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

Top 11 Walking Picnic Spots in Northern Ireland

Posted on June 27, 2014 @ 12:42 PM in Walking

When the weather is good there’s no better way to spend time together than packing up your picnic hamper and heading outdoors for a stroll. With miles of coastlines and acres of countryside, we want to share with you our top 11 walks with perfect picnic spots across Northern Ireland.

Picnic In Northern Ireland

Portstewart Strand, Portstewart, Co. Derry~Londonderry 

Portstewart Strand Beach is the perfect spot to spend lazy summer days and take long walks into the sand dunes, which are a haven for wild flowers and butterflies. Explore the dune system and waymarked nature trail or visit the Barmouth bird hide for fantastic bird watching.

Mourne Coastal Path, Newcastle, Co. Down

For those staying in Newcastle for the weekend or those escaping just for a day we suggest you take a short walk along the Mourne Coastal Path which stretches for a mile and a half south of the historic site of Bloody Bridge. Newly installed picnic benches and brand new public art at Bloody Bridge Car Park make this a fantastic location for an alfresco lunch. For those looking to walk a bit further from this location you can follow the Bloody Bridge trail along the intriguingly named Brandy Pad, an ancient smugglers’ route from the shore to the heart of the mountains.

Florence Court, Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh 

Offering miles of glorious walks through parkland, gardens and the surrounding forest there are plenty of reasons to enjoy a picnic at Florence Court. Take a stroll into the forest to visit the blacksmith’s forge and carpenters workshop before relaxing with a picnic in the peaceful gardens whilst enjoying the mountain scenery.

Botanic Gardens, Belfast, Co. Antrim 

Take some time to stop and smell the roses in the extensive Rose Garden within Belfast's Botanic Gardens where it’s easy to forget that you are in still in Belfast city centre. Home to one of the earliest examples of cast iron glass houses enjoy sitting on the grass eating your picnic in front of The Palm House. For lots more park walks in the city centre download the Belfast Online Walking Guide for some more great ideas.

Crawfordsburn Country Park, Crawfordsburn, Co. Down 

Crawfordsburn Country Park and Coastal Walk offers the best of both with woodland walk and a walk beside the sea. Amble through a hay meadow, which is full of wild flowers in the summer months before enjoying the sandy beaches where you can get out the picnic basket for a treat or two! For those interested in learning something about the history of the area you can spend some time exploring Grey Point Fort a restored coastal battery.

Rowallane Gardens, Saintfield, Co. Down 

Rowallane just a relatively short drive from Belfast, is a beautiful setting for a walk and picnic. Where you can enjoy the many impressive flowers which are on full display in the summer months. Bring your picnic blanket and enjoy one of the many hidden corners of the garden. There are also picnic benches around the grounds so whether you bring your own or pick up a light lunch from the onsite cafe you’ll be sure to find a spot to enjoy.

Picnic Spots Northern Ireland

Lough Navar Forest, Derrygonnelly, Co. Fermanagh

Take time out at Lough Navar Forest Walk next to the Lough or among the trees in the forest. There are many points of interest within the forest including lakes, viewpoints and places of historical interest where you can stop along the way.

Cave Hill, Belfast, Co. Antrim

Enjoy a walk with a view from the summit of Cave Hill you can sit and enjoy the spectacular panoramic views and munch on a well deserved sandwich or two. On a clear day you can see the city of Belfast and beyond to the Mournes, Strangford Lough and even Scotland.

Castle Ward Estate, Strangford, Co. Down

With 820 acres of landscaped grounds Castle Ward estate is a great escape away from the hustle and bustle. Take a walk through the woodland, explore the old castle ruins or take a leisurely stroll along the Shore Trail. You will be spoilt for choice when it comes to putting down your picnic rug or take advantage of the many picnic and BBQ areas. For those couples looking get away for the night they also have Camping Pods perfect for a spot of Glamping.

