Welcome to our walking blog. The aim of this blog is to give readers a further insight into walking in Northern Ireland. The blog will cover everything from seasonal walking suggestions and events to information on how to best practice ‘Leave No Trace’ techniques and walk responsibly in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We will also be inviting local accomplished mountaineers and industry experts to give their thoughts and opinions into Northern Ireland top walking spots and other trails more off the beaten track.

For your definitive guide to walking in Northern Ireland visit www.walkni.com

WalkNI Awards - Outstanding Achievement through Walking

Posted on November 21, 2016 @ 11:23 AM in Walking

Inspirational things can be achieved through walking.  Whether it be raising money for charity by taking part in a sponsored walk or improving your lifestyle and health by upping your daily step count.   In an effort to recognise some of the most inspirational feats achieved by putting one foot in front of the other and in a bid to inspire others, we have created the ‘Outstanding Achievement through Walking’ category in the inaugural WalkNI Awards.

Read the nominees stories, be inspired and help recognise their fantastic achievements with your vote.

Belfast father–of–two Paddy Lynas once thought his life was over. He suffered from depression over his newly diagnosed lung disease, the resulting loss of his job and the death of several close family members. Now, just a couple of years later, he walks 12 miles a day and is off all medication. He no longer takes drugs to control his chest condition, bronchiectasis, and in 2015 was officially discharged by his consultant.  Defying all the odds he has completed the Belfast City Marathon and last year climbed Slieve Donard raising funds for the charity.  Paddy explains, “Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke gave me my life back, so I’m going to do everything I can to help anyone else who might find themselves in a similar position.” Hear Paddy tell you in his words how Chest Heart & Stroke and walking helped turn his life around for the better. 

Having pledged to walk the entire Ulster Way in memory of his wife Jacqui, Dermot Breen completed his long distance walking challenge over 38 days raising thousands of pounds for Cancer Research UK along the way. Inspired by the book ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ (a firm favourite of the couples), in which the title character walks 627 miles to visit a terminally ill colleague Dermot (who by his own admission was no natural walker) pledged to walk even further and did so covering a distance of 652 miles, in memory of his wife.  Since completing this challenge Dermot has gone on to walk the Camino de Santiago in Spain raising even more money for the charity and the Great Wall of China in aid of NI Hospice.   You can read about his experience here, ‘the Unlikely Pilgrimage of Dermot Breen’ or follow his walking adventures on Facebook. 

Undergoing treatment for depression, Emma chose to celebrate her 18th birthday at the Belfast AWARE Mood Walk. Too unwell to celebrate her birthday at the time, the 18 year old decided to mark the occasion with 18 of her friends by participating in the AWARE Mood Walk at the Mary Peter’s Track in Belfast. Emma explained, “Participating in a charity walk is probably not how most 18 year olds would choose to celebrate a birthday, but for me this is very important. Last year I was diagnosed with depression and it was an extremely difficult time in my life. …I have received so much support from my friends and family in the last year and by participating in the AWARE Mood Walk, I am able to bring everyone together in a bid to stamp out the stigma that’s still associated with depression.” In a brave move to tell her story and help educate and inform people about how to talk to someone with an illness that people can still find very difficult to talk about, Emma released a video during Mental Health Awareness Week in May 2016.  To find out more about the series of Mood Walks visit AwareNI.

The Moore family have been selflessly supporting Cancer Focus Northern Ireland for a number of years through different walking, running and rugby events.  Diane and Patrick Moore first got involved with the charity by organising the 26.2 mile Ards Peninsula Marathon Walk.  Organising and taking part in the event again the following year they didn't even let a snow storm stop them from completing the walk! Making it a family affair, their daughter Abbie and friend Molly took it upon themselves to organise the 20 mile ‘Dog to the Duck’ charity walk challenge from Bangor to Holywood and back.  Since 2012 the Moores have raised over £8,000 for Cancer Focus NI through their all-weather walks, not including donations to other charities, such as Lendwithcare and RVH Liver Suport Group who have also benefited. All the money they have given to Cancer Focus Northern Ireland has been used to support cancer patients and their families in NI, promote healthy lifestyle messages through cancer prevention and advocacy work, and for research in QUB and UU.  Keep an eye on the Cancer Focus NI events calendar for future Cancer Focus NI walking events.

