Posted on July 27, 2015 @ 4:21 PM in
With Game of Thrones fans literally traveling from all four corners of the globe to visit Northern Ireland's iconic 'Westeros' locations, we thought it was about time we sent our very own Game of Thrones fanatic, Sarah Nelson (OutdoorNI.com) to follow in the footsteps of Sean Bean, Peter Dinklage and Alfie Allen to check out the Castle Ward Trails on the shores of Strangford Lough - the place where 'Winterfell' was first brought to life!
On the main drive into the National Trust's Castle Ward Demesne, it didn’t take me long to see why this stunning 820 acre site was chosen as the setting for HBO's multi award-winning TV phenomenon. With wide open fields dotted with ancient buildings and the remains of a medieval castle on the horizon it doesn’t take much imagination to transport you into a mystical world of myth and adventure.
Much to my amazement, I was thrown right back into Season One just from picking up my bike hire! Clearsky Adventure Centre is located in the actual courtyard where young Bran Stark was first trained by Jon Snow under the watchful eye of his father and Clearsky's own resident archer, Eddie Hawkins, was on hand to re-enact this famous scene for me!
Before I set off, I couldn't pass up on the opportunity to unleash my own dark side and don the 'Hounds Helm' headpiece ...any casting directors reading? Who am I kidding, you couldn't afford me!
Conscious that the boys from MountainBikeNI.com had sent me to check out the Castle Ward Trails and I still hadn't actually left the courtyard, I mounted my trusty steed for the afternoon (VITUS Bikes) and set off in search of some more iconic Game of Thrones filming locations.
Following the Castle Trail, I rounded Castle Ward's most northerly headland overlooking the picturesque Strangford Lough which Game of Thrones makers turned into the impressive 'Twins’ over the River Trident. Check out the video below to see this incredible transformation in action!
As we passed under Audley's Castle (home to Walder Frey's late raven), I continued onto the Boundary Trail which leads past the site of Lannister Camp before reaching Castle Ward's Mallard Plantation. Back to reality, this is a great section of fast singletrack and was probably my favourite part of the trail centre - certainly worth the long steady grind of a climb to get there!
However with dusk descending I realised that, as much as I enjoyed visiting Winterfell, I didn't fancy spending the night on Baelor Battlefield so I followed Downpatrick Avenue safely back to the trailhead.
All together I worked out that I rode just under 6km of the Castle Ward Trails and clocked at least eight Game of Thrones set locations. That's one Game of Thrones scene every 0.75km!! Now how many other mountain bike trail centres can claim that?!
Posted on July 23, 2015 @ 10:37 AM in
From the stunning coastline of the North Coast, to the famous Lakelands of Fermanagh, beautiful beaches, sunsets and stargazing there are endless possibilities for adventure in Northern Ireland this summer.
Put your trust in each other and do something crazy together, here are our top 5 active summer short breaks that are sure to inject some excitement into your life and leave you feeling reenergised.
Tucked away in the stunning 820 acre demesne Castle Ward in Strangford, Co. Down is home to four eco friendly continental camping pods.
Just outside your doorstop you will have over 12km of off road cycling and walking trails to explore based on the stunning shores of Strangford Lough. Take advantage of onsite activity provider Clearsky Adventure Centre’s package which includes a night glamping with bike hire and archery or canoe hire so you can explore the trails including some of the filming locations for hit series Game of Thrones. If you really want to recreate the magic then have a go at their Game of Thrones archery experience in the Winterfell courtyard.
The next day why not hop aboard the high speed Strangford Sea Safari? Watch your knuckles go white as the RIB takes you to shipwrecks, whirlpools and sea colonies to view Strangford Lough from a whole new angle.
Fermanagh Lakeland Escape
Fermanagh is famous for its Lakelands so there is no better way to explore it than by boat. Enjoy a trip on the Lower Lough Erne with boat hire from Manor House Marine. Explore some of the finest castles, gardens and heritage sites, do a bit of fishing or alternatively sit back, relax and take in the splendid scenery anchored up in your peaceful surroundings.
