Autumn around County Down

I’m a bit late putting these up as Winter is well and truly upon us but having found them on my camera I thought Id stick them here as a reminder of Autumn 2016 which has left us for ever.

Picture 1: Queens University Belfast, Picture 2: The Ulster Museum (Botanic Gardens), Picture 3: Palm House (Botanic Gardens).

 

Picture 1: Tree shadows in Botanic Gardens, Picture 2: Yellow tree at Queens University Belfast.

 

Holywood, County Down. Looking over Belfast Lough just after an Autumn sunset.

 

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A burst of yellow @ Ballymenoch Park, Holywood, Autumn 2016

Divis & The Black Mountain Belfast

Providing the back drop for the city of Belfast, Divis Mountain was the filming location for several scenes in the movie “Dracula Untold” and there’s certainly a lot of old history up here. On a clear day there are views of Strangford Lough, the Mournes, The Sperrins, as well as Scotland and Donegal. The area is covered with 1,500 acres of upland heath and blanket bog and its home to a wealth of flora and fauna and archaeological remains. There are several easy walks around the area too with wooden paths and tarmacked routes allowing almost anyone to enjoy the fresh air and greenery above Belfast.

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After arriving at the car park youll see this welcome sign. Entrance is free.

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There are 4 routes around the area. Ranging from an easy 1 mile amble, to something a bit more strenuous (4 miles).

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None of the routes involve any real climbing apart from a stile or two.

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Depending on the time of year, there’s some wonderful bursts of colour up here.

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Which leads to fantastic views over the entire city.

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So next time youre in Belfast for a day or two take a walk across the Divis & Black Mountain trails (theres a cafe for refreshments too – check opening times etc here: https://www.facebook.com/diviscoffeebarn/ )

Bangor Castle, Bangor, County Down.

Bangor Castle was built for the Hon Robert Edward Ward and his family in 1852. It is presently the headquarters of North Down Borough Council who use the mansions spectacular grand salon as the council chamber. The building is situated in the grounds of Castle Park alongside North Down Museum and is just a short walk from Bangors Walled Garden.

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The castle can be hired reasonably cheaply for wedding services and is a popular venue for those seeking a non-religious event.

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Picture taken Christmas 2015 (spot the tree).

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Bangor Castle overlooks the town of Bangor and its really worth having a walk around it and Castle Park behind. The walled garden (about ten minutes walk away) has just been used in the brand new film by Ben Wheatley called High Rise.

 

 

 

 

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Rathlin Island (and even Scotland)

Ahh June, the sparkling dawn of Summer, although Summer wasn’t too great for us this year, yet September (so far) has been really lovely (an “Indian Summer” as they say here). We were driving along the Antrim coast road between Ballintoy and Ballycastle and stopped off at a little roadside car park that overlooks Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. This is a pretty popular stop off for tour coaches as the view from here is wonderful. You can also see Rathlin island, Fair Head, and Scotland just 20 miles away in the distance.

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They’re not kidding here as you’re pretty high up at this point and all might not be apparent until you get closer to the edge. There’s a fence separating you from admiring the view from the top, and seeing it as you crash to the bottom 🙂

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What a stunning sight. Below you Carrick-a-Rede can be seen in all its full glory, with Sheep Island behind it to the left. Sheep Island has an area of 3.5 hectares, and its located 0.5km off the shore. Its designated as a Special Protection Area and an Area of Special Scientific Interest. This is because it contains a number of a particular species of cormorant, whose population amounts to more than 5% of the population of the whole of Ireland just on this tiny island. The island also contains numerous other birds including shag, fulmar, kittiwake, greater black-backed gull, razorbill, black guillemot and guillemot. Access to the island is restricted during the breeding season. If you look to the extreme right of the picture you might just be able to see the Mull of OA on the Isle of Islay in Scotland!

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Something in every direction (no, you cant see Iceland from here sadly).

