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Mountain Biking, Disability and Me

Posted on January 30, 2018 @ 2:38 PM in Mountainbiking

We were fortunate enough to get speaking to Brian Lenehan. Brian has a long history of playing different sports at a high level. After an accident that changed Brian's life, his brother helped him to discover mountain biking. This is his story.

 

Hi Brian! Thanks for chatting to us. First thing is first – what are you riding at the minute?

Hi Ethan, how are you?

At the minute I’m riding what started life as a 2016 Giant Trance 3- but it’s had constant evolution/ tinkering over the past 2 years!

It's currently running Giant Contact dropper, Pike 160s up front, shimano xt m8000 brakes, xt 1x 11 drivetrain, Bontrager Rhythm wheelset- Nobby Nic rear and Magic Mary front, Nukeproof warhead bar/ stem and nukeproof pedals. I've also just finished a hardtail build- On One Parkwood frame, Pike 140s up front, Sram roam 40 wheelset, Nobby Nic rear, Hans Dampf front, Slx brakes and xt/ Zee 1x 10 drivetrain.

 

Do you want to tell us a little about your condition and how it impacts on your day to day life?

I have a condition called NMO (Neuro Mylitis Optica) which until relatively recently was bracketed as a form of MS- so it’s in the same Neurological spectrum- some similarities, some differences- in my condition, the main one being that I am registered Blind, as my central vision deteriorated massively since onset. I still have and use my peripheral vision, but without any meaningful central vision it’s basically a life without detail- so daily life, recognising people is difficult, reading, judging car speeds and distances, timetables in train station etc. I can’t manage without assistance- I’ve been on a fair few wrong trains when pride got in the way and stopped me asking the simple questions, made a decision on guesswork and ended up on the way to Larne instead of Lurgan!

Another aspect of my condition that is ever present is “tingles” or sensation issues in my lower legs, feet, arms and hands- best way I can describe this is as “constant fuzzy pins and needles”, whilst not the greatest comfort wise, I can use them as a barometer when something maybe isn’t right- if they intensify for example, my nervous system is telling me something is putting it under strain, so I am able then to back off a little and just let it calm down again.

On the bike it can become a bit of an issue where the sensation can develop, particularly on my right side, to feel like that feeling of a trapped nerve (but more extensive) from my shoulder right down to my finger tips and my trunk area. Ultimately it affects grip strength on the bars but as I said I am learning about the sensations and causation more and more and therefore managing it.

In relation to the combination of both, fatigue can be a major factor. You're constantly on alert when getting from A to B so I can get it done as safely as possible and this has an effect on fatigue levels which can be debilitating, and again, when that occurs, it’s just a matter of resting correctly. It took me a while to differentiate between fatigue as a symptom and regular day to day tiredness - two completely different things, but now that I know my condition, I am able to manage away.

 

It sounds like you've got a great handle on everything. So how did you first get into mountain biking?

My brother Eamon was integral in my entry into this current mountain biking mission, and it was his idea that has made this entire journey what it is now. We ride every week.

 

Brian and his brother tackling Castlewellan Mountain Bike Trails

I have always been into bikes, just loved every aspect of them, and all disciplines, whether it was watching track cycling, doing a bit on the roads myself or tinkering away at bikes in the garage. It took a back seat though as football and hurling became more prominent in my life. I had a few seasons with Armagh County hurling from Minors through to Senior squads and that became my primary focus. Then when I moved to Liverpool, football became my primary sport. It was only after my injury, and the subsequent change in life path for want of a better term, that mountain biking became the focal point.

I was struggling badly both emotionally and psychologically coming to terms with my diagnosis. The words 'permanent' and 'visually impaired' and 'registered blind' etc- I couldn’t accept them at all. Plus sport as I knew it, and my identity that came with Gaelic games, changed over night. I was slipping further and further into depression and it came to a head. My brother basically said “Right, let’s go. We are going to Castlewellan - get your bike ready”. It turned out it was the best decision I ever made post diagnosis and within half the trail, I was hooked. I remember smiling on the bike and thinking “**** that hasn’t happened in a while!”

