Mourne Mountains Walk – Slieve Binnian (from Carrick Little car park) County Down, Annalong

There are so many amazing walks through the Mourne mountain range in County Down, and sometimes its just hard to fathom how such a vast area even exists in Northern Ireland given the country is so small. When you’re in middle of any of these walks you can see for miles (sometimes without a person, or particularly any sign of civilization, in sight). Which is a fantastic feeling when you just want to get away from it all.

For this route, make your way to the Carrick Little car park which is at the junction of the Head Road and Oldtown Road near Annalong. The Mourne Rambler bus departs from Newcastle Bus station on a regular basis during the summer months for here.

 

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From the Carrick Little car park, follow a clear, stony track that rises gently between the fields. Note the boulder walls alongside. You’ll soon see this old cottage in the middle of a field to your left. I wonder who lived here?

 

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At this point leave the wide trail here and go over to your left following the stone wall that takes you upward to Slieve Binnian (thats it ahead in the picture).

 

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We were lucky with the weather as the Mournes can be unpredictable (bring some suitable gear anytime you visit outside the Summer months). Its not long before you’re treated to a stunning view like this. Thats Slieve Donard in the distance here (just right of center of the picture) the highest peak not only of the Mournes but in the whole of Northern Ireland.

 

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About half way up the climb we veered right (following the wall cutting diagonally right across the second photo above here) as we hadn’t been up this way before, there was a still a reasonable climb (as you can see from the height of the pics) but it wasn’t as exhausting as the climb to the very top of Binnian. We followed the direction of the old stone wall (to the top of THIS climb) and looked across the valley below…

 

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Climbing down from here you’ll come to a massive boulder ahead (dropped by the glacial ice retreat thousands of years ago). And on one edge of a rock you might see this……I shall name him….. Dragonstone haha 🙂

 

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Just below you (beyond the big rock above) you should be able to see this small lake. We descended down to it and admired its peaceful tranquility…

 

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A final look across the landscape of this part of the Mourne Mountains. You could easily spend a week hiking through here. For more information on walking this area see here:   http://www.walkni.com/walks/67/slieve-binnian/

 

Kinbane Castle, Ballycastle, County Antrim

Kinbane Castle isnt really a place many seem to know about here, even though it lies between Ballintoy and Ballycastle and is quite well signposted from the main road. We had never stopped here before ourselves and we really didn’t expect much as we pulled into the car park but all I can say is… wow!….. once you discover what this place looks like I reckon you’ll be back. The area is stunning and we were kinda ashamed that some American and German tourists were already here (when we arrived) given we had never even seen the place. Not too much is known about Kinbane, but it didnt last very long after being constructed it seems. The castle was built by Colla of the MacDonnell clan, the clan who also built many other castles and buildings in the area including Dunluce and Dunseverick. The English laid siege to it within a few years of its completion in 1551 as they were getting a bit concerned about the strength of the ruling MacDonnell Clan (and their friendly connections with Scotland just across the water), but the castle prevailed at this point. Another attack took place in 1555 however where the castle was partly destroyed by cannon fire but it was rebuilt afterwards.  The hollow below the castle is known as Lag na Sassenach (Hollow of the English) and it was allegedly during the 16th century that a garrison of English soldiers laying siege to the castle were surrounded and massacred. Fires lit on the headland as calls for assistance were answered by clansmen who came from all directions and surrounded the garrison rolling rocks onto the English below crushing their advances. Game of Thrones for real eh?

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Hopefully you can read the information on the 1st picture here (click for large high def) and this second photo is your 1st glimpse of the castle.

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When you arrive at the castle car park you’re pretty high up, and the surrounding area and views are just amazing. Just look at those cliffs (and the beautiful June weather). Thats Fair Head in the distance btw.

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The view of the castle taken from about halfway down the descent to sea level, and when you reach the bottom you’ll come to another sign with more information and a further sign warning of your possible doom haha (erm, and I wouldn’t take it lightly either, if you’re going out to the end of the headland be very careful!)

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A stunning location for a castle though it was placed here (of course) for strategic reasons. The second picture was taken from inside the tower looking out, and the third picture is of one of the remaining “gun loops” – ie. where they placed the huge cannons (you can see some of the steps down to the castle in the last picture).

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Just below the castle are the ruins of what looks like some old fishery, Im not sure of the history of this, but I expect its a few hundred years old rather than several (like the castle). It provides a nice backdrop to the area however.

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The first two of these pictures were taken from the cliff top behind the castle and in the first one (if you look closely towards the right) you might be able to see some people standing beside the old fishery shown in the pictures above. This will give you a sense of the scale of the place and the heights involved. The people in the second picture are sitting right at the very tip/end of the precipice shown on the third pic. Honestly, this is only for the brave and likely very dangerous in Winter!