Gortmore to Hells Hole, Binevenagh, Co. Derry~Londonderry

A lovely walk is a lovely walk along the cliff top of Binevenagh which overlooks the spectacular Benone Beach, Lough Foyle and the Inishowen Peninsula in Co. Donegal. The walk begins and ends at fortmore viewing point where picnic facilities can be found along with some interesting stone characters.  

Castle Archdale, Irvinestown, Co. Fermanagh

With a variety of walks along the Lough shore of Castle Archdale enjoy a picnic by the famous Lough Erne, on the tables overlooking the marina, in the wildflower meadow or amongst the butterflies in the butterfly garden.

So what are you waiting for? Make some sandwiches, pack the picnic blanket in the car and get ready to enjoy the fantastic walks during the summer months! Click on the links above for further information on the walks including downloadable maps and route descriptions.

Jayne Woodrow
Jayne Woodrow  Marketing Executive

Jayne joined the marketing team of Outdoor Recreation NI in March 2014. She is interested to see if marketing outdoor activities on a daily basis and being surrounded by sporty colleagues rubs off, and stirs up a love for the outdoors (once she conquers her fear of heights of course!).

Contemplating Walking the Ulster Way?

Posted on May 28, 2014 @ 11:44 AM in Walking

The brainchild of Wilfrid Capper MBE who in 1946 had the inspiration to create a circular walking route taking in the six counties of Northern Ireland, the Ulster Way is a must for any long distance walker looking for their next challenge.  The 625 mile long-distance route, through some of the best landscapes Northern Ireland has to offer is definitely a challenge of a lifetime.

With this in mind we chatted to a number of people who have completed the route both in part and full to get an insight into their experiences and find out some top tips for anyone wanting to complete the route themselves. 

Ulster Way The Facts

Distance
Total Distance:
625 miles (1,000 kilometres)
9 Quality Sections
: 411 Miles (658 Kilometres)
6 Link Sections
 
: 214 Miles (342 Kilometres)

Find out the difference between a quality and link section here.

Highest Point
Cuilcagh Mt 666m - Florencecourt to Belcoo Quality Section 

Ulster Way

How long will it take me to walk the Ulster Way?

There is no way of giving one estimated time of how long it would take to walk the entire Ulster Way as this is dependent on a number of factors including your ability and speed and what arrangements you make regarding the link sections.  (We recommend that you follow the advice on our website: walk the quality sections and make use of the public transport on the link sections). 

Other factors include the weather, and whether or not you plan to walk the route in one go or take it in sections.  Depending on your fitness level it is anticipated that it would take on average 3 weeks (based on an average of 20 miles walked per day) to walk all of the Quality Sections.

Don’t just take our word, take theirs…

  •  Wilfrid the founder amazingly, at the age of 88, hiked the entire 665 mile route in just 32 days. 
  •  Two teenagers completed the entire Ulster Way (both quality and link sections) in 2010 to raise money for Headway Northern Ireland. It took them 5 weeks and 1 day. 
  •  Claire Ferry on her journey around RSPB nature reserves completed many sections of the Ulster Way on her trip round Northern Ireland which took her 5 weeks.
  •  Others have taken anywhere between 18 months and 6 years to complete the entire route taking it in sections. 

What Should I Plan Beforehand?

Maps

Although the quality sections are waymarked, unfortunately circumstances beyond our control e.g. theft can occur and therefore it is important to always be prepared and bring a map and compass when walking the route.  You can also download route descriptions and printable maps on the Ulster Way website.

6 of the quality sections (Causeway Coast Way /  Lecale Way / Mourne Way / Moyle Way / Ring of Gullion Way / Sliabh Beagh Way) also have their own downloadable guides which may be useful when planning your route.

Ulster Way Signage Signage along the Ulster Way

Transport

It is a good idea to plan where you will stop each day so you can arrange appropriate transport and accommodation.  Many of those who we spoke to checked public transport times and had a list of taxi numbers on hand so that they could book these in advance (a list of local taxi numbers can be found in each of the way marked way guides mentioned above).  For those walking the route in sections a popular option was to drive to the start then get a taxi back to the car. 

Visit the getting around section on the Ulster Way website for details of the very useful Rambler Bus Service and Translink Journey Planner. 