 

When you first approached it, did you think your condition would make it more difficult for you?

Initially yes. 1. Because I had conditioned myself to think “I can’t see properly now so I won’t be able to do this” and 2. I thought the physical sensations and fatigue would play a part and I would be stuck half way around a trail somewhere shouting “Eamon that’s me stuck now”!

But after run one in Castlewellan, which was only half a lap, the fears began to diminish and I quickly realised that every thought and notion I had going into this was based on the negative, as in "What if I can’t...” and “I can’t see properly so I might not be able to do this." So that evening, I distinctly remember making a list of the attributes and reasons as to why I CAN do this and subsequently how I will do this.

The very first building block was to begin right there and then in devising a system where I utilised my peripheral vision as primary and not the central vision. This meant re training myself not to instinctivly try and look or focus on a given area or object like I used to, but look off centre to the side of trails and use colour changes as markers. (This, Brian points out, is a conversation in itself details wise) But it basically started that very next Tuesday morning in going down to Craigavon lakes trails on my own with the bike and riding the loop on my own, trialling different head and eye positions, and then beginning the process of memorising corners, sequences and features such as trees etc as markers.

I worked away on my own at the lakes, hour after hour, day after day, just honing how I was going to ride my bike, and visually how I looked at the trail, how I memorised the trail and then how I can get faster! I still do this once or twice every week, 2 years in. This also allowed me to see how far distance wise and also time wise I could go before the nervous system decided to pack it in!

It became apparent very quickly that if I was conscious of my actual body position on the bike, that is my buffer zone if something unexpected comes up that I have missed visually.

I bring these methods with me now no matter where my brother and I ride- same rules apply whether it be Craigavon lakes on my own training on a Tuesday morning, Davagh Forest or wherever, identical thought processes are in play.  I also spend as much time using imagery techniques as I can; how I see a trail being ridden and how I see myself riding it. I spend as much time 'YouTubing' the trails we are going to ride as I do on them. That way I have an instant video in my mind’s eye for when we arrive - this eye is the bigger help!

 

What is the best part about mountain biking for you?

It’d be very easy to sound cliché here, but I love everything about it. From dissecting YouTube videos of the runs we'll ride, to actually riding them, right down to sitting down that evening and going through what worked for me and what didn’t. Thinking about what could I tweak to improve the ride and therefore the feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment for the next ride. Above all though I think, I love the challenge. Beating my own constraints.

However sometimes it’s beating them by accident. My first time going over Boundary Rock on the left hand side, I thought it was just a wee grey slope down to the right hander - I was over it before I had time to re assess! So actually sometimes my sight is bliss as I'm over things before I've time to think!

Brian on the left in red and his brother Eamon on the right.


It has afforded me something that I can utilise in my every day life. Patience. Without patience I’d have given biking up at week 2 because that would have still meant I want everything now, instant results. With realising I was going to have to be extremely patient and look at the long game, it allowed me to curb frustrations, to not rush the development and in turn to do things like preparation or body position on the bike the way it is supposed to be done. Bringing that same mentality into my day to day life has allowed me to develop the strategies and coping mechanisms I need to move forward. No shortcuts!

In summary, I don’t feel at all labelled on my bike, and the further I go into this journey, I don’t feel constrained or held back by being on my bike. Theres a freedom to it, but also a focus that I had rarely encountered before.

I know I have limitation criteria, there's no getting away from that, but I am at a point now where I have realistic goals for what I want to achieve on my bike. I'm under no illusions they will be difficult to attain and may take a long time - but the key point is that they are realistic- and that in itself avoids frustration creeping in as long as I stick to my prepation routines and continue to try and improve every aspect of that.

 

The average person on the street often thinks mountain biking is a terrifying pastime. What would you say to people with disabilities who would potentially be interested in mountain biking but don’t know where to begin?

