Amy ColvinNI ExplorerPaul McArthur
read more about the authors
Blog ethics

The Trails and Tribulations of a First Time Mountain Biker

Posted on August 29, 2019 @ 3:03 PM in CyclingMountainbiking

Disclaimer: No employees were harmed in the making of this blog. Do try the stunts (not at home) but at a trail centre near you.

As a new member to the team at MountainBikeNI, it was only a matter of time before I would have to get out and experience mountain biking for myself. Boldly claiming “I’ll give it a go! Why not?”, my colleague Ethan and I set out to test the trails, and my nerves, at Blessingbourne Estate.


What to expect when you have no clue what to expect?

Blessingbourne was the first official MTB trail centre in Northern Ireland, dating back to 2013. It is ideal for all level of riders and ages, boasting a pump track, 4km of blue trails and 8km of red trails, making it an ideal location for those starting out on the blues or challenging the more experienced riders on the harder red trails. It was an obvious choice for my first time.

I acquired a bike and a helmet to complete the look and familiarised myself with where everything was on the bike, primarily, the brakes, as I was told that stabilisers were not an option. I adjusted the bike so that I could put my foot down in the likely case that I would need to emergency stop or slow down in a speed wobble and after a quick test run around the drive I was confident enough the hit the trails – or so I told myself!

I had an image of mountain biking built up in my head, very gnarly, lots of jumps and speed demons chasing the trails in epic fashion. So how was I going to match up to that as a total novice? As it turns out, it doesn’t have to be all big airs and break neck speeds.

We started out on Blessingbourne’s pump track, which was great for getting used to the steeper mounds with drops and turns and getting generally used to being on a bike again. The main 3 things I was encouraged to remember:

  1. Head up – Eyes forward and look ahead
  2. Keep your feet neutral when not cycling
  3. Bum back when going down a steep bit or drop

Once I had these etched into my brain, I was ready to take on the trails.

If you’ve never mountain biked before, it’s best to go with someone who has, and get them to lead the way. That way you’re not hit by an unsuspecting rock garden that you’re not ready for and you won’t veer off the trail you’re on or end up on a trail that’s too difficult. I found it really helpful when Ethan would shout “narrow bit coming up” or “keep right” and that way I was at least mentally prepared for what I was about to approach.

Once you have found a buddy to join you, it’s important to think about your selection of trails. Blessingbourne has over 12km of trails with a good mix of red and blue. The loop allows riders the option of heading home or continuing with more of the trail without taking you out of your way.

Once I had gotten the hang of cycling round the trails with some turns and steeper slopes, I wanted to prove myself on some of the harder stuff – for me that meant conquering a rock drop of around 20cm. If you are like me and appreciate a good dose of adrenaline, this is a good place to start. Similarly to going around the trails, I found it helpful to watch Ethan go first so that I could see which lines to choose, how to best approach obstacles and what way to position myself on the bike. Once I had watched and learned, it was time to give it a go. I got into position, lined up the rock and gave myself a quick pep talk before peddling off towards the jump. I hit the line, grabbed a few inches of air and landed gracefully on the other side, feeling like the queen of the world. “Let’s do it again!”.

One of the best things I found about mountain biking was that the smallest jump felt like a massive leap to me, so even though looking back now it seems less impressive, at the time I was over the moon and felt pumped to try even more. You can be a first timer and feel like a pro.

Use Your Brain.

Once I had gone over the jump a couple of times, I felt confident and ready for any other obstacles I might have to tackle. It’s important to remember that it’s still unfamiliar territory and if you don’t think you’re going to be able to do something, there’s no shame in either taking the chicken run or coming off the bike and walking it across.

I was able to ride some rock gardens and a boardwalk (slowly) but when it came to approach Blessingbourne’s famous ‘Crocodile’s Back’, I knew I wasn’t ready for such a narrow task with its steep drops on either side. It’s like saving a present for yourself in the future, today’s not the day, tomorrow doesn’t look good either, but someday I will do it.

Take a Breather

It’s a rush of green and brown as you whip through the trails but it’s easy to forget to stop and take in the surroundings. Even if just for a quick breather, a photograph or video set up, it’s good to stop along the way and really appreciate the scenery around you. If we didn’t stop it would all feel like a blur and the trails would have merged into one. It can also help you get your bearings and figure out where you’re headed to next. Blessingbourne is a stunning location and when you stop along the forest it feels like you’re in a fairy-tale setting, the lush green canopy overhead and the tall trees that hug the trails make for a great contrast to every day life.