Vote Now in the WalkNI Awards

Latest comment posted by Barbara lewers on November 30, 2016 @ 10:07 AM

It was that stretch from Kilbroney to Newry that kept you going!! ?? Read more >

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!

Top Tips for Hill Walking this Autumn

Posted on November 14, 2016 @ 2:31 PM in Walking

tOPS tIPS FOR HILL WALKING

Our mountains offer fantastic opportunities all year round with the often termed ‘off’ season being no different. Changing colour, changing light and the all too familiar changing weather all add to what is already a privileged experience. Whether you’re inspired by the natural beauty or the raw challenge, autumn is, without doubt, the time to get up there.

That said if you’re more akin to our summer conditions, the autumn can pose various considerations, not least the potential increase in risk. Without the correct approach, this can prevent participation or if you dare venture out, an actual increase in risk. The ‘unplanned’ can provide some great tales of survival but also lead to an impromptu introduction to the local Mountain Rescue Team.

So, how do we make the most of the mountains in autumn without the drama or more importantly, the crisis?

Firstly we need to identify the key areas of difference from what you’ve been used to during the summer season with the following top 3 being a good start;

  1. Weather
  2. Terrain
  3.  Daylight

There’s no guarantee of good weather at any time of the year and hence you should never drop your guard, but there’s no doubt that with autumn comes significant change. The most obvious change is the drop in air temperature alongside the potential for increased wind and rain, all of which can be extreme. Bearing in mind that forecasts are predominantly for lower levels, you will need to consider the multiplier effect of the mountains. The higher you travel, the lower the air temperature, the stronger the winds and the heavier the rainfall.

The terrain is never necessarily easy as they are mountains after all and something that should always be considered, but again, autumn does bring added challenges. The seasonal change does affect the typical mountain surfaces with moorland, heathland and rock all becoming treacherously slippery. Consider the addition of the prevailing mountain weather and how the terrain changes accordingly and more than often rapidly. Swollen rivers, frozen surfaces and even strong winds in exposed locations can all have an impact.

Finding your way in the mountains in summer can be fun at the best of times but add the autumnal navigational challenges of reduced visibility and even darkness brings a whole new dimension. The culmination of the weather and terrain combined with reduced daylight hours often collectively catch out even the most experienced walker.

Any one of the above can lead to an ‘unplanned’ event such as a simple delay or discomfort, while exhaustion, hypothermia and even injury are all equally realistic possibilities.

Then we need to prepare accordingly with the following top 3 being a definitive guide;

1. Prior Planning

Maps, learn how to read them and plan your route in advance – include alternatives
Forecasts, understand how to interpret them for the mountains and your route – include change
Daylight, consider sunrise and sunset and the impact on your route – include delays

2. Personal Preparation

Clothing, know how to use the layering system – include base, mid, shell and extremity clothing
Boots, appreciate the importance of good footwear – include 3, preferably 4 season boots
Knowledge and skills such as navigation - keep them current and work within them

3. Pack Priorities

Torch, add a head torch to your essentials – include spare batteries
Food, consider the added energy required, so stock up – include fluids
Map and compass – keep them handy and know how to use them

And remember, it’s a fine line between an Autumnal walk, which you’re now prepared for, and a Winter epic. Even in the Mournes, winter conditions can be extreme so watch carefully for that often subtle seasonal change.

If you would like to develop your knowledge and skills, why not use a professional Mountain Instructor? The Association of Mountaineering Instructors is the representative body for professionally qualified Mountaineering Instructors in the UK and Ireland. By employing an AMI member you will be in the very best of hands as all AMI members adhere to a professional code of practice and undertake continuing professional development training (CPD). Find an instructor at www.association-of-mountaineering-instructors.co.uk

A good coat's essential although the colours optional!

To hear more about the great work that the Mourne Mountain Rescue Team do and any opportunities to help support them, keep up to date via their Facebook page

Martin McMullan
Martin McMullan  Mountain Instructor

Martin is a professional Mountain Instructor and a full member of the professional body the Association of Mountaineering Instructors (AMI). Martin is currently a Director with the Life Adventure Company alongside being a Rescue Co-ordinator and Training Officer with the Mourne Mountain Rescue Team.