For me it was a blank canvas. I could make of it what I wanted. There are so many variables that can be manipulated to suit and turned into major positives. You are in complete control of where you ride, which trails you ride, how fast or slow you want to ride, how long for - the list goes on. Approach it at entirely your own speed and build it in any direction you want to or need to.

Personally I find being the person on the street infinitely more terrifying!! An example: A while back on University Avenue, I was crossing over and I did everything a person with a visual impairment should do to the letter- found the green man crossing, found the buzzing cone under the box to signify when green, listened for car noise when safe to cross and STILL got clipped on the wrist because someone decided not to stop. Luckily I wasn’t one step further out; my point being that mountain biking is no less terrifying than our environment, assess what you can do, assess how you want to do it, and talk to people like myself, who can maybe help out even a little bit with questions or possible solutions.

 

You posted about mountain bikers with a disability to a MTB Facebook page recently and it got a fantastic reception. Have you heard from any other MTBers in a similar position to yourself?

It was class! The mountain bike community here automatically wanted to talk about it and offered to aid in whatever comes from it. That was no surprise because all you have to do is go to any of our trails at any time of the week and you get chatting to the friendliest bunch of sports people about.

It’s early days but there are quite a few riders with a disability/ impairment in a similar situation as myself, so hopefully we will build a dialogue and a bit of a network where we can learn from each other’s experiences etc. I’ll keep you posted!

Trialling different head and eye positions, memorising the trails and playing YouTube clips on repeat are just some of his techniques that allow him to shred.

How would you like mountain biking in Northern Ireland to evolve in terms of inclusion for mountain bikers with various disabilities?

I mentioned earlier how I feel that when I'm riding my bike, I am not labelled and that is the very nature of our scene here; so I would be very conscious of the fact that by trying to raise an awareness and increasing the knowledge base of the issues of riding with a disability- that could inadvertently begin to stick labels on people.

But if we approach it in the way that we are riders first and foremost. We were riding our bikes before this, and regardless of the posts to get dialogue going, we'll still be riding our bikes, shows me that the way forward is not really to highlight “Oh that rider has sight loss” “That rider is an amputee” “That rider has hearing loss” – but rather to develop a network or a system whereby people can learn from each other’s experiences and use them to develop their own riding. We talk and listen to how we ride a race or train for a race etc., so same rules apply. If we can then convert that into a monthly run for example, that would be sweet!

Obviously not every sport is for every person- we would be naïve to think that - but our sport is as accessible as any other and broad enough by it's very nature that, if it is something that interested people with a disability, then a little bit of discussion and planning, coupled with an infrastructure of riders who already joined its ranks, theres no reason why 1. It cant be explored and 2. It can be moulded to suit. Even by discussing this, boundaries are already being broken.

  

Any shout outs you’d like to make?

I suppose to my brother Eamon Lenehan who began this whole thing. Michael Regan and Glyn O Brien who love biking that much they were more than happy to get involved with the aforementioned posts and have been fantastic in offering belp and advice. And to Disability Sport Northern Ireland (DSNI) who afford me the time to train away and practice staying upright!!

 

Finally, hit us with some of your results and tell us what you're planning next.

Previous results include:

2016 Davagh Enduro. 97th

2017 Davagh Enduro. 41st

2017 Davagh Nightrider. 31st.

2018. Davagh Enduro and Nightrider. Top 30 is my goal. Also to enter and complete at east one round of VFT Enduro.

 

Thanks for chatting to us Brian. If you have any questions, messages or comments you'd like to pass on to Brian just drop an email to info@mountainbikeni.com.

Latest comment posted by Gerard on February 27, 2018 @ 12:39 PM

OMG, it´s such an amazing post. Please keep on pushing and try to spread your story. We have a blog where we talk about eye health. Maybe you could check this ... Read more >

Ethan Loughrey
Ethan Loughrey  Mountain Bike Officer

Hardest thing about Mountain Biking? Definitely the trees.

