Rostrevor & Cloughmore Stone, Co. Down

Cloughmore Stone, known locally as “The Big Stone” is a huge granite boulder that sits about 1000ft up on the side of Slieve Martin overlooking Carlingford Lough and the Cooley peninsula in County Louth and above the village of Rostrevor County Down.

 

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The name comes from the Irish “an Chloch Mhór” which means “the big stone” and its believed to weigh around 50 tonnes having been transported via glacial retreat from Scotland  (from an island in Strathclyde bay) and deposited here over 10,000yrs ago during the last Ice Age.

 

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Local legend has it that the stone was thrown from the Cooley Mountains on the other side of Carlingford Lough, by the giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool) who gets accused of a lot of things here in Northern Ireland haha (Lough Neagh, The Giants Causeway etc).

 

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The stone has many names and dates carved into it which go back centuries remembering those from history who have visited there. The Cloughmore Stone is a venue at Easter where the residents of Rostrevor would go up and roll their Easter eggs down the hill. A sort of a tradition for the Rostrevor residents.

 

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Quite impressive even on a rainy day like this one and there are some great views from the surrounding area.

 

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Theres a really nice walk up here through Rostrevor forest but it does get steep at times. Bring a lunch and rest at the top.

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

Roe Valley Country Park, Limavady, County Derry

If you venture just a little further beyond the wonderful Causeway Coastal route, heading in the direction of Londonderry, you’ll come to the tranquil Roe Valley Park. The Country Park stands on the outskirts of Limavady, running three miles along the banks of the River Roe. The river plunges through spectacular gorges with banks shrouded in a mixture of woodland. We arrived early in the morning as the winter sun broke through the mist…

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A beautiful winters morning indeed.

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You can walk along one side of the river, crossing over a bridge, then coming back again which is a total of 3 miles. Its all on a flat path so its suitable for everyone.

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The river Roe here is a magnet for salmon and trout fishing.

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Reflections on the water, silhouettes in the mist.

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Such a calm and peaceful place to walk. Theres also a large tearoom near the park entrance to get some refreshments after youve returned.

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/

 

 

 

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 :-))

Castlewellan Forest Park, Peace Maze, and Lake, Co.Down, Northern Ireland

Northern Irelands largest forest park, Tollymore (in Newcastle), usually gets most of the interest from our forest hungry visitors, but just a short drive away lies Castlewellan Forest Park, which has a beauty all of its own. In fact the facilities here in Castlewellan easily match its larger brother, and coupled with a huge maze, several lakes, two cafes, and a brilliant bike hire office, make it well worth checking out. Our visit on the 28th December 2014 showed the park to be surprisingly busy, which was great to see in (what was) the depths of Winter. I hope the photos we took entice others to come here too. You’ll love it. 

CASTLEWELLAN CASTLE

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The dominant feature of the forest park, Castlewellan Castle was built in 1856 by William Richard Annesley, it overlooks the huge lake below and can be seen as soon as you enter the park. Today it is a center for many church, and school organizations. There are signs to say the immediate area around the castle is private, but we had no issues walking around its grounds to take some photos. Theres a little black cat who comes out to say hello too. Miaow.

CASTLEWELLAN LAKE

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On this lovely, frost glistening, December morning we had so many great photo opportunities and began snapping away frantically. The largest lake in the park is nearly one mile long, and there’s a fantastic circular path around its shore taking in much of the forest along the way. The route is a big hit with cyclists and there’s even a place to hire bikes if you don’t have one. The distance around the lake is about 2.4miles but its a very easy (and enjoyable) trek. The lake can also be fished. For more info see here: http://www.walkni.com/walks/222/castlewellan-forest-park-lakeside-walk/

ANNESLEY GARDENS (WITHIN THE PARK)

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To access Castlewellan Forest Park you pay just £4.50 per car which is pretty good as it doesn’t matter how many are in your car. Once parked your entrance fee includes all the walks and the gardens which are wonderful in Winter but must be even nicer in the other three milder seasons of the year.

The planting of the walled Annesley garden, the focus of the arboretum, began in the 1850s and rare conifers and maples were later imported directly from Japan. Then came the addition of more rich varieties, including Chilean eucryphias, Australian athrotaxis and pittosporum and Chinese rhododendrons. The arboretum holds many trees with record heights in the British Isles (see one of the monsters above!).

THE PEACE MAZE

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The “Peace Maze” was opened in 2000 and while you may think its nothing more than a quaint curiosity on entering you’re going to be in for a shock. This is one of the worlds largest permanent hedge mazes (it was the largest in the world until 2007 when it was beaten, only slightly, by a maze in Hawaii) and it really will offer a challenge to those without a pigeons sense of direction. The maze covers 3 acres and has 2.18 miles of pathway (the one in Hawaii has 2.46) and upon reaching the center there is a bell you can ring which is said to be the most rung bell in Ireland with half a million rings a year. When you visit the park make sure you go inside and see if you can find your way to the center (on top of the footbridge). Good luck! You’ll need it. The panaoramic picture above shows Castlewellan town, the Mourne Mountains, and a small part of the maze.

For more info on this great forest park see here: http://www.discovernorthernireland.com/Castlewellan-Forest-Park-and-Peace-Maze-Castlewellan-P2881