Chris Armstrong Mountain Bike Officer
Chris looks after all things mountain biking in Northern Ireland ...it's a tough job but someone's gotta do it!
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OutdoorNI.com Does… Bouldering in the Mourne Mountains is the latest in our regular blog feature ‘OutdoorNI.com does…’ which is our opportunity to showcase the exciting outdoor activities on offer across Northern Ireland.
The Mourne Mountains are well known for being the highest and most dramatic range of mountains in Northern Ireland. They are popular amongst hill-walkers for an unrivalled network or paths and tracks allowing endless exploration and views that would easily rival any others in the UK and Ireland.
That being said, walking is not the only activity available in this spectacular corner of County Down. This summer, OutdoorNI’s Chris Armstrong took some friends along to meet up with Craig McCullough from Outdoor Concepts to literally ‘test the waters’ Bouldering - the adventure activity everyone seems to be talking about.
“Just walk to the edge of this drop and relax; close your eyes and let yourself fall back.”
These were the reassuring words Craig soothed me with as he coaxed me over to the edge of the rocks with the gushing white water of the Bloody Bridge River swirling below. After a minute or so I gathered myself, reluctantly loosened my grip around Craig’s shoulders and dropped into the icy-cold river in a fashion that can only be described as ‘grace-less’.
Thankfully I resurfaced and after a few short, sharp breaths and a distinct feeling of numbness, my efforts were soon focussed on maintaining a ‘doggy-paddle’ type swimming stroke to try and regain some feeling on warmth in my toes.
I was soon saved by adrenaline and the welcome distraction of my mates quivering high above me. There is something strangely warming about watching five fully grown men becoming less and less confident about their ‘macho-ness’ as they near closer to the front of the queue for the drop!
Donned in full wetsuits, buoyancy aids and helmets all of the group eventually plucked up the courage to plunge into the deep waters beneath Bloody Bridge and we started making our way up stream following our intrepid guide who was reassuringly armed with his trusty ‘Baywatch style’ safety float and rope.
Needless to say the banter was soon flowing as fast as the river we were traipsing through and our group began to work as a team, giving each other a helping hand; supporting them as they took on tough sections of the river and hurling abuse at them when they lost grip and crashed into the water.
All the time Craig kept a watchful eye over us and managed our ever growing egoes, setting us trickier more technical tasks throughout the session. Following Craig’s lead, we scaled waterfalls, climbed through tight rock passages and built a human damn which ended up nearly sweeping us all away down stream.
After a further hour packed full of leaps, crashes, splashes and laughs we finally pulled ourselves out of the water about 500 metres upstream and made our way back down to the Bloody Bridge car park recounting stories of spectacular falls and embarrassing slips.
There’s no doubt that the river was cold as we first hit the water but our minds were soon preoccupied, focussing on the next challenging climb or scramble that lay ahead. Honestly, the cold seemed to fade into insignificance.
Our bouldering session was specifically for adults however Outdoor Concepts also cater for families and groups of young people who want to have a go at this exciting new adventure activity. As one of those adventure activities to tick off the list, I couldn’t recommend it enough!
Outdoor Concepts (NI) Ltd
+44 (0)28 9753 1343
From £18 per person for a 2 hour session.
This activity is perfect for a group of mates, ideal for that Hen and Stag do’s adevnture however there are also family friendly sessions available for kids aged 8 years and up.
So true. Hosetny and everything recognized. Read more >
The end of the school year is almost upon us, whilst the thought of a nine week holiday is paradise for kids it is quite often a nightmare for parents.
The perennial question is - How are we going to keep the kids amused for that long?
To help provide some answers OutdoorNI.com has put together this guide to the top outdoor activity summer schemes available in Northern Ireland during July and August.
Summer schemes provide kids with a great way to meet new friends, learn something new and have fun. Most importantly it gets them out of the house and into the outdoors whilst under the supervision of qualified instructors. Book early to beat the rush.
Summer Camp - East Coast Adventure Centre, Rostrevor & Warrenpoint
With a wide range of activities available utilizing the best of the Mournes and Carlingford Lough, East Coast Adventure Centre cater for all ages from ‘Little Indians’, 8-10 years of age to ‘Youth Camps’ for 14-16 year olds. The summer camps (both residential and non residential) run from Monday to Friday every week during the summer.