Ulster Way Highlights- The Sliabh Beagh Way

Posted on January 29, 2018 @ 5:47 PM in Walking

In the second blog in the 'Ulster Way Highlights Series' we move west from the Mournes to explore the spectacular Sliabh Beagh Way, as it meanders through the valleys of Co. Tyrone, the drumlins of Co. Monaghan and the lakelands of Co. Fermanagh.

Sliabh Beagh Way

Steeped in local myth and legend, the 40mile two-day route, follows a mixture of country laneways and forest tracks, as it explores the varied countryside around South Fermanagh. A remote path across the expanse of moore around Sliabh Beagh is one of the highlights, while good signage and generally firm terrain make it suitable for fit walkers with experience walking in the hills.

Walking The Sliabh Beagh Way

Sliabh Beagh Way

Day 1: Aughnacloy to Muckle (via St Patrick's Well & Chair), 18 miles (29.5km)
Crossing over the River Blackwater at Aughnacloy, the first half of this route crosses back and forth between Co. Fermanagh and Co. Cavan in the Republic of Ireland on country roads, forest track and moorland trails. One of the highlights of this section is St Patricks Well & Chair, which we highly recommend taking a short detour to explore. The moss-cloaked stones, make this an evocative place and it is tempting to linger a while to soak up the atmosphere. From here the trail leads to a high moorland viewpoint, where you will be rewarded with fantastic views of Lough More and the open peat-cloaked hillsides, which surround Sliabh Beagh. The final section of this day concludes, with a walk along a remote path crossing the expanse of moore around the lower slopes of Sliabh Beagh towards Muckle Rocks.

Sliabh Beagh Way

Day 2: Muckle Rocks to Lisnaskea, 22 miles (35.8km)
The 2nd day of walking begins at Muckle Rocks, following country lanes to Mullaghfad Forest; passing Mullaghfad Parish Church, a remote, stone church with an external bell dating back to 1836. The route meanders along the shores of several upland lakes; a haven for wildlife throughout the year. If it is a warm day, the placid waters of these lakes provide a pleasant place to take a break. Follow the trail as it descends to meet the road at Eshywulligan before climbing along a moorland road. Good views are afforded across the surrounding countryside; from points where the slopes are free of trees. The final section of this route from Tully Forest to Lisnaskea follows a series of country lanes, winding gently towards the finish.

Did you know?

Just north of the forest at Muckle Rocks, lies Shane Barnagh's Lough and a nearby outcrop of sandstone known as Shane Barnagh's Stables. The name recalls an outlaw, who roamed across Northern Ireland in the 17th century used the rocks to hide stolen livestock; rumours persist of a horde of undiscovered treasure still buried beneath the lough.

Where To Stay

There is a wide range of walker friendly accomodation in close proximity to the route. More information can be found on page 16 of the Sliabh Beagh Way Walkers Guide.

Where To Eat

After a hard days walking, some good food and drink is a must. The area is home to an extensive range of eateries catering for all tastes. For recommendations, of where to eat in the Sliabh Beagh area please contact the Killymaddy or Fermanagh Visitor Information Centres

Getting Around

There are a number of ways in which you can travel around Aughnacloy and Lisnaskea. The rural bus network links Dungannon, Enniskillen, Fivemiletown, Augher and Clougher, to the start and finish of the route. For route information and times, check out the Translink website or phone (028) 9066 6630. There are also a number of local taxi services, further details of this can be found on page 19 of the Sliabh Beagh Way Walkers Guide.

Sliabh Beagh Way

Please be aware that this walking route passes through areas of open land such as hillside, working farmland and working forests. Livestock may be present, ground conditions may be uneven or wet underfoot and all forestry signage should be adhered to. Please refer to the ‘Walk Safely and Responsibly’ Guide.

Although this walk is waymarked walkers are always advised to carry the relevant map and ensure they are prepared for changeable weather.

