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/ )

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.

Fair Head aka Benmore, County Antrim

Fair Head is a rocky headland about 3 miles East of Ballycastle and is the closest part of Northern Ireland to Rathlin Island. It is a popular rock climbing area and it is believed to have the largest climbable area of rock in the British Isles. If its your first visit (it was ours) it can be pretty hard to find. Its very easy to see Fair Head (either from Ballycastle town or Murlough Bay – posted earlier) but after following the road signs you’ll come to a small group of old cottages that look like a farmyard and it will seem like you can go no further. Theres a car park to your right as you drive past the cottages, which isnt even marked as a public car park until you actually drive into it, and there is no mention of this being the start of the Fair Head walk (again, until you drive into the unmarked car park using your guesswork). Someone really needs to sort the area out as it looks as if its just been left abandoned, and given its reasonable to assume tourists might want to come here, then could we maybe invest in some further signs? That would be helpful. Thanks Mr Antrim Coast & Glens man 🙂

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So when you find the car park among the (seemingly empty) white cottages, drive in and park up and youll see this sign hilariously hidden behind a wall lol. The sign says there are “yellow circles” marking the route to Fair Head but good luck with that as we found only one which had been bleached white. Maybe they repaint them now and again but we just wandered about like lost sheep (across marshy bog land) and only found the edge of the cliff by trial and error.

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The area up to Fair Head was pretty expansive. The car park from this point is further away than that lake you see in the distance.

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Our first view from the edge. It was hard to keep the horizon straight for the pictures as we couldn’t see it, it was quite a hazy morning. The second bay in the distance is Murlough Bay where the big white house is I posted earlier. The sign says you can walk from here and it takes 90mins, but I really imagine its much more.

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Its always hard to convey exactly how high up a place is in photographs, no picture can really do it justice. The highest point here is 196mtrs above the sea, and quite a bit of it is near vertical. If you have a fear of heights beware! In the distance (in the first picture) you can see Rathlin Island.

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We saw this climber about to descend the huge wall of rock at Fair Head. This picture will give you some idea of the size of the rock face. In the second picture is a little dog who followed us up from just after the car park. She seemed to be alone as no one else was around, and the climber we came upon didn’t know who she belonged to either. When we were leaving she simply disappeared again. Maybe it was some doggy spirit of the Fair Head moors haha woof!

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We made our way back to our car (across wet and squelchy fields) and on passing the lake took this photo of the island on it. The lake is called Lough na Cranagh and the island, known as a “crannog” was man made in the Iron Age by extending a small natural island and surrounding it with a stone wall. It was likely a place of refuge. The entire area of Fair Head is now owned by the National Trust in NI. Hopefully they can invest in some nice signs soon up there then. 🙂

Whitepark Bay, North Coast, County Antrim

White Park Bay (also spelled Whitepark Bay) is a bay and three-mile long beach located near Ballycastle, County Antrim on the north coast along the Giant’s Causeway Coastal Route.

Whitepark Bay hosts a great display of Ireland’s geological past with many fossils scattered at the Southern end of the beach which can be found pretty easily. On the day we were there, we found 7 rocks within 15 minutes containing fossilized remains. The cliffs on both West and East sides of the bay are composed of Upper Cretaceous (Santonian- lower Maastrichtian) chalk. The chalk itself is a form of limestone composed almost entirely of Calcium Carbonate. This chalk formed late during the Cretaceous period, a time when many marine transgressions took place, and much of the continents were under water- as was Ireland. The cliffs at White Park Bay are rich in fragments of the belemnite, a form of early squid. You can spend hours here combing the white beach and examining the little white rocks (the fossils only seem to be in those). The sound is amazing as they roll in and out with the waves.

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The first sign we saw after parking our car in the car park.

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Across the meadow to your left is Portbradden in the distance.

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As you saw on the sign above, this used to be an 18th Century “Hedge School” for young gentlemen. Based on the sign on the building now though, it seems some non-gentlemen damaged it in the past. I’m not really sure however what the sign is referring to (to be honest) as the building looks as if its been a ruin for a very long time. Anyway, you’ll pass it on your way down to the beach.

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More information on this special beach on the North coast

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Reflections of the dramatic Winter sky on the wet sand at Whitepark Bay. Portbradden (again) in the distance.

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The pictures here probably don’t do the place justice, but when the sun comes out, the beach just glows white. And any one of those stones you see here could contain a real fossil.

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This is a picture of a few we took home. Maybe not the greatest fossils ever, but we found these while hardly even looking. And that shell at the back is actually completely fossilized, its solid stone, (even though it looks just like a normal shell). Amazing stuff!

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Youll see this sign as you leave Whitepark. I expect it only means you cant take the sand or fine gravel away (not one of the millions of rocks) as the tourist info for the Bay encourages hunting for them. We cant wait to go back.