5 Things You Didn't Know About the Causeway Coast

Posted on October 26, 2016 @ 4:12 PM in Walking

Away a Wee Walk share with us some secrets about the epic Causeway Coast and why everyone should walk it!   

1. There are Hidden Views as Good as the Cliffs of Moher

The Victorians were onto something.  Long before the modern visitor facilities at the Causeway, much of the site was more challenging to access.  It wasn't uncommon to visit the stones by boat on a tour and many people walked much more of the coastline along a magnificent lower path (now closed due to erosion) and back along the cliff tops.  With easier access the cliff top walking route has become somewhat of a secret and is underused.  Imagine if more of the 850,000 visitors who go to the Causeway each year were aware that just one hour away on foot, along the cliffs, is a view that rivals the Cliffs of Moher.  The site with the best view is known as Hamilton’s' Seat.  

Causeway Coast Cliff Path

Image: Alistair Hamill Photography

2. It Was Once a River 

We think that the Causeway is all about the honeycombed shaped 'stones', (which are technically rocks) however the stones are not the exclusive reason the location is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Another reason is the geological story, of when America effectively, went to America - the beginning of the separating of Europe and North America and the creation of the North Atlantic Ocean. It all happened around 60 million years ago when the rocks cooled very slowly (not very rapidly, as many mistakenly believe).  The area was a huge river valley which acted like a thermos flask causing the lava to cool very slowly.  As the lava cooled and contracted it caused the hexagonal columns to form at the main site and along the coast. 

3. It Features Secluded Bays with Bothys

 Bothy's can be found around the Scottish and Irish coast and in remote mountain locations.  They range in size and shape but traditionally were very simple shelter for fishermen and mountain users.  There is a renovated bothy at Port Moon, near Dunseverick, which can now be booked by sea kayakers paddling the North Coast Sea Kayak Trail

Portmoon Bothy

4. You can swim in ‘Private' rock pools 

Just keep swimming. Dunseverick must be one of the smallest places in Ireland that neither has a pub nor a post office yet it has two lay-bys, a small castle ruin, a harbour and rock pools!  The pools are viewable from the road down to the harbour and are regularly used by locals in the know for swimming in ocean water without having to deal with tides and waves.  If you clamour over a few more rocks, you'll discover smaller but deeper pools, out of view from the harbour road.  

Dunseverick

5. It Has an Ancient Royal Past  

The castle ruin at Dunseverick might be a disappointment to anyone showing up to see an actual castle.  We know very little about Dunseverick today, yet archaeologists are able to inform us that one of the five roads that left Tara, site of the ancient Seat of Ireland's High Kings, ended at this location on the Causeway Coast and proves that the location was once highly strategic in Ireland's past.  

causeway coast way

The Causeway Coast Way, especially the section from Portballintrae to Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge is among the most scenic coastal walks you can find anywhere.  Check out tide times if you want to access White Park Bay the easy way.  You roughly have three hours either side of low tide if you want to keep your feet dry!

causeway coast way portbradden

Away A Wee Walk regularly offer guided 6 mile walking tours along one of the most scenic sections of the Causeway Coast Way from Dunseverick to the Giant’s Causeway.  Take in amazing cliff top views whilst hearing plenty of interesting facts from a passionate guide. Cost: £35pp for a half day guided tour.

Eimear Flanagan
Eimear Flanagan  Owner of Away A Wee Walk

A lifelong lover of the outdoors, Eimear set up 'Away A Wee Walk' (Northern Ireland's only dedicated scenic hiking tours and holiday company) after a 500 mile trek in Spain. She now provides hikes and holidays that are the 'quintessence of Ireland', creating experiences that are cherished forever. Eimear often finds herself pointing out breath taking landscapes to her visitors, while they take photographs of the sheep!

Hidden History on the Lecale Way

Posted on September 2, 2016 @ 3:37 PM in Walking

A 47 mile linear route, forming part of the Ulster Way, the Lecale Way in Co. Down extends from the heart of Downpatrick, taking in Strangford Lough and finishing in the seaside resort of Newcastle. Featuring stunning coastal walking, tower houses, castles and ancient monuments the route is full of fascinating stories as well as stunning coastal scenery. 