You can read our first blog 'Ulster Way Highlights- The Mourne Way' where we share details, of a marvellously varied two-day walking route from coast to coast across the edge of the Mourne Mountains. 

Jayne Woodrow
Jayne Woodrow  Marketing Officer & Active Clubs Coordinator for Walking

Jayne joined the marketing team of Outdoor Recreation NI in March 2014. She oversees the marketing and communication on WalkNI, OutdoorNI and Walking in Your Community Project. Most recently she has been working with Parkrun Ireland & UK to introduce the 'Walk @ parkrun' initiative.

NI Explorer's Top 6 Walks In Northern Ireland

Posted on January 29, 2018 @ 2:35 PM in Walking

Northern Ireland based culture and travel blogger 'NI Explorer' share 6 superb walks from their adventures around Northern Ireland in 2017. 

Hi everyone, it’s our first-time guest-blogging on Walk NI, so big thanks in advance for flicking-by. With the excitement of the festive period behind us and both bank accounts and belts feeling the pinch, there’s no better time to pencil in some weekend wanders. Here are six superb walks from our adventures around NI last year which we highly recommend exploring for yourself in 2018. Starting with the most southerly and working northwards.

Cuilcagh Boardwalk

Cuilcagh-Legnabrocky Trail

4.6 miles Linear (one way), Belcoo, Co. Fermanagh
Affectionately nicknamed the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ or ‘Fermanagh Boardwalk’, our first favourite gained international recognition last year for its stunning views over Counties Fermanagh, Sligo and Cavan. 

The trail begins in Legnabrocky a rural townland just to the north of the mountains summit. From the start of the boardwalk, you will just about see in the distance the faint line of the boardwalk as it creeps up Cuilcagh Mountain. Follow the boardwalk to the now iconic set of steps that zig-zag their way up the mountain. There are lots of small platforms ideal for stopping to catch your breath and taking in the spectacular panoramic views. This walk is popular especially on sunny days, so you'll probably end up using these points to let others past on the narrow boardwalk- a great excuse if you don't want to admit tiredness (like me). As the stairway twists round to the left, you'll get phenomenal views of the imposing mountainside, massive boulders and Lough Atona.

(Please note: There is temporarily no access to the Cuilcagh Way beyond the end of the boardwalk for conservation reasons.)

Slieve Donard

Slieve Donard From Bloody Bridge

3.2 miles linear (one way), Newcastle, Co. Down
Standing at 852m above sea level, Northern Ireland’s highest peak Slieve Donard looks daunting as it looms over the County Down town of Newcastle but, can be tackled with a moderate level of fitness and the correct walking gear. There are numerous ways of exploring the mountain, two of the most popular routes are either starting from Donard Car Park just on the edge of Newcastle town centre or my preferred option from Bloody Bridge.

Less than five minutes into the walk, the landscape is spectacular. As you walk alongside Bloody Bridge River you'll come across large areas of exposed rock, rushing mini waterfalls and rock pools. Around halfway up the mountainside, the landscape quickly turns into a boulder metropolis as you get closer to a disused quarry area. This makes for a great place to stop for lunch and explore. The climb to the summit from the 'Bog of Donard' is steep however, on a clear day it will be worth the extra exertion for the amazing views! We enjoyed watching the sunset from this location which you can read more about on our blog

(Please note: Dogs are allowed but must be kept on leads)

Clandeboye Way

Clandeboye Way- Helen’s Bay to Whitespots Country Park

8 miles linear (one way), Helen's Bay, Co. Down
An easy and beautiful forest walk in the heart of North Down. Whichever side you start from, just a few minutes into the walk you’ll quickly feel like you’ve been whisked into some unknown remote countryside area. The Clandeboye Way is a great off-road walk along old laneways, farm track and woodland paths. There is lots to see along the way including Helen's Tower and the old lead mines. Max (our dog) loved this one too, as you can see.

