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 23, 2013 @ 4:38 PM in
With Spring finally in full swing, Conor McKInney from the Ulster Wildlife Trust has put together a fantastic blog on what everyone should be looking out for when it comes to wildlife this Spring....
Spring has finally arrived to Northern Ireland and the recent episodes of good weather have stimulated our resident wildlife into a flurry of activity. The term “spring” itself is deemed to have originated from the spikes of green shoots that appear in woodlands as our days begin to lengthen and I really can think of no better place to spend warm spring days than in some of the fine examples of woodland habitats that we have throughout Northern Ireland.
By now the early weather has awoken some of the earlier rising woodland butterflies who will be frantically chasing potential mates and seeking out food sources. The orange tip butterfly is one of our earliest risers and can be seen flitting between patches of bluebells and red campion, two of our most common woodland flowers. The speckled wood is another early riser and can often be seen feeding on honeydew, dandelion and cuckooflower. For such a delicate looking butterfly they are actually highly territorial and can often be seen perching in prominent sunlit perches where they will try to entice passing females or chase off rival males.
Photo Courtesy of Les Binns
Another alluring aspect of our woodland habitats is the sheer volume of bird call. At this time a lot of our species are busy singing their little hearts out to advertise themselves to potential suitors as well as establishing and defending territories, in short our woodlands are full of the sounds of avian sex and violence. Now is a particularly good time to start to learn to identify particular species by their calls as foliage cover is patchy at best. Among some of our best songsters is the little wren, which despite only weighing the same as a £1 coin can hammer out a song at 92 db – roughly equivalent to the noise from a passing lorry! Mainly the male wrens sing and interestingly each has several phrases in their repertoire that will change according to region, much like the change in local accents and sayings thoughout Northern Ireland.
Although any woodland is a pleasure at this time of the year there are a few that are real jewels in Northern Ireland’s crown. I am going to shamelessly plug 2 of Ulster Wildlife’s nature reserves at Straidkilly and Glenarm because of the importance of some of the flora and fauna there and the beauty of each site. Straidkilly in particular has some wonderful glades a little off the beaten track that host a phenomenal range of butterflies including the newly discovered cryptic wood white butterfly. Glenarm is one of only 2 different sites in Northern Ireland that has the stunning wood cranesbill, both sites also boast rarities such as toothwort, a rather fetching parasitic plant and of course the charismatic red squirrel which will be commonly seen ground feeding at this time of year as it enthusiastically tries to build up it’s fat stores. These sites also boast some of our common favourites such as wood anemone and bluebells which create sweeping blue and white carpets across the woodland floor.
Photo Courtesy of Adam Cormack
Another excellent woodland walk, and one close to my heart, is NIEA’s Ness Country Park just outside of L/Derry. Right now the wood is alive with birdsong from our migrants such as willow warblers, black caps and chiff chaffs as well as our resident tits and thrushes, it is also a great spot to see the dipper dutifully bobbing away. Outside the allure of our songbirds it is also a great place to spot signs of secretive otters who leave regular signs along the banks of the Burntollet river. These include flattened bank-side vegetation that marks their regular haul out areas as well as scat in prominent areas that otters use to mark their territory. Badgers will also leave signs of excavation as they vigourously clear out communal setts after a period of relative inactivity over the winter. During the months of April and May badgers will also be introducing starry eyed cubs to their new woodland homes so secretive dusk watches can often herald remarkable sights of badger cubs playing and badger clans snuffling. Among the frantic match-making going on occurring between our “birds and bees” it is probably worth while mentioning that the Ness waterfall is believed to be the highest in Northern Ireland and has also been voted as one of the most romantic places in Britain, so why not take a picnic and join in the with the spring romanticising, it is well worth the trip.
Visit WalkNI.com for route descriptions, maps, transport and facility information for over 230 quality walks including the ones mentioned above.
Posted on March 8, 2013 @ 2:56 PM in
With the long cold winter months hopefully behind us, it's time to start looking forward to the season of spring and there is no better way to enjoy the improving weather and longer days than by walking in Northern Ireland. To make the most of walking in this season, it is always best to be prepared so in light of this The Outdoor Shop has put together a guide on how to best gear up for this spring.
1. Re-waterproofing walking gear
Last year saw the wettest April for over a century. Although this spring we may not be expecting quite as much rain, when living in the UK it is always useful to prepare for rainy weather. When hiking though the great British countryside it is always recommendable to do everything you can to avoid spending hours trekking in waterlogged gear which is not only uncomfortable, but if you get too cold can also be bad for your health.
Prepare for this year’s April showers by re-waterproofing your walking gear. There are plenty of products out there that are specifically designed to waterproof your outdoor clothing from sprays to washes with different products specialising in different types of fabrics.
