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 September 2, 2016 @ 3:37 PM in
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…
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!
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!
Posted on August 19, 2016 @ 12:16 PM in
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.
Dungannon Park, Co. 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.
Christie Park & Somerset, Coleraine, 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.
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.
Scrabo Country Park, Newtownards, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Benburb Valley Park, Co. 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.
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.
Posted on July 21, 2016 @ 8:54 PM in
It’s all about fabulous food and wonderful walks on the Causeway Coast. This 2 day itinerary of awe-inspiring views and deliciousness features the best spots to eat combined with fabulous short walks to work it all off!
Rise and shine, having travelled up from Belfast and stayed the night before it’s time for breakfast on the beach at Harrys Shack. A quirky beach shack with fairground lights slung from the ceiling, wood burning stove and big windows so you don’t miss out on ‘that view’. Situated on Portstewart Strand a walk on the beach will set you up for the day!
Image: North Antrim Cliff Path, Alistair Hamill Photography
Hop in the car for 30 mins and park at the Giant’s Causeway before taking the Translink Causeway Rambler Bus Service (402) to Dunseverick. It’s now time to witness some of the best coastal walk Ireland has to offer on the North Antrim Cliff Path (note this can be walked in either direction). Just under 5 miles in length the route is part of the longer Causeway Coast Way. Leave the trail of visitors behind as you pass by attractively named headlands such as Port na Spaniagh, The King & his nobles, Plaiskin Head, Hamiliton’s Seat, Benbane Head, Bengore Head, Portnabrock and Port Moon Bay to experience one of the Causeway Coast’s best kept secrets. Ending with the best panoramic views of the iconic Giant’s Causeway take time to explore the UNESCO site before heading back to the carpark.
Enroute back to Portrush have a bite of lunch and something sweet at the fabulous Doras Tearoom where the moto is ‘there is always time for tea and room for cake!’ With Mars Bar and Peanut Butter scones on the menu after your clifftop walk there will be no need to feel guilty about indulging!
Image: Alfresco dining at Dora's Tea House
A pit stop on the way back to Whiterocks Beach is a great way to burn off some calories with incredible views. The limestone cliffs of the Blue Flag beach stretch from Curran Strand to Dunluce Castle creating a labyrinth of caves and arches.
After a quick freshen up it’ll be time to head to the renowned Ramore Wine Bar - a vibrant waterfront spot with a relaxed vibe serving a cosmopolitan menu, delicious cocktails and humongous deserts! Finish the day off at the Gin Bar upstairs at the Harbour Bar where they serve every combination of G&T imaginable with a side of live music.
Stay the Night: Atlantic Way, Portrush – a home from home this self-catering accommodation is stocked with everything you could possibly need from freshly cut flowers to fresh orange juice the reviews speak for themselves.
Image: Homely touches at the Atlantic Way
For more accommodation options visit WalkNI or Discover Northern Ireland.
Refreshed and ready to embrace the day head to Bushmills for breakfast at the French Rooms for some French bistro classics like Eggs Benedict and Croque Monsieur or pick up a treat in shop or deli.
Fuelled for the day, walk the Heritage Railway Path in Portballintrae. This short 1.5 mile walk follows the line of the former Giant's Causeway Tramway taking in stunning coastal scenery against the backdrop of the River Bush, Runkerry Strand, the Giant’s Causeway and Bushmills Heritage Railway.
Image: heritage Railway Path
10 miles along the coast road passing Whitepark Bay enroute you’ll reach the famous Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge. Under 2 miles in length, walk along fabulous coastline with turquoise waters and cross the 30 metre high rope bridge to an idyllic island where the seabird colonies will provide a noisy welcome to views of Rathlin Island and the distant Scottish Isles.
Just a 10 minute drive away Ballycastle is the perfect pitstop for lunch and an icecream. Enjoy some tasty fish and chips on the harbour form Mortons or tuck into delicious freshly baked bread at Ursa Minors independent Artisan Bakehouse.
Image: Glenariff Waterfall Walk
Driving back along the causeway coastal route to Belfast take a quick detour to Glenariff Forest Park. Meaning ‘Queen of the Glens’, 19th Century English novelist William Thackeray penned it as “a Switzerland in Miniature”. Explore the striking landscape via 4 circular scenic walks ranging from 0.4 to 5.9 miles (0.6 – 9.5 km). Be sure not to miss out on the impressive double-drop Ess-na-Larach Waterfall one of the many dramatic waterfalls that punctuate the deep sided gorge of the Nature Reserve.
Posted on June 21, 2016 @ 2:49 PM in
Every wondered what the names of the Mourne Mountains actually mean? With the help of some fantastic shots from Peter Lennon Photography we have put together a collection of summits (or Slieves from the Irish word ‘Sliabh’ meaning mountain) and the meanings behind their names.
