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/ )

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.

Belfast Castle, Belfast, County Antrim. March 2015

I initially intended to have a joint post between Belfast Castle & Cave Hill (given they’re effectively joined at the hip) but we took just too many great photos that day so I’m putting them up on separate posts instead (Cave hill next).

Belfast Castle is set 400 feet above sea level on the slopes of Cave Hill overlooking the city of Belfast, in many ways its more of a grand house than an actual castle in my opinion. It was built in a Scottish baronial style with the main part of the building set over two floors and having semi circular round towers at the corners. Outside the castle has a sweeping stone staircase overlooking the formal gardens and park.

Belfast Castle is open to the public daily with a visitor centre, antiques shop and restaurant, for families the castle even has its own adventure playground. The castle can host both wedding receptions and civil ceremonies in one of its private rooms (we saw a young couple getting their instructions on the day we were there).

The original Belfast Castle was built in the city centre by the Normans in the 12th century and was home to the Baron of Belfast, Sir Arthur Chichester, who later became the Marquess of Donegal. The castle was burned down in 1708 and rather than rebuild it on the same site it was decided to build a new castle within the deer park on Cave Hill many years later.

The new castle was almost completed in 1870 but due to the rising costs of the building and the loss of the family fortune it was unfinished. It was the Marquess’ son in law, Lord Ashley 8th Earl of Shaftsbury, who paid for the castle to be completed and inherited it in 1884.

There are amazing views from the front of the castle across the entirety of Belfast Lough and the city. And on a clear day, Scotland can clearly be seen to the east.

 

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A magnificent March morning at Belfast Castle. You can see the lough in the distance.

 

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Maybe it should be renamed “Belfast Cats-le” as there are many cats dotted around the grounds. See how many you can find.

 

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You can see the lovely outdoor spiral staircase of the building on the second pic here.

 

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More cats (I think my focus went off target for the little brass guy oops).

 

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And even more cats! Make sure you look under your feet too as there are mosaic pictures on the floor. The little cat at the red door has been placed in remembrance for  Audrey Beggs “A Cat Lover” and the plaque here tells the tale of the good luck of the white Castle Cat. Miaow!

 

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Relections on a castle window, and…. do you see the cloud haha? Its not been doctored in any way, and given the castle is used very regularly for weddings, imagine capturing THAT behind you in your wedding photos? 🙂