Lifts and Luggage Transfer

If you prefer not to use public transport there are a couple of walking providers who offer luggage transfers and pick up and drop off services as well as arranging accommodation for parts of the Ulster Way:

www.letsgowalking.com
www.walkingtoursni.com 

Where should I stay?
There are a range of accommodation options available along the route from B&Bs and guesthouses to self catering accommodation and hotels. Details of accommodation situated near or on the route can be found on the relevant sections on the Ulster Way Website.  You can also check out WalkNI.com for exclusive accommodation offers for walkers.  

What Should I Bring?

As with any long distance walk the key is to keep it light! Many of the people we spoke to carried everything they needed on their back including waterproof jacket and trousers (essentials no matter what time of year in Northern Ireland!), a complete change of clothing, first aid kit, map, compass, directions, food and water.  The beauty of the Ulster Way is that it does pass through a number of towns and villages so there is plenty of opportunity to stock up on supplies however some sections are very rural so again good preparation is key!  The route is long, and not always on paths so sections can be quite muddy and over uneven terrain therefore a good pair of walking boots are essential.

Advice from those who have been there and done that…

  • Book accommodation and organise transport arrangements in advance
  • Wear high visibility clothing to be safe on rural roads 
  • Be prepared (physically and psychologically) for rain! This includes protecting the contents of your back pack 
  • Wear a bag with a hip strap for support

Highlights

We asked our Ulster Way experts where their favourite section was and here’s what they had to say:

Causeway Coast Way

From [Larry Bane] to Portballintrae is some of the best walking in the world. Beautiful beaches, dramatic cliffs small harbours, waterfalls down to the sea and the world famous Giant’s Causeway.  Great walk, everyone visting NI or in fact [those that] live here should do it at least once if they can.” Stephen K, 22/04/2014

“This has to be the best long walk I have ever done. The scenery is spectacular from start to finish. The way is well-marked and for the most part, offroad and traffic free...There's something for everyone - seascapes, cliffscapes, golden beaches, verdant pastures, small towns, and world class tourist attractions along the way.” Dean Douglas, 5/09/2013

Moyle Way

"An excellent route through some of the most beautiful scenery that Ireland has to offer." The Antrim Rambler, 30/09/2013

"There is a feeling of wilderness about the trail and that is very refreshing. Beautiful views all around." Eugene Mulholland, 27/05/2013

Carl Nelkin and Ray Bondi completed the Ulster Way over a period of 18 months

Other useful links

Hikers Blog, run by a group of Irish hiking and camping enthusiasts, features a few good articles of first hand accounts of the Mourne Way, Newcastle Way, Sliabh Beagh Way and Lecale Way.  

In 2009 Ulster Walker completed the Ulster Way.  Although he completed the old version of the Ulster way (the route was updated in 2009) many parts are still the same and you can view some fantastic pictures from his walk here and read about his journey on his blog

If you decide to walk the Ulster Way make sure to tell us about your favourite bits and send through any images from your trip to ulsterway@walkni.com we'd love to see them!

Sarah Nelson
Sarah Nelson  Marketing Executive

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!

Newcastle Way in A Day

Posted on March 18, 2014 @ 3:13 PM in Walking

This guys at Hikersblog.co.uk have been busy taking on another waymarked way challenge.  Not content with just completing the Mourne Way in a Day this time they took on the Newcastle Way  , walking all 28 miles in just one day.  Read on to hear a first hand account of their journey along this stunning Way Marked Way in Co. Down on a not so manic Monday... 

We had stepped onto the verge to allow a car to pass on the narrow lane, and as we hopped back onto the dark road to continue our journey, there was a loud rustling in the hedgerow, and dark shapes made their way up the road ahead of us. “DEER!!” John exclaimed, and sure enough the beams of our head torches picked up a small herd of deer, emerging one by one from the hedgerow, and scampering up the lane.  We stood transfixed, as 10, maybe 12 deer scampered off, panicked by the new visitors to their suburban habitat. We were only 20 minutes or so into our journey, but what a way to start our walk!