Make a weekend of it and head to Blessingbourne, a private estate in the picturesque Clogher Valley in Fivemiletown just a 40 minute drive away. With a range of self catering options from the 3* appartments in the courtyard to the 5* gatelodge a good nights sleep is guarantteed before heading out to explore the mountain bike trails.
Explore the North Coast
Northern Ireland’s most spectacular coastline is bursting with fantastic activities for you to enjoy together. Book a session with Troggs Surf School, Portrush and catch a wave together during a surf lesson. Alternatively if you want something a bit more chilled out then skip the waves and try out a spot of stand up paddle boarding. After an active day at the beach check in for the night at the Shola Coach House B&B. Enjoy the sunset after dining at the Ramore Wine Bar renowned for its fantastic tasting food and lively atmosphere.
The next day pay a different sort of visit to Carrick A Rede Rope Bridge. You may have already crossed the famous landmark but have you ever been underneath it? With Simply Sea Kayak you can explore the North Coast by kayak.
Glamp it Up
Home to Northern Ireland’s only tree top adventure course, play Tarzan and Jane at The Jungle NI as you swing from the trees. Or why not take a tumble together with some extreme downhill zorbing?! You can also enjoy a spot of clay pigeon shooting or have a blast round the forest on a Segway.
With so much happening onsite it makes sense to stay put and with the Jungles quirky glamping pods you can do just that. Relax in the splendor of the great outdoors and get toasting those marshmallows in your very own outdoor patio equipped with a camp fire and picnic benches before unwinding in their outdoor hot tubs!
Majestic Mountain Break
When it comes to an outdoor adventure break the Mourne Mountains have it all; fabulous mountain walks, beautiful beaches and enchanting forests. Take a trip to Castlwellan forest park where you can create your own adventure with bike or canoe hire from Life Adventure Centre. Hire a canoe and head out on the lake or get down and dirty on the mountain bike trails.
Just a 7 minute drive to Newcastle indulge in a spot of luxury at the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa or for something a bit out of the ordinary relax and unwind at the soak seaweed baths.
We all know food is the way to anyone’s heart so the next day why not head out on the Mourne foods cycle trail? A self guided food tour by bike with the Mourne Mountains as your backdrop you’ll get to experience the wonderful artisan food and spectacular scenery of the area.
Posted on July 22, 2015 @ 11:51 AM in
Northern Ireland’s countryside is absolutely bursting with history and legacy. To highlight some of the many interesting places you can explore on foot we’ve put together a list of wonderful walks with colourful histories. Get ready to walk in the footsteps of giants, saints, heroes and chieftains:
Starting and finishing at Gortin Glen Forest Park approximately 6 miles North of Omagh, this 9 mile circular walk will take you through the heart of some of Ulster's most spectacular countryside so you can enjoy the relaxing pace of life away from the city. An excellent off-road hill walk opening up views of the Bluestack and High Sperrin Mountain ranges. Robbers Table marks a refuge near the top of Ballynatubbrit Mountain from which a local ‘Rapparee' (bandit) caused havoc along the carriageways a few centuries ago. On clear days the Donegal and high Sperrin mountains can be seen in all their majesty, while the unspoilt plain of Omagh lies to the south
Altnagowna or the Grey Mare's Tail as it is better known is one of the tallest and most spectacular waterfalls in Glenariff. Legend has it that Ossian, warrior/poet son of the giant Finn McCool was trying to outrun a large band of Vikings who chased him into picturesque Glenariff Forest. As they closed in, Ossian decided to climb down a steep gully. About to plunge to his death, he suddenly grabbed a mysterious grey, rope-like column and climbed to safety. On reaching the top he saw a white horse grazing and realised it was her tail. He thanked the horse and asked for help at which point she turned into a mountain mist, fell to the ground as water, and washed away the pursuing Norsemen. Today you can visit this and other spectacular falls along the waymarked Waterfall Walk within the forest park.