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Kinbane Castle, still projecting its dominance 500yrs later. You really should visit here.

Cave Hill, Cavehill, Belfast, County Antrim

Cave Hill, sometimes spelt as Cavehill, is a basaltic hill overlooking the city of Belfast. It forms part of the southeastern border of the Antrim Plateau. Historically it was known as Ben Madigan, which is derived from the Irish Beann Mhadagáin, meaning “Madagán’s peak”—so named after a king of Ulster called Madagán who died in 856AD.

All of Belfast can be seen from its peak and Cave Hill is thought to be the inspiration for Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels as Swift imagined that Cave Hill resembled the shape of a sleeping giant safeguarding the city.

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Cave Hill rises to almost 370 metres (1200 ft) above sea level. Most of its lower east side lies on the Belfast Castle estate. The slopes of Cave Hill were originally used as farmland but, from the 1880s, a major planting exercise was undertaken, producing the now familiar deciduous and coniferous woodland landscape. Belfast Castle estate was given to the City of Belfast by The 9th Earl of Shaftesbury in 1934.

There are three large caves. The lowest is 21 feet long, 18 feet wide and varies from 7 to 10 feet in height. Above this is another cave; 10 feet long, 7 feet wide and 6 feet in height. Above this is the third major cave, said to be divided into 2 unequal parts, each of which is more extensive than the larger of the other caves, but the ascent is notoriously dangerous and thus few venture up to it. The caves are entirely man-made, and it is thought that they were originally excavated for iron-mining.

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This is the easiest cave to access and the most easily visible from below. The climb up to this point (from the grounds of Belfast Castle) is probably the most tiresome part of the Cave Hill climb but its not beyond most peoples ability. Bring some water if you’re going up in the warmer months (and a coat in the colder ones!).

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The views from the top are pretty amazing with one side of the water being County Antrim, and the other County Down. You can see all of Belfast Lough and the ship here is the Stenaline service heading for Scotland (the vague shadow on the horizon). The chimney to the distant left of the picture is Kilroot power station which provides electricity for one third of Northern Ireland, and in the bottom foreground of the picture you can see Belfast Zoo (the brown bear cage I think).

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McArt’s Fort on the summit of the hill, is an example of an old ráth or ring fort. It is protected on one side by a precipice and on the others by a single ditch, 10 feet in depth and 25 feet in width. The enclosed area is nearly level. The flat top of the fort is 150 feet from north to south, and 180 feet from east to west. It is believed that the fort’s inhabitants used the caves to store food for the winter and may have served as a refuge during times of attack. If you look towards the bottom of the last picture you can see a cave there.

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Its certainly a nice trip out here as you get to explore the castle grounds before your climb (even entertain the kids with its adventure playground too) and to have a bit of wilderness so close to a city is pretty unique. Who would have thought, that even in March (and NI) you can get out and enjoy the countryside 🙂

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The residential neighbourhood at the foot of Cave Hill’s entrance is derivatively known as Ben Madigan, with street names to match, and is a wealthy semi-outer city, semi-suburban area. The name ‘Ben Madigan’ can also be found attached to buildings, schools etc. close to the area, e.g. the Belfast Royal Academy has the Ben Madigan Preparatory School on the Antrim Road.

During World War II, a bomb dropped during a German bombing raid on Belfast exploded, causing a large crater near the grounds of Belfast Castle. It is understood that RAF Bomber Command was situated on Cave Hill in the early years of WWII before relocating to Castle Archdale in County Fermanagh. On 1 June 1944, an American Air Force B-17 bomber crashed into Cave Hill during heavy fog, killing all ten crew instantly. The incident inspired Richard Attenborough’s film, “Closing the Ring” and some scenes of the film were shot on Cave Hill.

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One for you cloud spotters, and the rolling Belfast hill walkers.

Ballintoy, County Antrim. Game of Thrones, Pyke Harbour

So not long now until the premiere of Season 5 of Game of Thrones (12th April 2015) so I thought Id mark that with a little mention of Ballintoy which substituted as Pyke Harbour in Season 2 of the series. A permanent plaque stands there now for visiting fans to read and it looks as if Northern Ireland will be home to the show for a while longer as Season 6 will also be filmed here. Ballintoy is a quiet little village with an attractive small harbour, but walk left around the headland and it has some amazing scenery. There are also some caves you can enter (though you may need wellingtons). 

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Some information.

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Do you remember this place? Its probably pretty recognizable as Pyke harbour even without the special effects.

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On the left is Roarks Kitchen, which is a little cottage style cafe that’s been serving lovely food here for 35yrs. And on the right is another view of the harbour used in Game of Thrones.

