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
Posted on April 19, 2016 @ 2:10 PM in
Posted on April 14, 2016 @ 11:02 AM in
Everybody loves puffins! The ‘clown of the sea’ is unmistakable with its black back and white underparts, black head with large pale cheeks and a tall, flattened, brightly-coloured bill. Although most people don’t realise that these trademark bills are only for showing off during breeding season and they sport a much duller beak during winter!
For most of the year, puffins bob about at sea, returning to land in April. Most puffins start breeding when they are five years old and often live for more than 20 years. Some young, inexperienced birds may change mates after breeding failures but most will mate with the same partner for many years.
Rathlin Island, which lies just six miles off the north coast of Northern Ireland and is accessible by ferry from Ballycastle, Co. Antrim, is home to one of the UK’s largest seabird colonies, including hundreds of puffins.
Rathlin West Seabird Centre (Andy Hay); Puffin with sandeels (Chris Gomersall)
During the summer these comical creatures share the cliffs at the island’s west lighthouse with thousands of other seabirds, from kittiwakes to fulmars, but they are undoubtedly the star of the show.
Every year visitors from all around the world make the journey to Rathlin and the West Light Seabird Centre, which is run by RSPB NI, to enjoy stunning views of these birds. As well as the visual spectacle, the sound and smell is pretty crazy too! Between April and July the birds are hard at work raising their young (which are known as ‘pufflings’) and by August, the puffins and their charges are back off to sea.
Puffin and Common Guillemot on Rathlin (Andy Hay); Cliff Stacks beside the Seabird Centre
With Puffin season here now is the time to pay a visit to Rathlin where as well as enjoying close-up views of the wonderful wildlife you’ll also have the opportunity to explore the recently renovated Seabird Centre and access the ‘upside down’ lighthouse. Situated at the heart of the colony, it’s a spectacular feat of engineering, clinging to the cliff face with the lantern gleaming red at its foot. Along with 11 other lighthouses around the Irish coast, Rathlin West Light is now part of the Great Lighthouses of Ireland trail.
Opening hours of The Rathlin West Light Seabird Centre vary, check before travelling by calling 028 9049 1547 or contact RSPBNI via their social channels - Facebook or Twitter.
is open from 10am until 5pm every day until the end of September and can be accessed via the Rathlin Trail. Admission is free for RSPB members, £5 for adults and £2.50 for children. Please note that while the main visitor centre is accessible, there is an 89 step descent to the viewing platform and a similar number of steps down through the lighthouse.
Upsidedown Lighthouse; Rathlin West Light Seabird Centre
For more information about the Seabird Centre visit www.rspb.org.uk/rathlinisland.
Don’t forget there’s a lot more of the island to explore too! For keen walkers, I’d recommend taking on the Roonivoolin trail on the southern arm of the island. This ramble through the RSPB NI nature reserve is home to a rich variety of birds and wildlife, from common blue butterflies to wildflowers, soaring birds of prey to Northern Ireland’s only family of chough.
Clockwise from top left; View from the Roonivoolin trail, Guillemot. (Andy Hay); Kittiwake pair (Andy Hay)
Visit WalkNI for a full list of walk trails on Rathlin.
Posted on March 31, 2016 @ 4:34 PM in
We hope you enjoyed Part One of our Top Spring Flowers to Spot blog and are ready to find our more in Part Two…
Violets on sunny banks are a welcome sight in March and April. For many, a violet is simply a violet, but look closely and you may well come across three species. Always the earliest to appear, and often not identified, even though fairly common is Early Dog Violet, growing in light woodland and more likely on limestone.
Wood Dog Violets are more straggly than Common Dog Violets, with blue flowers tending towards purple. The purple spur at the rear of the flower is a good identification point, other violets have creamy spurs. Common Dog Violets are frequent everywhere on sunny hedge-banks facing spring sunshine.
Heath Dog Violets are mostly found on sandy heath-land or coastal grasslands. Also in early April, almost pure white flowers of Greater Stitchwort appear on grassy roadside banks. You might well see two closely related plants with smaller flowers, Lesser Stitchwort and Least Stitchwort.
You can identify them using that new wildflower book you bought! Wild Garlic carpets woodland floors and is a plant every walker is aware of. Tramping boots release the intense garlic smell from crushed leaves. Look up some of the many culinary uses for wild garlic on the internet. It is also reputed to protect from witches!!
Wood Anemones are common- no reason to leave out such a dainty and delicate flower which brightens woodland floors in late March and April with nodding white flowers. Wood Anemone is sometimes called windflower because the flowers tremble continually in even a slight breeze.
The earliest orchid to appear is Early Purple Orchid in May with magenta flowers and leaves with dark brown blotches. Shakespeare described them as ‘Long purples’. Some woods have this species in abundance, others have none.
White-pink flowers of Ladies Smock, appear for a few weeks in damp meadows, around the end of April. Often Orange-Tip and Green-veined white butterflies will be fluttering around Ladies Smock, looking for a suitable spot to lay rafts of orange eggs under the leaves.
There are so many other common spring species to see, all worth a place, so buy a flora book as suggested and you will open up a new world of discovery for yourself. Try it and see, and by the way there are at least another 100 or so spring plants to find.