We were on the Newcastle Way, a 28 mile roughly circular route, which starts and finishes in Newcastle, and includes circuits of Tollymore and Castlewellan forest parks. John and myself had been planning this walk for a while, and wanted to see if we could conquer it in a days walking. We managed to agree on a date, and everything was in place for a Monday assault. It turned out that Ed could also join us, and we quickly came up with a plan for our walk. I would pick up John at 0500, and meet Ed in Donard car park, as he was bivvying in Donard wood the night before. We aimed to start walking at 0530, which meant a start in the dark, but giving us roughly about 13 hours before darkness fell again, to complete our trek. The route on the Walk NI website starts in Newcastle, travelling up Newcastle beach before joining Murlough beach and onwards from there. However a check of the tide tables (recommended if attempting this walk) revealed that high tide coincided with the start of our walk, so we opted to do it in reverse, tackling Tollymore forest park first, and aiming for  a finish along the beach back to Newcastle, hopefully just before the next high tide rolled in!

I awoke just before the alarm at 0420, and was raring to go, which isn’t always the case on a normal Monday morning! A quick breakfast and cuppa, and off I went.  The weather was calm and clear but nippy, and a defrost of the car windscreen delayed my departure for a few minutes. John was ready and waiting as usual, and greeted me with “Morning! We must be mad!” before enjoying a laugh together about the truth of his statement. As we approached Newcastle, the outline of the Mournes was clear and distinct in the pre dawn. Normally we would be heading to hike them, but today we would only skirt them, though they would never be far from view the whole day. We met Ed as planned, (he had enjoyed a porridge pot breakfast at a picnic table in the dark) and off we set.

The Newcastle challenge trail is well marked on the OS 1:25000 map of the mournes, and this makes it quite easy to follow. It is also quite well waymarked at most locations, with the odd exception. After our aforementioned encounter with the deer in Tipperary Lane, we continued up a steep tarmac road into Tollymore, the sky lightening as we walked, the dawn chorus getting into full swing, we walked in silence, soaking up the sounds and smells of the predawn forest as it woke up for the day. For us it was a day off work, a distraction from the norm of the everyday, a tough physical challenge for our bodies, and a test of our wills. For the creatures of the forest it was just another day the same as any other, and as they got on with their routine, we passed on and left them to it.

The sky was really beginning to brighten now, its shades of blue contrasting with the emerging spring greenery, everywhere buds and shoots were emerging, ending the long sleep of winter, the yellow gorse flowers adding dashes of coconut scented colour to the hillside. It was really mild, and we had already dispensed with fleeces etc, and were in baselayers. We stopped for a spot of “second breakfast” at the farthest end of Tollymore, where we watched Red Squirrels scamper and jump in the high branches, natural trapeze artists and acrobats, effortlessly leaping, their bushy red tails flying through the air.  Suitably refreshed, we pressed on. We made our way through Tollymore to the Bryansford gate,  and then from there onwards to Castlewellan. Along the way John spotted a Buzzard perched on a fencepost, but it flew off before wwe could get a picture! A fair sized road section then led to a small rocky lane, then a concrete lane, and then back onto another small road. Then it was onto “cow lane”, which is actually a field rather than a lane! We crossed a small stream with a sturdy bridge, then negotiated a very boggy field, where we strayed a little off course (getting very muddy in the process!) before making our way back to the trail after a quick map check (and spotting a waymarker that we had somehow missed!). Then it was over another little bridge and over a stile into a green lane with high hedges either side.

We were now entering the outskirts of Castlewellan, and rapidly approaching our halfway point for our walk. It was still only mid morning, our pace was good, and we were feeling good, confident now that we could easily chalk off the full distance of the trek in the time we had allotted ourselves.  A quick pit stop at a local garage for some refreshments, and we headed on into Castlewellan forest park, where we planned to enjoy a longer break alongside its lovely lake. I topped up my water pack at a lovely little campsite on the Crow Road, with what I think is one of the nicest views of anywhere I have ever camped. Great memories of time spent with old friends and family in my Scouting days came flooding back, and I stood and smiled, pausing for a brief moment enjoying my thoughts.  Then it was onwards to our lakeside repast, giving the legs a well earned rest, while conscious not to sit still too long, for fear of cramping up. We ate and drank our fill, before making our way back along the opposite side of the stunning lake, the view of the trees and water in the late morning sunlight was a great backdrop as we trekked on. We passed around the back of Castlewellan Castle, then onwards into the town itself.