Roe Valley Country Park runs for approx. 3.5 miles either side of the River Roe offering a variety of riverside and woodland walks. Found in the park, picturesque Largy Bridge is the very location where the legendary 'leap of the dog' took place, giving Limavady its name which is derived from the Irish meaning “Leim an Mhadaidh” (Leap of the Dog). Originally located on the site of Roe Valley Country Park it was from O’Cahans’ castle where the O’Cahan clan ruled Limavady until the 17th century. On one occasion, when under siege by their enemies, the O’Donnell clan from Country Donegal, the O’Cahans sent for reinforcements across the River Roe via a faithful wolfhound who leapt across the swirling currents of the river to deliver the message. The O’Cahans’ stronghold was secured and their influence continued to thrive until the 17th century.
The most dramatic mountain pass in the Mournes, Hare's Gap once marked the exit point for smuggled goods which had crossed the hills from the coast along the Brandy Pad during the 18th and 19th centuries. A track created by the boots of smugglers and the hooves of heavily laden ponies, illicit cargoes of tobacco, wine, spirits, leather, silk and spices would be spirited through the mountains from the east coast to be distributed inland. Nowadays, the Gap's easily reached central location on the rim of the High Mournes makes it the perfect starting point for routes scaling adjoining peaks, or simply for a walk along the gentle contours of the aptly named Brandy Pad.
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. With 6 different walks providing just under 20 miles of walking on the island there is plenty to explore. There are many tales of myth and mystery surrounding Rathlin, the most famous tells of Robert the Bruce. In 1306, the Scottish King was driven from Scotland by Edward I of England and took refuge on Rathlin. While he was on Rathlin, it is said that he watched a spider persevering again and again to bridge a gap with its web. Eventually it succeeded. Robert the Bruce took heart from the spider’s efforts, raised fresh forces and returned to Scotland to fight for his kingdom. He too, eventually succeeded and in 1314, regained the crown of Scotland.
Beginning at the newly renovated Bloody Bridge car park this route follows the Bloody Bridge River to the Mourne Wall and onto the summit of Slieve Donard (853m) the highest mountain in Northern Ireland. Once you’ve reached the top you’ll be greeted by a small stone tower as well as the remains of two prehistoric burial cairns. Originally named after the mythical figures Boirche and Slángha it was later associated with, and named after, Saint Donard who made the summit his hermitage. Up until the 1830s, people would climb the mountain as part of a yearly pilgrimage, which may have originally been a Lughnasadh ritual.
Slemish Mountain rises 1500 feet (437 metres) dramatically above the rural plains to the east of Ballymena. The central core of an extinct volcano, this breathtaking monolith dominates the local landscape however its value as a heritage site is entirely bound up with its association with Saint Patrick. Legend tells that Saint Patrick was captured and brought to Slemish to work as a shepherd under a man named Miluic for around six years. After his escape, many believe that Patrick planned his now famous journey back to Ireland to convert his old master and one of Patrick’s churches is thought to be at the site of the nearby Skerry Churchyard. Nowadays, the short walk up Slemish is a popular pilgrimage and offers spectacular panoramic views west to the Bann Valley, north to the Glens of Antrim and east to the distant coast of Scotland.
Beginning at Gortmore Viewpoint both walks take place along the cliff top overlooking Benone Beach, Lough Foyle and the Inishowen Peninsula in Co. Donegal providing stunning panoramas of the surrounding coastline and countryside. Be sure to look out for four life-size sculptures, highlighting the myths and legends of the Roe Valley’s rich cultural heritage.
Posted on July 20, 2015 @ 4:39 PM in
What's your idea of a really great day out?! At OutdoorNI.com we are always on the look our for action packed activities on offer across Northern Ireland to help you plan "the best day out ever"! Whether you're in search of ideas for a hen, stag or birthday party or looking to make the most of a day off with your mates.
Our journey from Belfast began early on a sunny Friday morning as we jumped into the car to head down the M1 towards Todds Leap Activity Centre in Ballygawley, Co. Tyrone just over an hour’s drive from Belfast City Centre. We arrived to a warm welcome, delicious scones and a cup of tea the ideal fuel ahead of our action packed day of activities. It was here we met with our first instructor who gave us the rundown of what activities we would be having a go at during our day onsite.