Slieve Meelmore (682m) meaning mountain of the large (Mor) animals.
Walk routes incorporating Slieve Meelmore
The Mourne Wall climbing up Slieve Meelmore
Looking across at Meelmore in the middle distance (with the wall on it.) from Bearnagh
With two impressive rocky tors and a col lying between them it is easy to see where Slieve Bearnagh (739m) from the Irish “Sliabh Bearna” meaning “Gapped Mountain” gets its name.
Walk routes incorporating Slieve Bearnagh
Looking across at Bearnagh on the right with Ben Crom Reservoir hidden below walkers in the distance.
View from the slopes of Slieve Bearagh looking towards Carlingford with Binnian on the left, Ben Crom reservoir, around to Slieve Loughshannagh
The Tors of Slieve Bearnagh
The name Lamagan (704m) means “by hands and feet!!”giving a hint at how steep this summit is.
Walk routes incorporating Slieve Lamagan
Slieve Lamagan from the footpath which starts at Carricklittle car park, Annalong
View from Slieve Lamagan - taken from the summit looking across a Slieve Binnian (left) and Ben Crom reservoir below with the tip of the Silent Valley reservoir just coming into view.
Slieve Binnian (747m) is named from the Irish Sliabh Binneáin after the rocky tors across it’s summit, also known as the Mountain of the little horns
Slieve Binnian walking route
View of Binnian from Bearnagh
Taken from the Buzzards Roost on Slieve Binnian looking over Ben Crom reservoir at Ben Crom mountain and Slieve Bearnagh to the left
Slieve Donard (850m) is named after Saint Donard, known in Irish as Domhanghairt or Domhanghart. A follower of Saint Patrickand he founded a monastery at Maghera, north of Newcastle. According to tradition he was appointed by Saint Patrick to guard the surrounding countryside from the summit.
Walk routes incorporating Slieve Donard
Slieve Donard framed by the rocks at the top of the Devils Coachroad
View more of Peter Lennon's fantastic photography of hte Mournes and other landscapes on his Facebook or Twitter pages.
Visit WalkNI for more information on walking in the Mourne Mountains.
Posted on May 26, 2016 @ 1:00 PM in
We are lucky to be always within 50 miles of the coast in N. Ireland-even in deepest Tyrone! In less than an hour’s drive in almost any direction , I can hop out of the car, look across the sea, and feel freedom and anticipation- rooted (in my case) in Sunday family picnics near Newcastle or Ardglass. Most walkers enjoy the coast; the sound and sparkle of breaking waves, the touch of a sea breeze on the skin, the cries of gulls and the sea smell, all have a relaxing effect. We were once told that sea air contained ozone, but "seaside smells" are more likely due to a mixture of chemicals-algae and decay products from the sea itself. Ice-cream and sunscreen oils add their own contribution.
The variety of scenery - beaches to dunes, shingle to rocky shores and salt marshes to coastal cliffs, all enhance the feeling of being alive. Seaside plants have evolved to survive and flourish in tough conditions along unique coasts. Wind seldom completely abates, sand, mud and thin soils with a high salt content dry out quickly and sea- spray is more or less continuous - Coastal plants need to be tough! Have a walk along the shingle and pebbles at the top of many beaches-the toughest environment of all for seaside plants. What might we see?
Common Scurvy-grass is hard to miss on the shingle of beaches in May. Along some motorway verges, the seeds of a closely related species (Danish Scurvy Grass) have been spread from wheels of lorries arriving off cross- channel ferries. No doubt, de-icing salt helps the plant feel at home! Why the name? The plant has fleshy leaves containing vitamin C. Scurvy was caused by a lack of vitamin C in the diet, so eating the leaves gave some protection against the illness.
Sea Campion is found on shingle beaches, cliffs, dunes and waste ground near the sea. The almost pure white flowers are produced from mid-April until August. A plant of beauty, but often passed by.
Sea Milkwort, found growing in compact mats on the shingle of most beaches, has tiny pink flowers and small fleshy leaves .The compact and fleshy nature of the plant helps to conserve moisture.
Thrift at its best in May, produces drifts of pink flowers on rocks and along cliff paths. Most will not remember three-penny piece coins, you are too young! The globular flower-heads on the coin were thrift flowers.
In late spring, in thickets amongst dunes and sand-hills, Burnet Roses with beautiful pale cream flowers are in bloom.They are very spiny (the spiniest rose of all) and can cause unpleasant scratches. The hips are purple-black, other roses have red hips. Varieties of this plant have been used as garden plants.
