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.

Craigmore Railway Viaduct, Newry

The Craigmore Viaduct (Irish: an Tarbhealach Craig Mór, meaning “the great rock trans-way”) is a railway bridge near Bessbrook, County Armagh, locally known as the 18 Arches. Near Newry railway station.

The bridge was designed by John Benjamin Macneill, an eminent Irish civil engineer, with construction beginning in 1849 for the Dublin and Belfast Junction Railway. The bridge was formally opened in 1852. It spans the valley of Camlough River. The viaduct consists of 18 arches of 60 ft span, the highest being 126 ft, making Craigmore the highest viaduct in Ireland. It is around a quarter of a mile long and was constructed from granite stone blocks from the nearby Goraghwood quarry near Goraghwood station, which for many years supplied ballast to the Dublin & Belfast Junction Railway’s lines.

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A beautiful day underneath Craigmore

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The Dublin-Belfast railway line crosses the bridge. From 1885 to 1948, the Bessbrook and Newry Tramway ran under the viaduct. On 2 March 1989, a Provisional Irish Republican Army bomb damaged Craigmore Viaduct, exploding just four minutes before a passenger train from Dublin was due to leave nearby Newry Station. A clearance operation had to be mounted and the railway line was closed and not reopened until 8 March 1989.

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Killevy Old Churches, Ring of Gullion, County Armagh

The important early convent of Killevy was founded towards the end of the 5th century by St Moninna, also known as Darerca or Bline. It remained a house of nuns for almost 1000 years. In 923 the place was plundered by Vikings from Carlingford Lough and in 1146 many people were killed by a great wind that caused damage all over the north. The very long narrow ‘church’ you see below is in fact two churches which have been joined together. The west churches massive lintelled door dates from the 10th century. Monastic life continued at Killevy into the Middle Ages, with the foundation of an Augustinian convent, probably in the late 12th century. There are frequent references in medieval documents, several of them reflecting increasing tensions between church and lay power. 
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The joined churches at Killevy.

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The site has a long history of ancient worship here

 

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The most notable architectural feature is the steeply-pitched east gable, complete with fine coping stones and large window opening. Although many of the cut stones have been removed, if you look closely you can see the small bar holes in the jambs, the fact that they are mismatched showing that the window was once divided by a central mullion. There are also carved heads, both crowned, either side of the window on the outside.

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Killevy Church dominates the skyline

 

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The south wall contains the remains of two rectangular window openings and a small wall cupboard, probably used to hold sacred vessels during worship. There are no windows in the north wall, but towards the east end is a curious lintelled doorway, perhaps intended to echo the west door in the adjacent earlier church but clumsy and unskilled by comparison. It may have led out to domestic buildings, including the house of the abbess where Cunisburgh resigned in 1477, but no trace survives and the area is covered by burials.

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Several cut and worked stones can be identified in the space between the two churches, including a large granite slab with a cross in low relief, probably originally used as a grave marker or cover and possibly dating from the 12th or 13th centuries.

Helens Bay, Co.Down 10th January 2016

I haven’t posted anything in a while with a few personal things going on, but new year brings new intentions to get things going again, and as ever, the idea is to show just what Northern Ireland has to offer beyond its troubles of the past and its big ship that sunk in the night. There’s much more to our tiny country than those black taxis around tainted murals, or even the wonderful Giants Causeway. Have a look and see what has lay hidden for decades from most travellers eyes, and where most sights are never more than 120mins apart.

All photos were taken with only my Sony compact camera, so my pictures actually are of what you will see (no hyper-realistic SLR pix here as I prefer to show reality). Heres to a great new year of 2016 and I hope it brings each and every one of you much happiness 😀

 

 

HELENS BAY – SEAHILL Coastal path, on the evening of January 10th 2016

 

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The weather in the north of Ireland (in fact all of the UK and Ireland) has been the wettest ever on record this winter, so we’ve barely seen the sun in weeks. Last night however there was a little glimmer of gold as the day began to fade so we went out for a walk along the shores of Belfast Lough and grabbed a few pics.

 

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You cant really see it here, but this is looking across the lough towards Carrickfergus from Helens Bay

 

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A rocky beach between Helens Bay and Seahill

 

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You might just be able to see a little bench to sit on to the left here, but we decided not to given it was very, very cold!

 

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After all that rain, much of the path was muddy and puddled, but it made a nice feature in this picture.

 

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Daylight almost gone now, the last embers of light fading into a January night.

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/

 

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.

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.

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/

 

 

 

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. 🙂