Homeward Bound

After 90 minutes of blue and red trails I was really feeling the session, my legs were starting to tire, and my hands were stuck in handlebar grip position; it was time to head back.  As we were cycling, I was thinking about how I had managed to go around both blue and red trails having never mountain biked before (not even being on a bike in 5 years); I had managed to figure out the basics and try some harder elements throughout and even made it around without falling off or hurting myself (minus a few scratches and bruises). If I can do that, then anyone can do it, and it’s totally worth giving it a go!

If you’re reading this and are now thinking you’d like to try mountain biking, Blessingbourne is easy to find, located on a private estate just 1 mile outside of Fivemiletown. It costs £3 to ride the trails or £5 if using the car park.

 

For more information on Blessingbourne Estate, Davagh Forest or any of Northern Ireland's official mountain bike trails, please visit MountainBikeNI.com.

Kerry Kirkpatrick
Kerry Kirkpatrick  Assistant Marketing and Events Officer

A true North Coast water baby, happiest when on the beach.

Top Dog Friendly Walks In Northern Ireland

Posted on August 28, 2019 @ 1:15 PM in Walking

Fed up walking around your local area on auto-pilot with your dog? Get a new 'leash' of life and explore one (or more!) of these fantastic dog friendly walking trails in Northern Ireland.

Dog walk Northern Ireland

Benone Strand, Co. Derry~Londonderry

We'd be barking mad to do an article on the best dog friendly walks in Northern Ireland without first mentioning Benone Strand. Forming part of one of Ireland's longest beaches, this location was voted 'Northern Ireland's Favourite place to walk your Dog' in the 2018 WalkNI Awards.  

Please note that some beaches have restrictions and zones in place for dogs in the summer months so make sure to check out the website before you visit. Between May and September, the beach at Benone can be accessed via the boardwalk through the dunes. 

Crawfordsburn Country Park, Co. Down

Located on the southern shores of Belfast Lough, Crawfordsburn Country Park boasts two excellent beaches, spectacular scenery, a stunning waterfall and tranquil walks through wooded glens. Dogs must be kept on a lead at all times apart from in the designated off lead areas.

Darkley Forest, Co. Armagh

A community trail offering an enchantingly unique walking experience through a small and peaceful coniferous woodland. Discover this unspoilt hidden gem for dog walkers just a short distance from Armagh. Dogs are allowed and must be kept on a lead.

Rowallane Gardens, Co. Down

There are lots of trails to keep both dog and walker intrigued at Rowallane Gardens. The trails pass through the 19th century garden, famous today for its colourful plant collection and rugged landscape. Dogs must be kept on a lead. However, if your dog loves to run around and stretch its legs or is fond of a tennis ball then make sure to visit the outdoor exercise area where dogs are allowed to roam free from their leads.

Dog walk Northern Ireland

Montalto Estate, Co. Down

A short walk through the woodland of Montalto Estate. With lots of routes to explore you can extend this walk by exploring the trail around the lake or various gardens. Dogs are allowed but must be kept on a lead.

Glenariff Forest Park, Co. Antrim

Enjoy a walk through mature woodland past spectacular waterfalls. A change of scene from your local walk the views from the top of the glen down to the coast and the sea beyond are incredible. Dogs are allowed and should be kept on a lead.

Florence Court, Co. Fermanagh

Surrounded by lush parkland and thick woodland, choose from a number of walks all providing fantastic views. Dogs are welcome on leads in both the garden and grounds.

Peatlands Park, Co. Tyrone

Close to the southern shores of Lough Neagh and boasting over 10 miles of paths and wooden walkways, you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to exploring with your dog. The park is rich in butterflies, moths and dragonflies as well as many woodland and wetland birds and several species of waterfowl. Dogs are allowed and should be kept on a lead.

Dog walk Northern Ireland

Slieve Gullion, Co. Armagh

A challenging walk for keen walkers and their favourite four-legged friends, the views from the top are worth the climb. Rising to 573m, the 9.5 mile walk at Slieve Gullion is the centrepiece of the volcanic landscape in the Ring of Gullion Area of Outstanding Beauty. Dogs are allowed and should be kept on a lead.

Sir Thomas & Lady Dixon Park, Co. Antrim

Discover one of Belfast's most popular parks. Again, you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to what trail to explore in this park from garden walks to walks across open meadow there is something to suit everyone. Dogs are allowed and should be kept on a lead.

Tollymore Forest Park, Co. Down

Covering an area of almost 630 hectares at the foot of the Mourne Mountains, Tollymore Forest Park offers panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and the sea at nearby Newcastle. The park has some very interesting features to look out for while on your walk including a barn dressed up to look like a church, stone cones on top of gate piers and gothic-style gate arches. Dogs are allowed and should be kept on a lead.