Cranny Falls

Cranny Falls

1.2 miles linear (one way), Carnlough, Co. Antrim
One of Northern Ireland's most picturesque waterfalls, Cranny Falls is easily reached from the quiet seaside village of Carnlough, also home to one of Northern Ireland's most picturesque harbours. After a straight mile-long walk along an old railway route behind Carnlough, you’ll find amazing views of the Antrim coastline, friendly farm animals and one of NI’s best waterfalls. 

Continuing along the path from the waterfall you'll arrive back at the quarry junction. Rather than turning right onto the gravel path, head over to the left-hand side instead, the views at this point are spectacular! Be sure to bring binoculars aso you can see down to Carlough harbour, where you started. A perfect Sunday stroll for all the family.

Giants Causeway Cliff Walk

Giant’s Causeway Cliff Walk

2 miles circular, Bushmills, Co. Antrim
We couldn’t leave out ‘Lonely Planet’s Number One Region to Visit in 2018’- but with a slight twist. Just like Slieve Donard, a visit to the Giant’s Causeway is a must for all. Why not try the alternative Cliff Walk which offers a phenomenal bird’s-eye view of the UNESCO World Heritage Site from the path which runs along the edge of the Causeway's 100ft high coastal cliffs. Follow the paths as it leads down the 'Shepherd Steps' towards the sea and the infamous lava-formed columns. Taking a left at the bottom of the steps will bring you back to the main Causeway, but for the sake of an extra 20 minutes head on forward to check out some cool views and formations including 'The Organ' and the 'Amphitheatre'.

Rathlin Island

Rathlin Island

Various walks on a variety of terrains, Rathlin Village, Co. Antrim
When we visited Rathlin Island we were left wondering "Why have we not been here sooner?" At just six miles long and one-mile wide, Northern Ireland's most northerly inhabited island is absolutely PACKED with so much to see. We stayed overnight to give us enough time to explore the Island's two main walking routes however, with so much to explore it's a good excuse to plan a second trip.  

Day 1: Rathlin Trail (4 miles linear): We took our time stopping at the various lookout points as we travelled west. This trail leads to the RSPB Seabird Centre and (the upside-down) Rathlin West Lighthouse. Home to thousands of sea birds in the summer months, visitors between April and July will be able to see the thriving colony of puffins.

Day 2: Roonivoolin Walk (4 miles circular): The journey to the southern lighthouse is a lot shorter than to the west lighthouse. We opted to head straight to the lighthouse and leave the coastal walk and views of the seals in Church Bay for the way back up. My favourite part of this walk was finding Doon Bay. Standing here it feels like you're on the set of Lost or Jurassic Park. Out of all the photos I've ever taken, this is probably top of the 'you have to be there' list.

Read more about these adventures and more on NI Explorer's Website

For more walk inspiration inlcuding maps and route descriptions check out WalkNI.com

Are you a walking blogger or walking guide? If you would be interested in writing a guest blog for WalkNI please email: info@walkni.com

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NI Explorer
NI Explorer  NI Travel Blogger

Covering a mixture of outdoor adventure, events, food, drink and everything in between- giving ideas and info for great days out in Northern Ireland and beyond.

WalkNI Award Winners Revealed

Posted on January 15, 2018 @ 5:27 PM in Walking

The results are in and we are excited to announce the winners of the 2017 WalkNI Awards as voted by the public, showcasing the best of what Northern Ireland has to offer when it comes to walking. 

Mourne Mountains

'Favourite Walking Destination'...The Mourne Mountains
The highest and most dramatic mountain range in Northern Ireland, with 42% of the vote, the Mournes has once again topped the poll holding onto its title of 'Favourite Walking Destination'. This compact yet impressive mountain range offers endless routes for walkers to explore and breath-taking views. From rocky outcrops on the summits and stunning reservoir views to the distinctive Mourne Wall the entire Mournes Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is simply unique.  