Summer Camp – Greenhill YMCA – Newcastle
If you are aged between 6-11 Years old then why not sign up for the Junior Adventure Camp for Kids (JACK). If you’re between the ages of 12-14 and looking for a more challenging adventure then Senior Adventure Camp (SAC) is most definitely for you. The summer camps (non residential) run from Monday to Friday every week during July.
Delamont Summer Scheme – Action Outdoors, Delamont Country Park, Killyleagh
Offering 5 activities in 5 days, Action Outdoors are squeezing as much fun as possible into a week, with at least one activity every day, including canoeing, archery, climbing, grass sledging, kayaking, orienteering and team games. Suitable for kids aged 6-13, the summer scheme offers half day sessions from Monday to Friday on 18th-22nd July, 8th – 12th August and 22nd – 26th August.
Extreme Teens Summer Scheme – Action Outdoors, Delamont Country Park, Killyleagh
For adventurous teenagers Action Outdoors is offering 3 days of adrenaline packed activities including Kayaking and Pier Jumping, Climbing and Coasteering. This scheme runs in the mornings from Wednesday to Friday on 6th – 8th July and 17th – 19th August.
Sailing, Kayaking and Windsurfing – Share Holiday Village, Lisnaskea
Now in its ninth year the Share Holiday Village continues to offering a range of courses in sailing, canoeing / kayaking and windsurfing meaning kids not only have great fun but also receive a recognised qualification at the end. There are courses running from Monday – Friday every week during the summer for kids aged 10 years and up.
Summer Adventure Camp – Share Holiday Village, Lisnaskea
The multi activity residential summer camp is split into two age groups. Junior Camp (10-14 year olds) and Bushwacker Camp (15-18 year olds). Both offer 24 hour supervision, 3 activities per day, food and accommodation. The Bushwacker Camp include 4 nights wilderness camping on Lough Erne’s islands.
Corralea Summer Scheme - Corralea Activity Centre, Lough MacNean, Belcoo
Kids aged between 9-15 can try out Ireland’s only waterpark, climbing, mountain biking, canoeing and much more. The scheme offer full activity days from Monday – Wednesday on 18th – 20th July, 25th-27th July and 8th – 10th August.
Kids Camp - Alive Surf School, West Strand Portrush
Alive Surf School’s Kid Camps run Monday – Thursday every week during the summer holidays. Kids from 5-18 can have an individual lesson or come each day. Parents can come surfing too and join the fun, watch from the beach or go for a well-deserved coffee.
Summer Scheme – Xplore Outdoors, East Strand Portrush
With an action packed three day programme Xplore Outdoors offer rock climbing, abseiling, canoeing, bush craft, kayaking, coasteering, archery, body boarding, team games. The scheme runs for 7 -17 year olds Monday – Wednesday on 11th – 13th July, 15th -17th August and 22nd – 24th August.
Mobile Team Adventure – Shaw’s Bridge, Belfast
Mobile Team Adventure will be running four weeks of canoeing and multi activities including archery, orienteering, assault course and gorge walking.. Activities will be organised in two age groups 7 – 11 years and 12 – 16 years. The scheme runs Monday 25th – Friday 29th July 2010, 1st – 5th, 8th – 13th and 15th – 19th August.
Ballyholme Yacht Club – Bangor, Co Down
Ballyholme Yacht Club will be offering courses through out the summer giving kids of all ages the perfect opportunity to master sailing on Belfast Lough. Courses are split by age group with courses available for Small Sailors (3-7 years old) and Children and Teen (8 years +)
Hi ML, Thanks for your enquiry. This is an old blog post from 2011, a new one for 2015 will be uploaded in due course once the summer schemes for the summer have been confirmed by activity ... Read more >
On the windiest day of 2011 so far, I found myself battling head winds to cross Slieve Beagh, following part of the route that has been included in the revised Ulster Way. This was part of my sabbatical walk around Northern Ireland to raise money for marine conservation www.lovenaturewalkni.org.uk.
The sea wasn’t foremost in my mind as I started up minor lanes from the County Monaghan side of the hills. An excellent map produced by several local community groups identifies this as an ‘ancient walk’ from the townland of Knockballyroney. The promise of summer was there in the budding meadowsweet and flowering ragged robin below the whin and hawthorn hedges.