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Such a beautiful day and looking in the opposite direction from Carrick-a-Rede  you can see Fair Head (check my earlier post of that), Rathlin Island, and in the distance to the left is the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland made famous by Paul McCartney & Wings in their huge hit song.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AcZVRiB9AQk

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Carrick-a-Rede. http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/carrick-a-rede/

The bridge links the mainland to the tiny island of Carrickarede. It spans 20 metres (66 ft) and is 30 metres (98 ft) above the rocks below. The bridge is a huge tourist attraction and is owned and maintained by the National Trust. It is thought salmon fishermen have been building bridges to the island for over 350 years and it has taken many forms over those years. The current wire rope and Douglas fir bridge was made by Heyn Construction in Belfast and raised early in 2008 at a cost of over £16,000. There have been many instances where visitors, unable to face the walk back across the bridge, have had to be taken off the island by boat.

It is no longer used by fishermen during the salmon season, which used to last from June until September, as there are now very few salmon left. The site and surrounding area is designated an Area of Special Scientific Interest for its unique geology, flora, and fauna. Underneath there are large caves, which once served as a home for boat builders and as shelter during stormy weather. Carrickarede island is the best example of a volcanic plug in Northern Ireland. Marine erosion has exposed a section through the neck of an old volcano whose eruptions about 60 million years ago punched molten rock through chalk.

Along the coast of this area, as with much of the Antrim plateau, the cliffs are of basalt with the characteristic Ulster chalk underneath. At Carrickarede, the ancient volcanic pipe has left dolerite, a tougher rock than basalt, which erodes more slowly. The combination of the hard rock out front and the softer rock behind, with long term erosion by the waves, has eventually left this small island.

If you are visiting Carrick-a-Rede be sure to bring your camera (and a head for heights) and even the walk from the entrance to the bridge itself is stunning.

Hares Gap, Mourne Walks, County Down, Newcastle

Hares Gap is one of the easier walks through the Mournes and like most its quite accessible too. From the road you would hardly know its there but park up at the Trassey Road car park and climb over the stile (or just open the gate) and follow the path into this part of the Mournes. 

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You can park your car either in the car park a little up the road from this sign or at the side of the road (fold your mirrors in its narrow passing here). The second picture is taken off an information board at the car park.

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After you climb over the stile (or open the gate) follow the road past some obvious deforesting that’s taking place. I’m not sure what this old wood looked like during its finer days, but Clonachullion is no more. Maybe there was some disease in there and he had to go. Anyway, marvel at the piles of timber as you pass by.

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As you turn the corner past the wood you’ll catch your first glimpse of the beautiful Mourne mountains ahead. The sign warns of weather preparations required at certain times of the year but today it was just wonderfully warm.

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I’m not sure what fate befell the young boy whos memorial is placed here, but 20yrs ago (this year) something bad happened during the trek ahead, pay your respects and enter through the gate and admire the view to your right as the wall fades off into the distance.

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Theres a crystal clear mountain stream here tumbling down the hills which I suspect is fine to drink, but even if its just to splash your face or dip your toes in (to cool down) its still appreciated. On the second picture you can see the Mourne wall on the horizon (the straight bit) which is the back side of the wall we walked up to on the Glen River walk (see elsewhere on the site for that) and you might just be able to pick out an old quarry up to the right as well where they mined granite in this area. On the third picture is an ominous warning to dog owners which I suspect has been placed by some irate farmer that’s had his sheep attacked. I haven’t heard of anyones dog being shot, but please keep your animals under control if you come up here. This is private land and you’re only a guest being allowed to walk here.

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The magnificent Hares Gap. You can clearly see how the glaciers cut their way through here around 60 million years ago. Since then, man has made his way along this route either to mine granite or to smuggle goods (Hare’s Gap marked the exit point for smuggled contraband including soap, leather, spices and coffee and was carried through the mountains on the backs of small ponies which descended via the Hare’s Gap to the valley of the Trassey River and on to Hilltown – a favourite distribution centre. Today though its just a wonderful location for a fantastic Northern Ireland walk.

Goles Stone Row, Gortin Forest & Lakes, County Tyrone, Sperrins

Sometimes I think I could name this page “Abandoned Northern Ireland” given that so many places we visit we seem to see so few people around, and The Sperrins area certainly was one of the quietest places we’ve been. Its definitely worth the drive away from the more well known places however, as its just as beautiful as similar areas like The Mournes. Within a few miles you will find pretty villages, lakes, glens, forests, and rivers, and all are very picturesque. Heres a few examples of a small area of The Sperrins.