‘There is pansies , that’s for thoughts’ wrote Shakespeare. Short grassland behind a beach will invariably have wild pansies with yellow or violet-blue flowers (two separate varieties), often in flower from April until late summer, but best in May.
Rest-harrow has pink pea like flowers throughout late spring and summer, among dunes or grassland behind the shoreline-but not found everywhere. The name comes from the difficulty caused to horse- drawn ploughs or harrows by the tough roots. Rest-harrow eaten by cattle taints milk, butter or cheese, so farmers certainly don’t like the plant. Fortunately it seems to grow mostly on the coast. The roots were once chewed like liquorice, but I confess I have never tried it!
Would I have a favourite? It has to be the Oyster plant and I have two good reasons. The flowers, out in late June are a wonderful shade of azure blue with touches of purple. The other is rarity. Oyster plants grow among shingle and pebbles on a few beaches along the Down coast Fleshy grey green leaves cut down water loss and were once used as either raw or cooked ‘greens’. The plant is much too rare for that now! We are at the plant’s northern limit, I hope you find it! The search is worth the effort. Tyrella or south of Bloody Bridge near Newcastle are likely spots.
Common Stork’s-bill. Pretty pink flowers of Common Stork’s bill arise from a rosette of dark green, finely and deeply cut leaves. The flowers open in the morning, are pollinated, and gone by mid-day. Examine the plant- the name Storks-bill comes from long beak- like seed pods. Common Stork’s bill is found on dry sandy heaths near the sea.
Spring Squill grows on short turf near the sea and is at its best in May. Grassy hillsides sloping west on Rathlin Island can become a haze of blue with Spring Squill. The plant is still be found on grassy slopes above the sea south of Ardglass. Yet, it is a plant often missed. Sorry about the poor photo which includes Kidney Vetch , I will take a better one soon!
Yellow Horned Poppy is found infrequently on rough stones at the top of storm beaches, you will be lucky to find it. The best site locally is a storm beach beyond Bloody Bridge, south of Newcastle. The plant produces bright yellow flowers in early July, and later, long narrow seed pods . Remember all parts of the plant is poisonous.
Long-headed Poppies are much more common and found abundantly in sandy fields along the coast from late June until September . The name ‘long headed poppy’ is descriptive of long narrow seed pods produced after flowering. Poppies ‘en masse’ must be one of nature’s finest sights. This is not the Remembrance Day poppy -much less common here in N. Ireland.
Harebell flowers in July- a colourful sight for walkers on coastal cliff-tops such as the Giant's Causeway or amongst dunes. The plant has been given many names, among them ‘witches thimbles’ and ‘fairy bells’. This is the true ‘bluebell’ of Scotland –not the woodland bluebell.
Explore rocky sections of coastline or coastal cliffs from July until the end of August and you might find Rock Samphire, once eaten as a vegetable and cooked like Asparagus,or pickled. Native islanders on St.Kilda scaled cliffs for samphire and fulmar’s eggs to supplement their limited diet-a dangerous business! Shakespeare refers to the practice in ‘ King Lear ’. ‘Half way down hangs one that gathers Samphire,dreadful trade’.
Orchids are my favourite wild-flowers. Rare ones are elusive, often requiring long journeys or patient searching. In July, amongst dunes and often only yards behind beaches, elegant spikes of ‘Pyramidal Orchid’ with magenta/pink flowers dot the dunes.
Green- Winged Orchids have only one site in N.Ireland - an area not much larger than a helipad,so you might not find it! You can’t get much rarer than that. However, the plant is fairly common in parts of England. The flower spike shown is a beautiful pale variant. Most specimens are magenta in colour. Early July is best time for this orchid on the only known site- 30 yds from the sea.
Sea Bindweed is very local with one reliable site, immediately across the Bush river, and where the dune system begins at Portballentrye. The picture shows the thick fleshy leaves needed for coastal survival.
In July, along the coastal path between Whitepark Bay and Ballintoy, look for ‘The flower of Dunluce’ or Meadow Cranesbill, a plant you should not miss. Not found elsewhere in Ulster, but quite common in England.
The little plant below with small succulent reddish leaves and star-like white flowers is English Stonecrop. A lover of warm hollows in seaside rocks, it produces flowers from June until September and is sometimes even invited into gardens. A close relative, Biting Stonecrop, bright yellow in colour carpets stretches of flat sandy ground in Murlough Reserve near Newcastle.
I have left many out and they don’t deserve it. Wild Thyme, Tree Mallow, Spurges, and lots of Orchids, so take that flower book with you, and maybe a camera , and dander along the coast.
Search for coastal walks on WalkNI.com and get out and allow your mind to escape from a busy world for a few hours.