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Walk in the footsteps of Northern Ireland’s Legends

Posted on July 22, 2015 @ 11:51 AM in Walking

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:

Robbers Table, Gortin, Co. Tyrone
 Robbers Table

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

Glenariff Nature Reserve Waterfall Walk, Glenariff Forest Park, Co Antrim

Glenariff

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, Limavady, Co. Derry~Londonderry

Roe Valley

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. 

Hare’s Gap, Mourne Mountains, Co. Down

Hare's Gap

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.

Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim

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.

Rathlin Island

Slieve Donard via Bloody Bridge, Mourne Mountains, Co. Down

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. 

Slieve Donard

Slemish, Buckna, Co. Antrim

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.

Slemish

Avish to Eagles Hill and Gortmore to Hell's Hole, Ballarena, Co. Londonderry

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. 

Avish

Sarah Nelson
Sarah Nelson  Marketing Officer

Sarah joined the marketing team of Outdoor Recreation NI in 2011. A firm believer in giving anything a go at least once (unless it involves jumping out of a plane at 6,000ft!) she is always looking for new adventures in the outdoors and can often be found wandering the Mournes or Glens of Antrim attempting not to get lost!

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