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Now follow the path left, walking away from the harbour and past this little house (there’s a cave before you get there you could maybe walk into, though it might have some shallow water in it).

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The view ahead.

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You can climb up some of the huge grass covered rocks (be careful) which have trails left by local sheep. Once at the top of this one, the view back to the harbour is quite amazing (you should be able to see it in the distance here).

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A huge eroded arch just off the shore, and a bit further out…….. arrrgh….. a shark!! 🙂

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Its easy to see here how vast the immediate landscape is, with all its greenery, yet having a look like some strange alien planet. And in this first picture you might just be able to see a little church on top of the hill. This is Ballintoy church, built in 1813 and seen closer in the second picture. Ballintoy is definitely worth stopping off at if you’re visiting the north coast, even if you’re not a fan of Game of Thrones 🙂

Portrush, County Antrim (right now).

This is the first post I’ve made via the WordPress app so I hope it looks ok when I get home. This is a pic I took just now (with my mobile phone) of the sun setting over Portrush Northern Ireland (from the railway station) and the reflection the sky made on the front of the train windshield. 🙂

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A really lovely evening up here.

Glenariff Forest Park, County Antrim, February 21st 2015

Glenariff Forest Park covers over 1000 hectares and is within Glenariff, one of the nine Antrim glens. We stopped off from a cold (and actually a little bit dangerous) drive through fresh and falling snow on our way to Cushendall. The roads hadn’t been gritted, and a few times our car started to slide ever so slightly away from us. We thought it best to pull into the park in the hope the weather would improve. Which, given the slowly rising temperatures it eventually did. Sadly the park was closed that day, so we had to leave the car across the road and walk in (a few other local explorers had done the same). We then took the few pictures you see below, but chose not to go too far into the park as the weather was changing every 15 minutes from sunshine to snow. You can get a few more details on Glenariff here: http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/glenariff-forest-park and (as ever), the fantastic WalksNi site gives details of walking routes around the park here:  http://www.walkni.com/walks/234/glenariff-forest-park-scenic-trail/

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Sadly the park was closed, but there’s no issues walking around inside if you can find a place to leave your car (space is limited as you shouldn’t block the access gate).

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I’m not actually sure what this building is. It sits down in a valley beside the river as you walk in, so I expect it was a mill in the distant past.

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On so many of our adventures we see no one, which we both kinda like. During the Summer, so many of these places would be a hive of activity, but out of season you can regularly find yourself feeling like you’re the last person on Earth haha. On the second picture here you can see the next wave of snow coming at the bottom of the valley…

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Now the sky is getting very dark….

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A little wooden cabin that was built in the 70s (with funding from a local childrens school). A good place to shelter given the ever-so-changable Northern Ireland weather!

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After the snow had stopped the Sun appeared again, not picnic weather just yet, but Glenariff looked amazing.

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I know Ive said it before, but the North of Ireland hides so much beauty, not often recognized given our past. But things are now changing for us in terms of visitor numbers, and sights like this will soon be a draw all year round (one hopes) for those people looking a holiday somewhere different. I know NI is seen as having quite limited access time (based on its weather), but I started this blog at the end of Summer 2014, and its never been an issue getting out and enjoying the countryside all through the Autumn and Winter.

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Just 40 minutes after the dark, snowy sky on the earlier pics above, this was the scene before us. I guess our weather changes just as quickly from bad to good then, as it does the other way around :-))

Whitehead, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

Whitehead, on the opposite side of Belfast Lough to Bangor, actually used to be one of Northern Irelands premier seaside resorts in the early to mid 20th Century. In a lot of ways its hard to imagine that now but the current reinstating of the famous “Gobbins Path” along the Blackhead cliff edge here could well bring thousands more visitors to the area as in its heyday the path drew crowds from across the country.

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The path (seen above on a postcard from 1902) gradually fell into disrepair and crumbled into the ocean, and its been closed for decades now. But back in 2013 work began to rebuild it where its expected to reopen again later this year. The tubular section above was replaced a few months ago and can be seen here: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/northern-ireland/54-ton-bridge-craned-in-to-cliffhugging-gobbins-coastal-path-near-larne-30685152.html Whitehead is the home of the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland, and in the mid 1970s Sting (aka Gordon Sumner) from The Police lived here with his ex-wife Frances Tomelty, a Northern Irish actress. Its a quiet and not unattractive little town with some nice walks along the lough shore.

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The colorful houses along the promenade.

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Looking towards Whitehead from the small beach. If you look really closely to the far left you can see a steam train heading for Belfast.

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A plane descends along Belfast Lough for the city airport.

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An early Winter morning at Whitehead.

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A panoramic view of the bay.