Slieve Bearnagh

'Most Epic View'...Slieve Bearnagh (Photograph By Alistair Hamill Photography)
With so many spectacular views to choose from, this is always a closely fought contest in the awards. However, we are delighted to announce that the Mournes are officially home to the 'Most Epic View' in Northern Ireland. The winning view from Slieve Bearnagh was taken by the talented Alistair Hamill. One of the most distinctive mountains in the Mournes renowned for the granite tors on its summit it can be accessed via the Trassey Track from Meelmore Lodge car park.

Causeway Coast Way

'Favourite Coastal Walk'...Causeway Coast Way
With its secluded stretches of sandy beaches, interesting rock formations and cliff top paths it was no surprise that the Causeway Coast Way in Co. Antrim got 73% of the votes in this category to be crowned 'Favourite Coastal Walk'. A walk along this 33-mile waymarked way reveals many wonders including quaint villages and harbours such as Portbradden & Ballintoy; made famous by Game of Thrones, The Giant's Causeway; Northern Ireland's only UNESCO World Heritage Site and historical gems like Dunserverick & Dunluce Castle.

Castle Ward

'Favourite Country Park/ Estate'...Castle Ward
A popular choice in this year's awards the vote for 'Favourite Country Park/ Estate' goes to the historic 18th century mansion and estate of Castle Ward. Looking out over the tranquil waters of Strangford Lough in Co. Down the estate boasts over 34km of trails including woodland rich in wildlife and rare plans, farmland and coastal paths ensuring there is something for everyone. Visitors can expect to discover something new around every corner from Temple Water & stunning ornamental canal to Audley’s Castle a 15th century tower; made famous by HBO in their award-winning show Game of Thrones.

Mourne International Walking Festival

'Favourite Walking Festival/Event'...Mourne International Walking Festival
Holding onto its title of 'Favourite Walking Festival' this internationally recognised event organised by Newry, Mourne & Down District Council attracts walkers from around the world. Taking place every June the guided & self-guided walks in the mountains and surrounding countryside showcase the best of the area. As well as offering excellent walking opportunities, festival goers can enjoy the social opportunities surrounding the festival to experience local hospitality and get to know fellow walkers.

Murlough National Nature Reserve

'Favourite Nature Reserve'...Murlough National Nature Reserve
A closely fought contest with Glenariff Nature Reserve, Murlough National Nature Reserve located on the Co. Down coastline near the popular seaside town of Newcastle was crowned 'Favourite Nature Reserve'. A haven for walkers and nature lovers alike, the reserve owned by the National Trust features a fragile 6,000 year old sand dune system and boasts spectacular views of Slieve Donard, the highest peak in the Mourne Mountains and Dundrum Bay.

Castlewellan Forest Park

'Favourite Family Friendly Walk'...Castlewellan Forest Park
With just over 50% of the votes, Castlewellan Forest Park, Co. Down is a must- visit for families looking to pack a picnic and enjoy a fun day out together. There are a range of walking trails within the park which boasts a lake, castle, one of the world's largest permanent hedge mazes and incredible panoramic views it won't dissapoint. The park features 'Animal Wood' a natural play structure designed for 4-11 year olds which is sure to capture their imaginations.

Visit WalkNI.com for more information on the winning trails, upcoming walking festivals, events and downloadable guides. 

Latest comment posted by billie on January 17, 2018 @ 11:18 PM

we've got it all for sure; everything is beautiful. Read more >

Jayne Woodrow
Jayne Woodrow  Marketing Officer & Active Clubs Coordinator for Walking

Jayne joined the marketing team of Outdoor Recreation NI in March 2014. She oversees the marketing and communication on WalkNI, OutdoorNI and Walking in Your Community Project. Most recently she has been working with Parkrun Ireland & UK to introduce the 'Walk @ parkrun' initiative.