First up was clay pigeon shooting an activity I can’t say I’ve had much experience of! The firing range looked out across the valley over a small forest of trees to give a brilliant setting and feeling of a real country shoot! Here our instructor talked us through the safety and how tos of handling the gun. Having made it sound easy enough I was quick to hit my first clay on my practice shot before a bit of competitive fun began. With two points up for grabs for those who hit the clay with their first shot and one point for hitting it with the second I quickly realised my first successful shot was more a case of beginners luck...even with some top tips throughout the session from Todds Leap's resident clay pigeon shooting expert.
At the end of the session we were met by another instructor who directed us uphill past the assault course and log cabin accommodation towards the ‘Giant Swing’ which we had been told was just like our old playground favourite (but bigger! much bigger!). Climbing into our harnesses and dividing into groups of 3 we cautiously made our way over to the instructors to be clipped into the swing. The floor soon moved away from our feet as we were slowly pulled up to what can only be described as a “knee trembling height”.
This activity puts you (or your friend) in control, as it's up to your when to pull the release to swing high out over the cliff edge...so make sure you choose your friends wisely! The freefall moment of the drop takes your breath away but soon the sound of “ahhhhh’s” is replaced with the sound of laughter! The “superhero” which sees you clipped onto the swing by the back of your harness was a favourite amongst us all as we struck our best superman poses for the camera during the freefall.
Buzzing from the adrenaline of the Giant Swing we made our way back down towards the car park to have a go on the 'Drop Zone'. From the moment we parked the car at Todds Leap it was hard to miss the Drop Zone's high tower and ‘Big Air Bag’. The first purpose-built recreational free fall stunt jumping facility in Europe this is definitely not an activity for the weak kneed or faint hearted!
Running through the safety briefing with our instructors and with the promise of an epic photo to share on our Instagrams and Facebook later, we nervously followed our instructor up the stairs to the lower intermediate level platform to practice our ‘jump technique’. Having managed to land successfully three times we were allowed to make our way to the 30ft free fall platform. It takes nerves of steel to walk along the platform and make the jump from the tower but the thrill of flying through the air feeling like a stunt artist in an action movie was the only incentive we needed!!
And that was only until lunch time!
Read part 2 ' Heading Off-Road' of the Todd's Leap Adventure Blog series here.
Posted on July 16, 2015 @ 3:24 PM in
Over the past decade Belfast had deservedly gained a reputation as one of the UK's must visit 'City Break' destinations. Soaked in world famous maritime heritage with renowned hospitality, a growing live music scene and some of Ireland's finest restaurants litterly popping up on every street corner it is easy to see why Belfast is drawing visitors from far and wide.
To add to the mix, those visiting Belfast on a short break can now use the iconic Lagan Towpth to cycle (off-road) from the city centre directly to the Barnett Demesne Trails and Jumps Park in the Lagan Valley Regional Park.
This compact trail centre, located in the outskirts of South Belfast, opened to the public in 2013 and offers a range of family-friendly green and blue trails with a number of red trail options for those after a bit more of an adrenaline rush. The trail centre also boasts Northern Ireland's first and only purpose-built jumps park - not for the faint hearted!
The cross-country trails start from the Mary Peters Athletics Track, off the Upper Malone Road (trailhead postcode BT9 5PR). The main blue trail (3.9km) contours the banks of Northern Ireland's premier athletics facility before climbing up through the mainly oak and beech woodland of Barnett Demesne.
The blue trail consists of tight, twisty singletrack with some fast and flowy sections where you can really get the buzz on - this place is littered with Strava segments!
The red trail sections (Fanplastic, Serpentine and Lose Your Barnett) then break off from the main blue and offer some more technically challenging features such as boardwalk, log rides, rock gardens, rollers and drops.
If you're all about 'grabbing air' then you'll want to make a beeline for the Barnett Demesne Jumps Park, located next to the lower car park beside the Mary Peters Athletics Track. With six lines of purpose-built jumps to choose from (3 lines currently undergoing maintenance) there are few other similar jumps park facilities with such easy (off-road) access to a UK city centre.
Each jumps line is graded according to its size and difficulty meaning that us mere mortals can start off on (and stick to) the smaller beginner jumps, leaving the expert jumps (pictured above) ...to the experts!
If you are planning a visit to Northern Ireland's capital this year, be sure to check out the Barnett Demesne Trails & Jumps Park page for more information on the latest trail conditions, bike hire and upcoming events.