When walking outdoors it is always advisable to wear sensible footwear. As Britain transfers from winter to the spring, we hope with this will come slightly warmer weather. It is important to treat your feet with care and to wear the appropriate footwear for the weather outside. So if you have been using thick walking boots throughout the winter months, it may be worth getting some walking footwear that is more breathable and suitable for warmer weather.
There are plenty of walking shoes out there that are suitable for the spring time. Look for shoes with qualities that are lightweight, waterproof and breathable; everything you need in a shoe when walking during the spring season.
3. Insect repellent
As with the other seasons, during spring you need to take enough precaution to protect yourself from insects that could cause you harm. In the UK, when protecting yourself from insects, pay particular attention to ticks as being bitten by one of these tiny creatures can cause lyme disease for humans. During spring when the weather gets warmer, ticks should be paid particular attention to when walking through tall vegetation. Covering yourself and your clothes in a good insect repellent will protect against ticks.
4. Lightweight waterproof jacket
Although spring is warmer than winter, it can still be just as wet and rainy. Investing in a lightweight waterproof jacket will be perfect for those spring days where the weather is mild but rainy. So in replace of your thicker and warmer coat you have been using throughout the winter months, invest your time in looking for a jacket that will keep you at the right temperature but also dry. Many jackets now come with Gore-Tex fabric which is perfect for your springtime walks. With a microporous structured membrane, each microscopic pore is roughly 20,000 times smaller than a drop of water. What this means is that outside moisture from rain or snow can’t enter the membrane, keeping you dry. Not only this but the pores on the Gore-Tex membrane are 700 times larger than water vapour molecule, meaning any perspiration can escape, keeping you comfortable on those warmer spring days.
5. Water bottle
Whatever season you are out walking in, taking plenty of water is always essential. As well as seeing a lot of rain, the spring weather can also reach heights of 32°c (very rare to reach these temperatures but it has happened). So whatever the weather, make sure you are at no risk of dehydration and purchase a good size water bottle. Alternatively, hydration systems can hold up to 4 litres of water and are perfect for those extra-long hikes remote from natural clean water supplies.
Spring may not be quite warm enough for shorts and t-shits, but it is certainly warm enough to ditch the fleeces and warm trousers. For those in-between spring days where the weather is warm but not quite warm enough to go out without a jacket, a body warmer is the perfect compromise. Body warmers are warm enough to keep off the chill of a cold breeze, but are small enough to fit into a rucksack. As the weather generally starts to get warmer in spring, stay comfortable and chose clothing made of wicking fabrics.
7. Bothy / Bivi Bag
We may now be looking forward to better weather, the past 12 months can demonstrate just how quickly the weather can turn. You can start off your trek on a beautiful sunny morning, but by early afternoon, the heavens have opened and you’re fighting your way through a thunder storm. When venturing out away from any form of shelter, it is best to prepare for all situations. A bothy bag will provide you with emergency shelter which can allow you to read your map or eat your lunch when nature turns against you.
This article was produced by The Outdoor Shop, a leading independent retailer of outdoor clothing and equipment.
Posted on January 9, 2013 @ 1:53 PM in
A keen hill walker and outdoor pursuits enthusiast Pauline Mc Gurk completed the 6 peaks challenge in June 2012 - a time when the weather should have been reasonable for hiking...but not in N.Ireland! Along with her partner in crime Emma McCann, she completed the challenge in the most horrendous weather; including gale force winds, rain and sleet. Fortunately they were well prepared with lots of changes of gear and plenty of food and hot drinks which was a major contributing factor in allowing them to complete the challenge in just 21 hours.
Given her experiences and the fact that Pauline is a volunteer with North West Mountain Rescue Team, we thought there was no better person to ask advice for walking in the hills safely now that Winter is in full swing. There are many wonderful mountains and hills in Northern Ireland waiting to be explored however the importance of approaching the hills with extreme care and good preparation can not be stressed enough. Using guidance from the North West Mountain Rescue website Pauline has given the following advice to anyone hoping to enjoy a safe and fun day out hiking in the hills:
Mountains can be killers without proper care. The following points cover the minimum precautions you should take if you want to avoid getting hurt or lost or, in the event of an accident, minimise further harm.
PLANNING AND PREPARATION
- Plan before setting out!
- Consider the equipment, experience, capabilities and enthusiasm of the party members
- Check the weather forecast and local conditions
- Remember night encroaches early in the winter
- Learn first aid
- Many accidents occur towards the latter part of the day when both your energy levels (and phone battery!) will be run down. Did you remember to charge your battery before setting out?
FOOTWEAR AND CLOTHING
- Wear suitable boots with a treaded sole which provide support for ankles
- Clothing should be colourful, warm, windproof and waterproof
- Take spare warm clothing and perhaps a hat and gloves; it is always colder on the tops
FOOD AND DRINK
- In addition to the usual sandwiches take chocolate, dates, or similar sweet things, which restore energy quickly. Even if you don’t need them yourself, someone else may!