A local guide with a passion for history and folklore we were delighted that Duane from Lecale Pennuisula Tours wanted to share with us some of the hidden history of the route…

Lecale Way

An Ancient Pilgrim’s Path

The first section of the Lecale Way is largely the pilgrim’s path to Struell Wells. Following the incline of Scotch Street in Downpatrick it is hard to imagine this was the main route to Ballyhornan. Just as you reach the top of the hill is a quiet, grassy entrance to a large open space. Beguiling as the vista is this was a place of public execution in the 1700s. The town’s gallows were known by the name of the three sisters as they were constructed of three posts. You have to wonder about the fear of the weary pilgrims beholding this sight. Before diverging off on the Ballysallagh Road make sure to take in Struell Wells. Legend has it this spring was created by Saint Patrick. It was famous throughout the medieval era and a place to visit on Midsummer when the wells would overflow. Make sure to look out for Saint Patrick’s chair on the hillside above.

The Druids Ceremonial Ground

Coming over via Ballyalton toward Raholp you are following in the footsteps of Saint Patrick. However, the people long before him also left their mark. Around Lough Money you will find a large concentration of megaliths. This is the highest area of Lecale which makes it easy to relate why it was selected. Just before the clachan at Ballystokes is a carved stone with concentric rings. Atop Slieve-na-Griddle once stood a cromlech with outstanding views over Scrabo, the Isle of Man, and the Mournes. Heading just off the Lecale Way to the east at the head of Lough Money you can find near the roadside, in a field, Lough Money Cromlech and just a little further along the Carrownacaw Longstone. Of course in modern days the largest stone monument in the area is to be found on Slieve Patrick. Carved from Mourne granite in a quarry just outside of Castlewellan is the largest statue of Saint Patrick in the world. Look closer and you will discover that he is wearing a workman’s boot as well as a sandal in honour of the masons who carved him!

Lecale Way

Tales of Woe

Walking along the coastal path from Ballyhornan to Ardglass you can be totally unaware of the disaster that befell a ship one night in April 1797. This ship was carrying arms for the United Irishmen when it went down on the rocks of Sheepland. Of all the crew only the steersman survived as he huddled down between two sheep on that bleak snowy night. The locals who heard the disaster would not open their doors as they mistook the cries of the French crew for that of the banshee! Every day the Steersman walked the clifftop looking down upon the wreck site. It is said you can fish lobsters from one of the ship’s cannons.

Continuing along the pathway toward Ardglass is Ardtole Church. Looking from the north east on a clear day the Mournes provide a spectacular backdrop. This church stood when the Vikings were plundering the coast. It was rebuilt in the 1300s but abandoned in the 1400s after a cruel massacre by the local chieftain one Christmas Eve. A row was ongoing between him and is people over the price of cattle. They found him drunk and tied his beard to the briars he lay in. Having to cut his beard off to become free meant that he lost his symbol of standing. To avenge the insult, he set out that fateful night.

Visit WalkNI for route details for the Lecale Way and walk it yourself.

If you found that as fascinating as we did book a tour with Lecale Peninsula Tours and relive the history on a walking tour with Duane in this beautiful landscape with plenty of stories to tell! 

Duane Fitzsimons
Duane Fitzsimons  Owner at Lecale Peninsula Tours

Duane is a local guide with a passion for history and folklore. From his interest he has gone onto create The Lecale Peninsula Tours. These tours explore various sections of the Lecale Way through rambles and town walking trails. To Duane a walk is not just a mere scenic pathway but a cultural gateway to unlock the past. Details of the walks can be found on the website www.lecalepeninsula.com

A Walk in the Park

Posted on August 19, 2016 @ 12:16 PM in Walking

Whether you want a quick jaunt to clear your head on your lunch hour or fancy a short stroll in the evening to build up your step count there are lots of great parks in Northern Ireland to explore on your doorstep:

Victoria Park, Belfast, Co. Antrim – 1 mile
An oasis of wildlife the historic Victoria Park provides an inner and outer walking loop around the lake (make sure to look out for the swans!) on a mixture of flat surfaced and grass paths. Passing a small rose garden, children’s playground and BMX track, the walks pass under the shadow of one of the most iconic landscapes of Belfast; Samson and Goliath.