Heritage Railway Path, Co. Antrim

For something a bit different follow the line of the Giant's Causeway and Bushmills Heritage Railway from the coastal resort of Portballintrae to the Giant's Causeway. This walk can easily be extended to provide coastal off-road access to the Giant's Causeway. Dogs are allowed and should be kept on a lead.

Please note, some locations may have signs to indicate restricted dog access or that you must keep your dog on a lead, so be sure to look out for these or call ahead to check access.  Remember to be a responsible dog owner and clean up after your pooch.

Latest comment posted by Deirdre on September 4, 2019 @ 9:34 AM

Where can i exercise my dog of lead near lisburn 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.

Last Chance to Get Wet in 2019

Posted on August 8, 2019 @ 11:16 AM in AdventureCanoeing

As we approach the end of summer (parents rejoice; children despair!), the huge number of water sport events from Get Wet are beginning to wind down. But don’t panic – there’s still time left to dip your toe into a potentially life changing new hobby! Dive in with us one last time as we look at “Have a Go” water sports events happening soon.

A Fermanagh extravaganza first! There is loads happening all over Northern Ireland in the next few weeks, but Lough Erne in particular has several events still to be enjoyed:

Stand Up Paddleboarding – Erne Paddlers: Lakeland Forum Canoe Steps, Wed 14th, 21st and 28th August

Erne Paddlers are one of the main clubs to have recognised the huge growth in popularity in stand up paddleboarding. In an hour-long session, you’ll be introduced to the sport via games designed to make you comfortable on a paddle board and gradually develop the skills that will allow you to go solo. At only £15 for non-members, this event is fantastic value – just make sure you book in advance.

 

Inclusive Paddles – Erne Paddlers: Lakeland Forum Canoe Steps, Thurs 8th, 15th, 22nd and 29th August

Inclusive Paddles - Erne Paddlers

A brilliant opportunity to get the whole family out on the water and enjoying the incredible scenery of the Erne. These sessions are uniquely designed to cater for those with and without physical/learning/extra needs. All equipment will be provided for you – your job is just to enjoy yourself!

 

Learn to Paddle – Erne Paddlers: Lakeland Forum Canoe Steps, Monday 12th, 19th, 26th August

Intended for those who want to try out paddling for the first time – no experience necessary. Learn to paddle and build confidence in an enjoyable step by step way that will improve as you move on to the river, sea, surf, polo and more!

Don’t worry if you don’t live in the Lakeland County though – there are plenty of other events happening elsewhere, such as:


Rowing – Lagan Curraghs: Stranmillis Mooring Dock, Sat 10th and 17th August

Lagan Curraghs’ weekly rows through Belfast have consistently proven to be one of the most popular events with newbies to water sports. Participants say that in addition to the fun of rowing and the health benefits of a good workout, even the act of being in a traditional curragh boat is a brilliant experience. Their final Saturday row takes place on Saturday 17th August and booking is advisable.

 

Bright Night Sailing – Donaghadee Sailing Club: Donaghadee Sailing Club, Shore Street, Fri 9th, 16th and 23rd August

RYA Bright Night Sailing

Sailing is another sport that has exploded in popularity in recent years. Donaghadee offer a free two-week trial period for 8-17-year-olds, which is perfect for those curious to head out on the water and give it a go. Learning some of the basics while having great fun with like minded juniors is the perfect way to finish up the summer months and there’s even a BBQ held in the club after the session. What more could you want!

Bright Night Sailing is also available from County Antrim Sailing Club throughout August for 8-17-year-olds.


Sculling – Lagan Scullers: No. 8 Lockview Road, Belfast, Sundays in September

Lagan Scullers

Rowing’s more challenging sibling. Sculling is a fantastic way to keep fit and this 4-week course is ideal for introducing newcomers to the sport. Feel the sleek boat glide through the water underneath you and enjoy being part of a team learning new skills. Using a rowing machine to begin, you’ll soon be brought onto the boat to learn the importance of synchronicity on the water, as well as how to launch, turn, stop and recover boats.

 

For a full list of the water sports events taking place between now and September, check out the GetWetNI website, or follow us on our GetWetNI Facebook page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kerry Kirkpatrick
Kerry Kirkpatrick  Assistant Marketing and Events Officer

A true North Coast water baby, happiest when on the beach.

Northern Ireland's Outdoor Adventure Blog outdoorni.com walkni.com cycleni.com canoeni.com