The track wound higher, passing a couple of dog walkers, until I picked up the main Slieve Beagh way above Rock Bridge and was alone on the moor. The vast barren expanse resembled an extra-terrestrial film set, a moonscape after the fire damage that wreaked havoc on so many upland areas this spring.
Up here the wind was not just blowing a gale, it was a relentless force into which I had to walk, tilted like a drunken sailor fresh on shore leave. I nearly tripped over my own feet when a crosswind blew one leg across the other, but exhilarating nevertheless!
During a brief respite behind some willows I heard a cuckoo above the wind...actually quite close. And there he was! He perched beautifully for me, so I could see his handsome barred belly and striking resemblance to a bird of prey. It was a treat for this otherwise empty landscape, only the lone meadow pipit valiantly attempting to fly but rarely exceeding a couple of metres off the ground. And then, in the corner of my eye, was that flash of white gone to ground in one remaining patch of heather a male hen harrier? I could almost convince myself - from memory that was a regular nest area, and surely if it was a piece of peat plastic it would blow on where I could see it? But further scrutiny shed no light - maybe I was imagining things, the mind's eye unravelling in the wind. Still as I write that suspicion lurks, but I decide I can't count that as a verified sighting.
Health & safety risk assessments are just fine as long as you remember to list all likely hazards. I have to say falling trees didn't occur to me when I was planning the walk. Only when there was a gunshot crack and a tree toppled in my direction (thankfully 100m or so away) did the penny drop! So much for getting out for the wind into the peace of the forest, the wind just a rustle (well, perhaps that undersells it) in the treetops. Now I had to run the gauntlet of some decidedly dangerous looking conifers at leaning tower of Pisa angles. I stayed at the edge of the forest ride away from the trees likely to fall, hoping there was a good chance they'd hang in their opposite counterparts and there'd be room for me underneath. I pulled up my hood, as if that would make much difference if a tree landed on me! When I had to exit the forest I waited for a lull before risking departure and half-ran, feeling a bit embarrassed, out into the open. So much for listening out for siskins and crossbills - they may have been there but my brain was otherwise engaged.
Downhill I went to Mullaghfad church, past enticingly labelled 'waterfalls' on the map (not found) and ruined cottages collapsed to heaps of stone. These hills have seen wild times: wolves once, recalled in place names. Shane Bearnagh, nobleman turned rustler on dispossession of his lands, who was beheaded and whose wife and children drowned themselves (and maybe treasure) to avoid a similar fate. This and more was presented on information boards at key access points along the way.
Slieve Beagh can be beautiful as well as wild. As I finished at Jenkin Lough the sun emerged and shone glittering across the sapphire blue water. I was impressed with the well-maintained walking trail, a cross-border effort to promote tourism here. The RSPB has produced a management plan for the area, commissioned by community groups and in conjunction with statutory bodies in both countries. I hope it comes to fruition and that problems of upland degradation, uncontrolled burning and waste become a thing of the past. Then group water schemes will be sustainable for residents, private well-managed peat cutting will benefit local people, and there will be habitat for curlew, hen harrier and human to enjoy. I definitely recommend a visit!
Well written article,walked the sliabh beagh way over the weekend & it's truly a wild area,seen wild grouse,a magical walk which was 47 miles in total as we took the bad weather loop. Read more >
The last few years have seen an explosion of great ‘challenge’ events taking place in Northern Ireland’s outdoors. There are so many that OutdoorNI.com now has its own ‘Take on the challenge’ section.
At latest count there are over 25 events happening between now and the middle of October, so whether you are looking for cycling sportive, off road running race, a charity walking challenge event then you’ll be spoilt for choice.
To make things a little easier the OutdoorNI.com team has picked their favourites so you can choose what fits the bill and get training.
A cycling sportive is a long distance, organised, mass-participation cycling event, it could be said they are a close relation to a running marathon were participants battle against the clock and themselves rather than fighting for podium places. Our sister website CycleNI.com has its very own cycling sportive section
Cyclists have the choice of 3 routes (57km; 126km; 182km). The short route is great for those looking for a leisurely day out, whilst the medium and long routes include some killer climbs for those looking for the ultimate challenge. The promotional video says it all!