GOLES STONE ROW

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The Goles Alignment/Stone Row is situated on the B47 between Plumbridge and Draperstown and like many of these ancient monuments theyre sitting right beside someones house! Dont worry though, just respectfully walk along the left hand side of the fence (into the garden) and have a look at the stones.

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The stones are thought to have lined up with a hollow in a nearby mountain to observe the rising of the moon.

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The sign there needed some cleaning, next time I will bring a scrubbing brush 😀

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Pretty cool that these have sat here for anything up to 4,500yrs. So if youre passing by stop and say hello.

GORTIN FOREST & LAKES

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Further along the road, after passing through Plumbridge village (which is very nice) youll see the road signs for Gortin Forest Park. On the day we arrived (a Saturday in late May) the office there (where you pay your money for entry) wasnt open, in fact it didnt look as if it had been open for quite some time (moss was growing on the windows) and in place of this was a ticket machine that we didnt have any change for. We had driven something like 60 miles though so we werent about to turn back, so we just drove on into the carpark and had a look around.

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Near the carpark is a big wooden cabin which looked kind of deserted and inside it still had Christmas decorations up. Weird! Some ducks passed by to say hello.

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The area was really tranquil however, and it was obvious some work was taking place there as this big wooden exhibit/climbing frame was being built but it was fenced off and not open yet. We decided then to do the 5KM drive around the forest in our car to explore.

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As you can (just about) see on the first picture, we soon saw a deer. In fact we saw 6 more before we left but you really need to be quick to catch them on camera. Gortin is actually quite rare in that you can drive you car around the forest. This doesn’t normally happen here and it was great being able to do this. Some of the road isnt in great condition however but its certainly easy to do in any type of car. Once up higher there are great views to be had and places to stop off and enjoy them.

GORTIN LAKES

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After driving through Gortin forest leave the park and follow the signs for the lakes.

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There are two lakes to see with nice walks around them, picnic tables, and toilet facilities. Very peaceful with only the birds for company.

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We certainly want to explore more of the The Sperrins area next time and will book some accommodation in the area to do this. Definitely a recommendation from us for a part of Northern Ireland that doesn’t get so many visitors.

Slieve Gullion, Giants Lair, Ring of Gullion, County Armagh

Best laid plans eh? We set out for Slieve Gullion pretty early in the morning but on arrival found that not only was the drive around the 9KM “Ring of Gullion” closed due to tree felling, the entire visitor center and restaurant was closed too due to a burst water pipe, they wouldn’t even let us use the toilets (after quite a long drive from home). What a disaster.  Anyway, we parked up the car and took a walk around “The Giants Lair” trail which is a signposted trek through the lower part of the forest featuring, among other things, little fairy houses carved into the trees and many exhibits children can interact with. The pictures probably don’t do it justice as its better than it looks here, but if you have younger kids I think theyd really enjoy spotting all the cute features hidden among the trees. Theres also a really excellent adventure playground before you start the trail which has rides for older children as well. And, best of all….. Its all FREE!

 

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The sign before the entrance to the “Giants Lair” forest walk.

 

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The start of your fairytale adventure.

 

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Dotted all over the trail are fairy houses fixed to the trees. Keep your eyes open as there many to see and many slightly hidden, they could be at floor level or up high. Children will love finding them though.

 

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Red doors to where? The first one you can walk through, the others you cant (unless youre fairy sized).

 

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At many of the elfin doors people have left coins for luck and wishes (I expect). The wooden house in the last picture was just completed and this will be a place where children can go to have magical stories read to them. There are two of these in the Giants Lair part of the forest.

 

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As you make your way around, you’ll see little signs telling you what the next sight will be and how many steps it will take to get there (its never as far as they say though, maybe these are for fairy sized feet haha).

 

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A few more of the magical fairytale items around the Giants Lair walk at Slieve Gullion. For a free day trip for kids its really worth seeing, and the adventure playground is very good too with picnic tables and places to sit and enjoy the sunshine. hopefully we will get back soon to do the drive around the actual Ring of Gullion but we liked our walk around the fairy infested route.

 

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More information can be found here: http://www.ringofgullion.org/things-to-do/slieve-gullion-adventure-playpark/