The MountainBikeNI Award Winners

Posted on January 11, 2018 @ 4:24 PM in Mountainbiking

The MountainBikeNI Awards, powered by Chain Reaction Cycles, are consistently one of our favourite times of the year, but we equally can’t wait until they’re over to see who has won! Wait no longer, as we introduce your 2017 Champions:

 

Favourite Trail Centre: Castlewellan Mountain Bike Trails

 

For the first time, we've got a new champion in this category - congratulations Castlewellan Mountain Bike Trails! After five consecutive years of wins by Rostrevor Mountain Bike Trails, it's great to see the obvious popularity of other trails coming through. Castlewellan MTB Trails are actually the most visited trails of any in Northern Ireland.

 

Favourite Trail Section: The Great Escarpe, Castlewellan

A fantastic black section of trail in Castlewellan, The Great Escarpe lets you build up some serious pace on the flowing sections. It's a favourite for some of its wide berms that look incredible with a fisheye lens on your camera. Another first-time winner for Castlewellan Mountain Bike Trails.

 

Favourite MTB View: Roll Up Your Slievies, Rostrevor

We're off to Rostrevor with this winner, and it's easy to see why. The view from 'Roll Up Your Slievies' takes in the Mourne Mountains, Carlingford Bay and the towns of Rostrevor and Warrenpoint. A fourth consecutive win for the stunning views in Rostrevor, taking 54.6% of the votes.? Every time we're up there it's hard not to be blown away.

 

Favourite Trailhead Provider: Life Adventure Centre, Castlewellan

With another successful Christmas Trail Quest under their belts, as well as Ireland's first ever 24 hour enduro, 2017 was a great year for Life Adventure Centre at Castlewellan. Taking first place in the Favourite Trailhead Provider will hopefully have been the icing on the cake!

 

Favourite MTB-Friendly Café – Urban Coffee Café, Castlewellan

Urban Coffee Café is almost as synonymous with Castlewellan as the mountain bike trails are. Another new winner in the MountainBikeNI Awards, it's great to see the support that mountain bikers provide to local businesses. Next time you're stopping in, congratulate them on their win!

 

Favourite Spot for an Aprés Ride Pint: Maginns, Castlewellan

A wise man once said, "The only thing better than the first sip, is the thought of the first sip." Our Facebook feed was alive with mountain bikers reminiscing over good times spent in Maginns after a day on the trails. Yet another first-time winner in Castlewellan!

 

Best MTB Event of the Year: Red Bull Foxhunt

The Red Bull Foxhunt wins Best MTB Event of 2017. The variety in this category is a great indication of the vibrancy of mountain biking in Northern Ireland, with well organised events such as the Vitus First Tracks Enduro Cup taking third with 18.9% of the vote. Life Adventure Centre's Psycle 24 Hour Endurance received 12.5% of the vote and the Ulster XC 2017 events took 8.3%.

 

Favourite MTB-Friendly Accommodation: Blessingbourne Estate

A closely fought category, Blessingbourne Estate came out on top with 24.5% of the vote. It's reputation as a favourite accommodation spot for mountain bikers has officially been sealed with this being it's second win in a row. Blessingbourne is home to 12km of fantastic trails and award winning luxury accommodation.

 

MountainBikeNI Volunteer of the Year: Sam Thompson and Donal McKendry

We couldn't quite believe this. After almost 700 votes across two months of voting, we have a tie!

Donal McKendry from Magherafelt, and Sam Thompson from Rathfriland both ended up with 20.5% of the votes in this new category - congratulations to both of you! A big shout out to Niall Convery from Cookstown, who very narrowly missed out on a triple place for first, with 18.4% of the vote and to the other nominees and all of our volunteers.

We added this category as a small recognition of our incredible volunteers and everything they do for the trails in Northern Ireland. We're sincerely grateful to you all.

 

A special shout out also to the winner of the Garmin VivoSmart Heart Rate and GPS Monitor from Chain Reaction Cycles, Diane Burgess.

Ethan Loughrey
Ethan Loughrey  Mountain Bike Officer

Hardest thing about Mountain Biking? Definitely the trees.

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