. These include flattened bank-side vegetation that marks their regular haul out areas as well as scat in prominent areas that otters use to mark their territory. Badgers will also leave signs of excavation as they vigourously clear out communal setts after a period of relative inactivity over the winter. During the months of April and May badgers will also be introducing starry eyed cubs to their new woodland homes so secretive dusk watches can often herald remarkable sights of badger cubs playing and badger clans snuffling. Among the frantic match-making going on occurring between our “birds and bees” it is probably worth while mentioning that the Ness waterfall is believed to be the highest in Northern Ireland and has also been voted as one of the most romantic places in Britain, so why not take a picnic and join in the with the spring romanticising, it is well worth the trip.
Visit WalkNI.com for route descriptions, maps, transport and facility information for over 230 quality walks including the ones mentioned above.