No apologies for leaving out two iconic spring species-bluebells and primroses-everyone knows these beautiful plants well. Rare plants are always worth looking for, in the right place, and are more likely to be seen by those who walk or look where others seldom do. The cliffs of Binevenagh and Sallagh Braes (usually in May) have rare spring flowering alpines not found elsewhere in Northern Ireland. Cushions of Moss Campion dotted with pink flowers adorn the cliffs of Binevenagh in May.
Mountain Avens with creamy white eight petalled flowers which close up in rain, can be found on the cliffs around the same time.
You will however be very lucky to find Purple Saxifrage, and although reputed to grow on Binevenagh, I have never seen it there. You have a much better chance of finding this beautiful plant on rocky outcrops on the limestone hills of Sligo.
So, set out on a world of discovery this spring, don’t worry if the group gets ahead a bit. Better still, try the odd wander with a few friends or on your own. When you begin to notice and concentrate on the plants around you, your heart-rate will drop and your mind will relax-for a while anyhow!
Posted on March 8, 2016 @ 3:13 PM in
It won’t be long now until spring, already on a sunny evening, daylight lasts until after 6:30pm and the sun feels warmer- when it gets a chance to shine! We walk for many and varied reasons -fitness fanatics, talking walkers (or is it walking talkers) and walkers who want to see. Some of us know where we belong. For 50 years or more, like many walkers, a love of nature and landscape has been an integral part of my walking; coastlines, woods, rivers, lakes and hills all provide different environments, always with something different around each corner.
I usually walk with Mid-Ulster Walking Club, but stops to examine plants or insects, organise and take photographs, gather equipment up, and starting off anew all takes time. A few interesting observations, and suddenly, you are a few hundred yards behind the main group. On a steep climb that always looks a long way! It wasn’t a problem once. It is now (no prizes for guessing the reason!) so I tend to walk more often on my own.
If you have even a passing interest in wild flowers seen on your walks, it is well worth spending a few pounds on a straightforward flower identification book. There are many to choose from, but one nicely produced and almost pocket sized volume is ‘Harrap’s Wild Flowers’ by Simon Harrap with good photographs, clear descriptions and approximate distributions of most of the species you are likely to find. Flowers have ‘their entrances and exits’-their seasons. Many spring flowers grow in woodland, taking advantage of energy from sunlight before the leaf canopy develops, so with this in mind let’s take an imaginary walk through the woods…
A few warm days in March and bright yellow and unmistakeable flowers of Lesser Celandine are the first to appear, livening up hedge-banks and woodland clearings. Have a look at the delicately marked leaves, too.
At around the same time yellow Coltsfoot flowers appear, before the leaves and often in stony or uncultivated ground. Coltsfoot is a tough little plant which can even push through tarmac. The felted leaves appear after flowering.
Near wet marshy ground and stream-sides, mid-April will provide showy chrome yellow flowers of Marsh Marigold, sometimes known as Bachelor’s Buttons.
In early May, many shaded woodland tracks will have an edging carpet of with tiny yellow-green flowers.
Underneath Hazel trees you can find clumps of parasitic ghostly white-pink Toothwort flowers in April. Toothwort has no leaves and obtains nutrients from hazel roots. It is local in distribution and often missed as it flowers early in spring, preferring fairly shaded areas.
Wood Sorrel with felty green shamrock like leaves, carpets shady woodland floors and sometimes invades mossy tree trunks. Add its leaves to enliven a salad - not too many though, they contain tiny amounts of oxalic acid!
Lords and Ladies is a member of the Arum family. Like many plants associated with folklore, it has several other names including Cuckoo Pint and Jack in the Pulpit. In autumn, it matures producing spikes of red berries.
Pink Campion, can be forgiven for an untidy and straggly appearance, thanks to striking and almost ‘shocking pink’ flowers. This vibrant flower can be found along woodland edges during late May, usually in areas with neutral soils.
Read Top Sping Flowers to Spot - Part Two
Posted on March 3, 2016 @ 12:31 PM in
Treat your Mum to a well-deserved day out this Mothering Sunday with one of these great leisurely walk ideas to enjoy together. From glorious spring gardens to spectacular stately homes and breath taking views, take your Mum for a special stroll this Sunday. Post walk tea and buns are compulsory!
1. Visit a Stately Home
Castle Coole, Co. Fermanagh (FREE entry 5th & 6th March)
2. Explore a Secret Garden
Castlewellan Forest Park - Annesley Garden Walk, Co. Down
3. Have Alfresco Afternoon Tea
Crawfordsburn Country Park, Co. Down
4.Feed the Ducks at Lough Neagh
Oxford Island, Co. Armagh
5. Make a Wish at a Waterfall
Glenariff Forest Park, Waterfall Walk, Co. Antrim
6. Spot Spring flowers
The Argory, Co. Armagh
7. Take a Stroll in a Country Park
Ness Country Park, Co. Derry~Londonderry
8. Hit the beach!
Cushendun, Co. Antrim
9. Go Bird Watching
Castle Espie, Co. Down
10. Take in the Views
Divis Ridge Trail, Co. Antrim
Happy Mother's Day!