From there, it was down another quiet country road, before veering off onto some really tranquil green country lanes, unchanged for untold years, rural highways to allow people and livestock to move around freely. It was very peaceful off the road, the birdsong and the rustle of the old hedgerows in the occasional light breeze, the odd bumblebee bumping and  buzzing its way along, searching for whatever early spring blossoms it could locate. Through the small hamlet of Maghera, where the smell of food wafting from the local Inn had us salivating at the thought of a cool pint and some pub grub.  However, we fought the temptation, and pressed on, with the thought that a well earned pint at the end of our walk would taste all the sweeter for doing so.

Having passed Maghera, we knew that the bulk of our walking was behind us, and we were making good time. We passed a large standing stone jutting from the verge, a lovely reminder of our ancient past, sadly spoiled by a telegraph pole stuck right beside it! We stopped at the 12 arches bridge car park, and sat at a picnic bench for a break.  We took the boots off and let the feet air for a while, enjoying the feeling of relaxing and taking the weight off for a moment. We then made our way towards Downshire bridge, before following the trail onto the foreshore. We followed the shore, it was teeming with birdlife of several different species, a stunning location as we approached the end point of our days trek. Before long we were looking at Ballykinlar Army camp across the narrow channel that feeds Dundrum Inner Bay, and could see the warning flag up, indicating that the firing range was in operation. We heard the crump of explosions, and the clatter of gunfire echoed around the huge dunes around us.

We cut inland across the dunes, making our way back onto the beach again when clear of the range, I’m unsure whether we had to do this or not,  but none of us wanted to take any chances! Then it was onto the mighty sweep of Murlough beach, the sea on our left, the mighty dunes, 6000 years old on our right, the mighty mournes sweeping darkly down to the sea in front of us. Murlough was the first designated Nature Reserve in Northern Ireland, way back in 1967.

We could make out Newcastle at the end of the long expanse of flat sand ahead of us, the sun was on our faces, and the taste of salt was on our lips from the steady evening breeze blowing over the sea, as the tide rolled onwards and inwards on its daily cycle. The closer we got to Newcastle, still ahead of us in the evening haze, the further away it seemed, and even the relatively soft sand was not being overly kind on our tired feet! Eventually we passed below the Slieve Donard Hotel, and made our way up into Newcastle, and back down main street to the Donard car park, where we had left some 12 hours earlier.  Our day finished in O’Hares for a couple of well earned pints beside the roaring fire, where we discussed what we had experienced that day, and laughed about our sore feet.  All in all, as Mondays go, it was a pretty epic one!

If you want to have a go walking the Newcastle Way then visit WalkNI.com to download the free walkers guide to the Newcastle Way containing everything you need to walk the route. 

Hikers Blog
Hikers Blog  Walking Enthusiasts and Blogger

HikersBlog.co.uk is a blog run by a group of Irish hiking and camping enthusiasts who can often be found exploring the Mourne Mountains and further afield. Happiest when they are outdoors they document their adventures through trip reports, videos and photos as well as offering gear reviews.

Win £200 of Walking Gear with WalkNI.com and Zalando!

Posted on February 7, 2014 @ 3:24 PM in Walking

Enter WalkNI.com’s competition to be included in the draw to win a £200 voucher to spend online at Zalando. 

Zalando, an online fashion boutique stocking over 1,500 luxury and high street products, has an extensive outdoor section full of outdoor gear from top brands such as The North Face, Berghaus, Jack Wolfskin, Craghoppers, Haglofs, Mountain Hardwear, Regatta and Salomon.

With so much to choose from what are you waiting for?!  Simply visit the WalkNI.com Competition Page to enter. 