Victoria Park

Dungannon ParkCo. Tyrone – 1.2 miles
The Park Trail is set amongst the beautiful backdrop of Dungannon Park - a 70 acre oasis. The walk's interesting paths surround the grounds mature woodland, brightly coloured flowerbeds and the magnificent 13 acre freshwater lake. High ground offers the walker splendid viewpoints of surrounding townland and countryside with views of Lough Neagh on a clear day.

Dungannon Park

Christie Park & SomersetColeraine, Co. Derry~Londonderry – 2 miles
This pleasant riverside walk along surfaced footpaths, starts in the centre of Coleraine and finishes opposite the historic Mountsandel Fort. The walk passes through two Council parks, both with different habitats that are managed in entirely different ways. Take time along the route to enjoy the views over the Bann. Having reached the car park there is the option to cross the road and enjoy a variety of walks within Somerset Forest.

Christie Park

Ormeau Park, Belfast, Co. Antrim – 1.3 miles
An historic parkland overlooking the River Lagan, with colourful flowerbeds, an array of trees and an abundance of wildlife, Ormeau Park is a real haven within the city. A walk along well surfaced paths past a Victorian bandstand, flower beds and Victorian House, the park also has an outdoor gym.

Ormeau Park

Scrabo Country ParkNewtownards, Co. Down – 2.3 miles 
The walk takes in the summit of Scrabo Hill and the famous Scrabo Tower built in 1857, one of Ireland's best known landmarks. Soak in stunning views over Strangford Lough and North Down before descending to the disused sandstone quarries which provided building stone since Anglo-Norman times.

Scrabo Country Park

Clement Wilson Park, Belfast, Co. Antrim – 1.2 miles
A wide open park, near the Lock Keeper’s Cottage with plenty of green space to roam around. Walk along the main pathway through the park known locally as the Burma Road and across the River Lagan via the footbridge named after the artist John Luke.

Clement Wilson Park

Cladagh Glen Walk, Cuilcagh Way, Co. Fermanagh – 1.5 miles linear
Part of the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark, this short section of the Cuilcagh Way will take you through the striking landscape of the Cladagh River gorge thickly covered by an ancient ash woodland. There are many features of interest along the route- steep limestone cliffs, cascading waterfalls, cave springs, a turbulent river and a rich treasury of wild flowers.

Cladagh Glen

Crawfordsburn Country Park, Bangor, Co. Down – 1.5 miles
One of a number of walks within the country park, the glen walk undulates through mature beech wood, closely following the course of the Crawford's Burn.  The walk encompasses views of Lanyon’s Viaduct, built in 1863 this fine, five arched sandstone railway viaduct was designed by Sir Charles Lanyon, whose most notable designs included Belfast Castle and Queen’s University Belfast.

Crawfordsburn Country Park

Annesley Garden Walk, Castlewellan Forest Park, Co. Down – 2.2 miles
The forest park's best-kept secret don't be surprised if you are the only one discovering the many secluded spots in this hauntingly beautiful garden and arboretum. The garden was founded in 1740, with the Annesley family planting the arboretum in the 19th century. Once at the entrance gate, choose between the shorter 1.1 mile walk or the 2.2 mile route which continues uphill, circling the Duck Pond and Mitchell's Lake. 

Annesley Garden Walk

Benburb Valley ParkCo. Tyrone– up to 3.9 miles
Explore and enjoy stunning natural and built heritage within Benburb Valley Park on a network of paths along the Blackwater River. The river has carved out a beautiful gorge through the countryside and is an ideal location for walking passing Benburb Priory and Benburb Castle.

Benburb Valley Park

Riverside Park, Ballymoney, Co. Antrim - 4 miles
Riverside Park offers a variety of walks through various landscapes including woodland with the Ballymoney River running through the middle of the park.  Look out for kingfishers and ducks on the pond as the riverside path takes you over footbridges and past informal woodland.  

Riverside Park

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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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