Downhill Strand/Beach, County Derry/Londonderry

Apologies to those following my page today if you’re getting a lot of update mail in your inbox. I’m trying to get all these pictures posted of a two day trip we had to the Downhill and Binevenagh area so I can move on. They’re also being posted enmasse as a response to a thread on the Northern Ireland Tripadvisor forum which recently stated the top ten tourist places to visit in NI and this area wasn’t mentioned – just plain criminal to me! So I wanted to show why this area should be included. Hopefully it will.

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Under fading light of Winter, we arrived at Downhill Beach.

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You can stay at this little Guesthouse/Hostel which must have one of the most wonderful locations in all of NI. Link below.

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The iconic Mussenden Temple keeps sentry over the beach. This beach was a location for filming Game of Thrones. See here: http://www.downhillhostel.com/burning-of-the-7-game-of-thrones-films-on-downhill-beach-dragonstone/

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Simply world class beautiful. And almost deserted.

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You could be forgiven for thinking these were taken in Thailand.

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A cow on the hill above the beach, as the Sun starts to set.

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Our car in the distance. You can drive onto the beach here. If you don’t have a car its still possible to walk from Castlerock to here (via the train) which will allow you to explore the whole Downhill area.

Gortmore and Binevenagh, County Derry/Londonderry

On a cold November day like this one, you’d better dress up warm for where we are going now. Taking the little twisty road up from Downhill beach (posting that soon) you climb through the wilds of Northern, erm, Northern Ireland to Gortmore and on along the Binevenagh plateau. Amazing views, and very, very, windy. Brrrr!

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The road to Gortmore, bleak, yet beautiful.

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Eventually you will come to this National Trust signpost (one end points to Castlerock, one to Limavady) and a carpark.

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Walk out along this path, and hold onto your hat!

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A panoramic shot of the view up here. Its not called windy hill for nothing.

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Some info provided.

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Gortmore Viewpoint is situated on the Bishop’s Road, on the Binevenagh Loop which is part of the Causeway Coastal Route. On a clear day views extend across to Donegal and the islands of Islay and Jura off the west coast of Scotland. Picnic facilities are available. In addition, a sculpture of Manannan Mac Lir, a sea God originating from this area can be viewed from this scenic viewpoint. The distant headland here is where we went next…

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Getting your bearings.

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Follow the road on from Gortmore through the glorious landscape then take the sign for Binevenagh forest (the lake isn’t very well signposted). Once at the lake above, park your car and set off on foot along the trail ahead. All pics above are full size by clicking (as ever).

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You’ll soon come to this. Prepare for the views and a rush of vertigo!

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Its impossible for any photograph to do this area justice. The height above sea level cant really be conveyed. If you have a fear of heights, get near the edge and youll feel sick haha.

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Like you’re on top of the world. Gortmore is almost 900ft up so I reckon this must be something the same. In the distance before you is Magilligan Point.

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Simply breath taking. And Binevenagh remains a place rarely mentioned in the tourist guides for Northern Ireland. Shame. We cant wait to return. It also proves that even in Winter, you can still get out there and enjoy the countryside.

Mussenden Temple, Downhill, County Derry (November 2014)

I guess many photographs have been taken of Mussenden Temple, its used continually in almost all of Northern Ireland tourist advertisements, its iconic image likely known the world over. But even for someone who lives in the country, its still a pretty impressive sight to see, and its really worth the trek up to see it. What we did was drive to Castlerock (the seaside town at the opposite side of the headland – also worth checking out) and walked all the way up, crossing the valley below via the small dam like structure at the pool. You see much more of the cliffs and impressive approach to the entire Downhill Demesne this way.

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Coming from Castlerock, one of your first sights of the temple.

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Some impressive cliffs before you reach there.

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Looking back towards Castlerock beach in the distance.

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From the far side of the valley here, you can see how the trains enter the tunnel underneath the temple. Don’t ever try taking a shortcut through this tunnel to get to Downhill beach on the other side however. Theres a high chance you could be killed. At Downhill these are the two longest tunnels on Northern Ireland’s railway network and its pitch dark inside. If a train were to come (while you were in there) you’d never get out.

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This is a panoramic pic I took of the temple and Downhill House (will be posting it later) showing the distance between them. Obviously the quality is a little lower as you have to pan the camera to get these stills. But not bad for my little compact.

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Getting closer now (heed the sign) if you walk towards the left of this picture you will see a pool and a small dam below. Thats where you cross to climb up to the other side. Don’t worry, it looks much harder than it actually is lol.

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Cross over here.

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You’ll see this sign.

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The temple. Which I suppose isn’t too impressive until you walk around the back and get a glimpse of this….

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Yup, a real wow moment. Even on a dull November day like today.

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A wider shot of the gorgeous Downhill Strand below. Not a bad view for a picture taken just 4 weeks before Christmas 🙂

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Theres a wall that gives visitors protection from certain death with a fall up here. Not for climbing on haha.

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Heading back, and goodbye to Mussenden Temple.