Off Road Running
Although these off road running events are competitive you’ll find that there are also a great number of folk there to simply to complete the challenge with the emphasis on having fun, trying something new and meeting like-minded adventurous people along the way. These events are certainly not for the faint hearted or the under prepared which only makes them even more rewarding.
The craziest event of all is the Todds Leap Norn Iron Challenge over a variety of off road tracks, roads and grass with a series of obstacles, ditches, water "hazards" and mud pits thrown in for good measure. Solo competitors compete over 25k whilst teams of 5 can run 5k each.
Pitched as probably the most scenic marathon in Europe the Causeway Coast Marathon passes through magnificent coastline scenery with fine views of wide bays, sandy beaches and dramatic cliffs. There is also an Ultra Marathon 52 miles (for the uber fit), half marathon and 10k run. Check out the promotional video for some further inspiration.
There is a real plethora of charity hill walking events to choose from, these allow you explore the countryside whilst also raising money for a good cause.
The Oxfam Trailtrekker Challenge is by far the biggest undertaking. Teams of four will take on a 50km or 100km route, starting in Donard Park, Co. Down and finishing in Carlingford, Co. Louth taking on varied terrain through the Mourne mountains and the Cooley Peninsula.
For a solo challenge the NSPCC Mournes Challenge Hack is a challenging 20 mile walk through the heart of the Mourne Mountains.
Remember these are only our favourites, be sure to check out OutdoorNI.com’s Take on the Challenge section to select your Everest!!
Aren’t Dad’s great!!
Over the years they have combined the role of taxi driver, pocket money dispenser, boy friend / girl friend assessor and generally kept you on the straight and narrow!!
So Fathers’ Day on Sunday 19th June gives the perfect opportunity to say thanks. Whether you’re buying a present for your Dad; or a Mum looking for a great day out with the whole family then you need look no further than Northern Ireland’s outdoors.
Whilst commodities have a limited life span, experiences last forever so forget the box of chocolates, bottle of wine, new shirt - get outside and have some fun.
There are loads of great activity events on throughout Northern Ireland but here are some of our top tips:
Coasteering for Families – The Adventure Team, Ballintoy, Co Antrim
£30 per adult and get a child's place free! Additional children only £10 each!
If you are after a buzz with plenty of laughter, water and splashes then this is definitely for you. Experience body-surfing waves, scrambling along rocks and exhilarating jumps into the sea.
ON TARGET for families – Clearsky Adventure Centre, Castle Ward, Downpatrick, Co Down
£29 under 18s, £35 adult
Try your aim! A special Fathers' day afternoon of Archery and Laser Clay Pigeon Shooting. A perfect opportunity to try your chances in these two exciting activities.
Dads, Daughters and Dudes Day – Tollymore National Outdoor Centre, Bryansford, Co Down
£15 per person for one session / £25 for high ropes and climbing wall sessions
Why not take your Dad to Tollymore National Outdoor Centre for a real treat for Fathers’ Day with some High Ropes and Climbing Wall adventures? Challenge yourself (and your Dad) at 40 feet above the ground on our High Ropes Course and scale new heights at the Hotrock Climbing Wall.
Fathers’ Day at Todds Leap – Todds Leap, Ballygawley, Co Tyrone
Adults £50/Children £40. Age restrictions apply.
Special FAMILY DRIVE PACKAGE is available to book if you wish to bring the whole family along on the day. Everyone including the kids can try offroad driving and another adventure such as archery, bodyzorbing or zipline.
Strangford Sea Safari – Fathers’ Day Special, Strangford, Co Down
£15 per adult or £12 per child
An extra special Fathers' Day treat! Come along to experience a fantastic RIB trips. Highlights include Angus Rock Lighthouse, Seal Colonies at Cloghy Rocks Nature Reserve, great whirlpools at the famous ‘Routen Wheel’ and of course guaranteed exhilaration!
Lads and Dads Adventure Packages
£70 for Father & son – additional family members £15pp
Forget the games console! This FULL DAY of activities includes 5 amazing activities including kayaking, archery, orienteering, rock climbing and laser clay pigeon shooing.
Have a great Fathers’ Day.