- If you run out of water remember streams on hills are drinkable as long as the water is fast-running over stony beds
EQUIPMENT AND ITS USE
- A map, compass (and the ability to use them), and at least one reliable watch in the party should always be carried
- If you carry a GPS, at least know how to read your current position. It could save a lot of hassle in an emergency when speaking to the Mountain Rescue Team
- In all conditions, it is wise to carry a whistle, torch, spare batteries and bulbs
- Climbers and mountain bikers are all urged to wear helmets at all times
- If in groups, make sure party leaders are experienced; do not let the party become separated
- Take special care of the youngest and weakest in dangerous places
- If you prefer to go alone, be aware of the additional risk. Let people know your route before you start, stick to it as far as you can and notify them of any changes.
- Be prepared to turn back if conditions are against you; even if it upsets your plan
- If you have a serious problem, Dial 999 and ask for mountain rescue as soon as possible. Prior to dialling 999 be prepared to state your contact number (so that the Mountain Rescue Team can contact you), your location if known (if unknown state your starting point and any known landmarks within your vicinity), the nature and number of injuries if any
- Keep injured/exhausted people safe and warm until help reaches you. If you cannot contact anyone, use six whistle blasts or torch flashes, repeated at minute intervals, to signal an emergency. Report any changes of route or timetable to someone who is expecting you
- Do not rely on a mobile phone to get you out of trouble. Signal coverage in mountainous areas is very unreliable. Mountain Rescue Teams have many years of experience in calls from mobile telephones and, whilst they are excellent when they work, there are many things that can go wrong. Even moving a few feet in the mountains can mean losing the signal. You will be advised of best practice when contacted. If you are able to summon help using your mobile phone keep it switched on so you can be contacted
DANGERS – THAT CAN BE AVOIDED
- Precipices or Cliffs
- Slopes of ice or steep snow
- Very steep grass slopes, especially if frozen or wet
- Unstable boulders
- Gullies, gorges and stream beds
- Streams in spate
- Snow cornices on ridges or gully tops
- Exceeding your experience and abilities
- Loss of concentration, especially toward the end of a long day
DANGERS – THAT REQUIRE CONSTANT MONITORING
- Weather changes - these can be sudden and more extreme than forecast
- Ice on path (carry an ice-axe and crampons - and know how to use them)
- Excessive cold or heat (dress appropriately)
- Exhaustion (know the signs; rest and keep warm)
- Accident or illness (don't panic - if you send for help, make sure you stay put and the rescuers know exactly where to come)
- Passage of Time - especially true when under pressure - allow extra time in winter conditions
Always remember it is no disgrace to turn back if you are not certain. A party must be governed by the capabilities of the weakest member.
Now you’re prepared with the knowledge of how to stay safe in the hills, check out WalkNI.com for a whole host of walking routes in Northern Ireland’s majestic mountains. Happy Hill Walking!
Posted on December 5, 2012 @ 1:14 PM in
Northern Ireland’s beaches are amazing places to visit in the summer when the sun is shining and the days are long but the winter time can be an even better time to take a trip to the seaside because of the fact that you can walk for miles without meeting another soul!
As you stroll along the sandy beaches of Northern Ireland in winter, take in the amazing 360 degree views, feel the blustery wind in your hair, take a moment to watch the surfers make their moves, build some sand castles, practice your photography skills or watch out for the winter wildlife that may make an appearance. Just be sure to wrap up warm!
After a long breezy day on the beach, there’s only one thing that will finish the day off perfectly and that’s a hot drink for warming the belly…so listed below are a number of beaches that have café or restaurant facilities close by to service this very need.
So what are you waiting for?!
- Benone Strand, Co. Londonderry – stretches for over 7 miles from Downhill to Magilligan Point. This beach is a blue flag beach with amazing views along the North Coast, to Inishowen in Donegal and to Scotland.
- Carnlough Beach, Co. Antrim – has a serene and idyllic atmosphere and is at the foot of the famous Glens of Antrim if you fancy some additional walking in the hills.
- Crawfordsburn Beach, Co. Down - approximately 0.7 kilometres in length this beach comprises of sand with a rocky shoreline at either end and is only a 20 minute drive from Belfast.
- Murlough Beach, Co. Down - a wide flat sandy beach with a 2m wide pebble ridge providing amazing views of the Mourne Mountains in the distance.
- Tyrella Beach, Co. Down - a small enclosed beach and dune complex within Dundrum Bay comprising of a wide flat sandy beach, 2km long and backed by 25 hectres of mature dunes.
There’s no better way to get away from all the hype surrounding Christmas than to schedule a lazy winter day on the beach during the festive period…it certainly beats scrambling around the shops to find last minute presents or helping Gran complete her crosswords when she comes to stay for Christmas!