Good Luck!

Sarah Nelson
Sarah Nelson  Marketing Executive

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!

Mourne Mountains - A Walkers View

Posted on November 29, 2013 @ 1:00 PM in Walking

We asked Hikers Blog to put together some of their best shots from their walking in the Mourne Mountains and here’s what they came up with.  I think you’ll agree the results are pretty impressive showing that sometimes a walkers view really is the best!

 

Binnian Sunrise - Eamonn Patton

After a great camp I took this photo of my friend John standing silhouetted during a beautiful sunrise on Slieve Binnian . This photo was featured in a double page spread in Trail Magazine.

 

Annalong Valley

Annalong Valley - Ed Benton

I took this photo after a really enjoyable hike from Annalong Wood, up the valley into Newcastle. The weather was fantastic, with just the occasional light shower. The winding track, secluded rock pools and mountain views made it all truly memorable and the view near the end in the picture above made it worth every step.

 

Man Meets Mountain - Ed Benton

Slieve Lamagan is my favourite Mourne Mountain. Its rocky character and steep profile are unique in the Mournes and it is a formidable climb which demands respect.  My friend Dave is pictured walking the path towards Lamagan, absolutely dwarfed by its immensity and power. For me Lamagan has a unique appeal no other mountain can match.

 

 Alpine Conditions on Slieve Bearnagh - John Surginor

This photo was taken during the heavy snow in mid April this year. A friend, Eamonn stands on Slieve Bearnagh taking in the snow blanketed peaks of the Mournes, a rare and magical sight.

 

Binnian

Dawn on Binnian - John Surginor

Slieve Binnian is definitely my favourite Mountain and nothing captures why like this photo. My two friends Spud and Catriona are pictured on the path up Binnian as the sun rises behind them, casting a beautiful golden light right across the Mournes. In this occasion rising early was definitely worth it.

 

Sundews - Eamonn Patton

Often in the mountains the dramatic views in the distance blind us to the beauty which lies beneath our feet. Take for example this beautiful Sundew, an insect eating plant with special appendages for catching its prey.

 

Red Sky - Oisin Patenall

We had been walking all day, and it was getting late and we still had a brave distance to cover to complete the Mourne Wall Challenge. We were rushing to pick up the pace and keeping our heads down, when gradually the bright glare of the summer sun started to fade and was replaced with a soft orange glow bouncing off the land all around us. It brought with it a peaceful atmosphere, which made me stop and just stand there, as if trying to absorb the moment.

 

Hen Mountain

Towards Hen - Oisin Patenall

It had been raining all day, and the skies had only ever changed colour from grey to dark grey. Then out of nowhere, the clouds cleared, the sky shone blue and Hen Mountain lit up in a golden light that only an autumnal evening sun can bring. It was a beautiful sight and changed the dreary atmosphere of the day

 

High Mournes From Eagle - Spud O'Hare

This shot was taken on a bright crisp Sunday morning from eagle mountain in the western mournes, I love the fact you can see all the high mournes, gives a real sense of the scale of the mountains.

 

Frozen Solitude - Spud O'Hare

This shot was taken on a very cold day from the stile at the bog of Donard, I like it because of the sense of frozen isolation, we were the only 2 people there at that time, and it really seemed like we had the frozen mountains to ourselves.

If these fantastic shots have inspired you to get out and experience the views first hand then make sure to visit WalkNI.com for route descriptions, maps, transport and facility information for over 230 quality walks in Northern Ireland. 

Latest comment posted by Bob Pearce on November 30, 2013 @ 2:09 PM

A fine collection of photographs displaying the Mournes at their best. Based in Birmingham I treasure my visits to County Down and time spent walking in the Mournes Read more >

Hikers Blog
Hikers Blog  Walking Enthusiasts and Blogger

HikersBlog.co.uk is a blog run by a group of Irish hiking and camping enthusiasts who can often be found exploring the Mourne Mountains and further afield. Happiest when they are outdoors they document their adventures through trip reports, videos and photos as well as offering gear reviews.

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