The 7 Walking Wonders of Northern Ireland
Posted on May 28, 2013 @ 2:46 PM in
Photographs by founder of NI Walking Photography Group David Doyle
Northern Ireland may be a relatively small place however what it lacks in area it makes up for in variety. With so many diverse landscapes all under one roof we have put together a list of the most spectacular natural wonders and manmade structures of the Northern Irish countryside that every walker should experience first hand.
1. Mourne Mountains
The highest and most dramatic mountain range in Northern Ireland, the Mourne uplands are dominated by a compact ring of 12 mountains with many of the summits crowned by impressive granite tors. (However what makes these mountains truly special are the endless places to discover with little competition for space.) Criss-crossed by an unrivalled network of paths and tracks there are incredible opportunities to discover the variety of landscapes and habitats that can be encountered within such a confined geographical area. Everything from the rocky outcrops that can be found on several of the peaks, to upland heath habitat, wooded valleys and the agricultural planes of the lower Mournes, the entire Mournes Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is simply unique. **There are a whole range of Mourne mountain walks to choose from as well as a downloadable guide featuring itinerary suggestions and route descriptions available from WalkNI.
2. Rathlin Island
The most northerly inhabited island in Ireland, situated 10km off the North East coast, Rathlin’s wonder lies in the variety of birdlife that grace the shores of this remote and tranquil island. Just 8km east-west and 5.5km north-south it is home to tens of thousands of seabirds, including common guillemots, kittiwakes, puffins and razorbills as well as a world renowned RSPB centre making it a birdwatchers paradise. However as well as enjoying the comical antics of puffins and seals in spring and early summer from the cliffs, walkers can expect to be treated to some magnificent views including Donegal, the North Antrim coastline, the island of Islay and the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland.**There are 2 official walking trails on the island which is accessible by ferry throughout the year from Ballycastle meaning you can experience the island and its wildlife in any season.
3. Mourne Wall
The most distinctive feature of Northern Ireland’s highest mountain range this 22 mile (35.5km) stone wall, encloses 9000 acres of land. Originally built in an effort to keep cattle and sheep out of the water catchment area of the Silent Valley reservoir the wall spans over 9000ft of ascent, rising and falling over 15 of the highest peaks in the Mournes, including Slieve Donard. Built between 1904 and 1922, the Mourne Wall is a remarkable structural feat and frames some of finest mountain views in Ireland. **For a truly unique experience and to appreciate the 18 years of work that went into creating such an iconic part of the countryside walkers can take on the Mourne Wall Challenge a one day itinerary which provides a highly testing 22 mile route taking in 7 of the 10 highest mountains in the Mournes.
4. Silent Valley
Built to supply water to most of County Down and a large part of Belfast the Silent Valley Reservoir is both practical and stunning. Nestled in between the Mourne uplands walkers can expect this man made feat to live up to its name with a peaceful silence creating a sense of solitude. Built between1923 and 1933 by a workforce of over one thousand men the deep blue waters are contrasted against the heather, gorse and peat of the high Mournes enhancing the landscape.
5. North Coast
The North Coast and the Glens of Antrim are justifiably famous for the Giant’s Causeway, wonderful coastlines and unique natural beauty as well as countless myths and legends that accompany this historic part of the country. Comprising of 3 designated areas of outstanding natural beauty, nine glens, lush forest parks, secluded coastal tracks and numerous quaint fishing villages exploring the rugged coastline of the North on foot via the Causeway Coast Way is a must. **Details of the 33mile Causeway Coast Way route can be found on WalkNI as well as a downloadable North Coast & Glens of Antrim walking guide.
6. Glenariff Waterfalls
Glenariff, meaning ‘Queen of the Glens’, is widely regarded as the most beautiful and striking of the 9 Glens of Antrim. Penned by 19th Century English novelist William Thackeray as “a Switzerland in Miniature”, after visiting its waterfalls, rich woodland and steep, glacial escarpments it’s easy to see where he got his inspiration from. The crowning glory however has to be the impressive double-drop of the Ess-na-Larach Waterfall one of the many dramatic waterfalls that punctuates the deep sided gorge of the Glenariff Glen Nature Reserve. Not only do the waterfalls provide a spectacular site, they also provide a distinctive atmospheric noise to any walker who chooses to explore this stunning part of Northern Ireland. **There are 4 quality walks within Glenariff Forest Park including the Waterfalls Walk which takes in the famous Ess-na-Larach.
7. The Sperrins
The Sperrin Mountains, stretching along the border of counties Tyrone and Derry, can best be described as wild, untouched and beautiful. Spanning 40 miles, the mountain range is the largest in Ireland with 10 summits above 500m. Walkers can expect undulating hills covered in heather, quiet valleys, boggy uplands and a land teeming with wildlife. Add in over 90 sets of stone circles and the only commercially operated gold mine in the British Isles and the Sperrins are most definitely a walking wonder.
About the Photographer:
David Doyle had an interest in photography for around 20 years; however only started becoming more serious about photography when he took up walking (about 5-6 years ago) and soon discovered he had an eye for landscape photography. As a member of several walking groups one of the problems he found was that he didn't get enough time to stop to take photographs, so in August 2010 he started the NI Walking Photography Group on facebook especially for people who enjoy walking and photography. Today the group has over 200 members which comprises of photographers and walkers of all ages. For more information visit http://www.facebook.com/groups/niwpg/