For more detailed information on all beaches in Northern Ireland including their facilities, activities and events, please visit BeachNI.com
Posted on November 15, 2012 @ 4:25 PM in
Ross Millar, keen hill walker and Chairperson of Moutnaineering Ireland shares with WalkNI.com his favourite walk...
I am reliably informed that I first started walking at 11 months. Nothing terribly serious at that stage but then, as now, a voyage of exploration. I was born with a love of the outdoors and still value few things more dearly than the sights, sounds and most smells of the countryside. My love of the outdoors was nurtured by being a ‘cub’ and then a ‘boy’ scout from the ages of 7 until 18. The things we got up to would be deemed so ‘risky’ now that they would be banned or someone would at least be prosecuted but I still remember them with fondness. Cut knees; a broken arm; a couple of scars, so what?
I started ‘hillwalking’ in my mid-teens, cycling to the then nearby Sperrins and walking over the moorlands. I liked the space to think, still do. On that, I am not alone as it has been the practice of many artists, photographers, poets and philosophers to take to the hills. However, given that I claim to be none of these, I can safely say it is a matter of personal choice as to why you go hillwalking and that for many it is a chance to socialise and meet new people. However, enough on the whys and wherefores, I would recommend ‘The Joy of Hillwalking’ by Ralph Storer as an amusing read on the subject.
After spending my student days attending art college ‘across the water’ I came back to Northern Ireland and started earning a living bringing my love of both hillwalking and the great outdoors with me. My career path was quite deliberate. It had to involve the outdoors, so as a by then ‘Town Planner’, I deliberately specialised in rural planning and in that sense got to know almost all the countryside of Northern Ireland fairly intimately over the next 20 years. When I first ventured to the Lake and Peak Districts and then Snowdonia in the 80’s, what was so obvious was the sheer numbers of people and all the paraphernalia of cafes, B&B’s and outdoor gear shops. There was nowhere in Ireland that had anything to compare with this.
However, what we did and still have throughout Ireland is a hugely diverse landscape with glorious hills and mountains embracing the weather and often just kissing the sea. There are endless places to discover and little competition for space (unlike Snowdon!).
I have enjoyed countless beautiful and memorable walks all over Ireland. In the North, I love the sheer splendour of the Mournes, the freshness of the Causeway Coast with the sea breezes, headlands and glimpses of Scotland and the Isles, and Fermanagh will always hold a special place in my heart because of its own magic of contrasts. Add to all that the changes in the seasons and the light and, somewhat like being on Desert Island Discs. I would find it really hard to choose my favourite but I have been asked to so I have chosen Slieve Bernagh in the Mournes.
My Favourite Walk -Slieve Bearnagh
Bearnagh or ‘Gapped Mountain’ is one of the 6 highest peaks in the Mourne range. Whilst at 739 meters it is not a huge mountain, to me it is just so striking. Those rocky tors and the magnificent slabs on its northern face; the (Mourne) Wall almost defying gravity in places, you cannot help but want to go to its summit where you have magnificent views in all directions.
Like all mountains there is more than one way to reach the top. Most people will take the well-established (and relatively dry) route leading from Trassey car park, up the Trassey Track to the quarry and from there take the partially stone pitched path to the Wall at the saddle between Bearnagh and Meelmore.
I prefer the longer approach to the same spot following the ridge from the ‘Ulster Way’ car park to the summit of Meelbeg. As you near the summit Bearnagh majestically appears. From there down to the saddle between Meelbeg and Meelmore and you can take the contour track round.
You then can choose to more or less go straight up (through quite difficult scree) or take one of a number of contoured paths breaking for the summit when you feel able. It’s simply a beautiful mountain.
There are a number of quality walks on WalkNI.com which take in Slieve Bearnagh including ‘Bearnagh and Meelmore’ and the challenging ‘Slieve Donard, Commedagh and Bearnagh’ routes. Visit WalkNI.com for descriptions, images and maps.
In this latter part of my life, I am keen not only to ensure that such places remain accessible and enjoyed but that they are valued and looked after. That is why I give of my time to Mountaineering Ireland and other bodies. I myself am a bit of a ‘lone walker’ or a small group man at most. I like the space and the ability to dawdle if I want. I’m with Hippocrates in believing that “Walking is man's best medicine”. My father was sadly unable to walk for most of his life due to a debilitating bone disease, so to me it is simply a blessing.
Aldous Huxley said his father considered a walk among the mountains as the equivalent of churchgoing. It certainly means that to me and I recall a funny incident when asked by a local Councillor for whose organisation I was then working “What Church do you attend?” the look of sheer bewilderment when I replied “Jesus Christ and Latter Day Mountains”. He probably thought I was a Mormon!