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

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/

 

 

 

Murlough Bay, County Antrim April 2015

Its not often, though its happened for a few years now, where we actually get great weather in April in NI. And given this was Easter week, all the schools were closed and many people had taken to their cars to head to the seaside. With that in mind, we set out pretty early from home and arrived at Murlough Bay around 9am. At this point I need to say that there are essentially two “Murlough Bay” in Northern Ireland, one in Co.Down and this one in Co.Antrim. Make sure you locate the correct one haha. The bay in Country Antrim is likely a little harder to find but in many ways that makes it all the more peaceful when you finally get there. There are 3 car parks at the site and my view is to totally ignore the first one (you come to) unless you want to stop there first and take a photo of the view below before you descend (the first picture here shows that view). Move on then to at least the second car park along the (pretty narrow) road and park up, or take the route of the brave, past the subsidence warning sign, to the last car park no.3 – which is the most perfect stop but many may not want to risk it. From here you will have no climbing to do back to your car however. Murlough Bay sits between Fair Head (posting that next) and Torr Head, near Ballycastle.

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This is the view if you stop and walk a little down hill from the first car park. If you look towards the centre of the picture you should be able to see a white van, that is in no.2 car park. From there you can see the (tiny) road cutting diagonally away heading for the last car park. Be advised that all 3 are quite small so you should arrive early or you might have some reversing to do. You can see a small part of Rathlin Island in the distance to the left of the picture.

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Theres a road that extends beyond the third car park but dont drive any further. It leads to a private cottage so just walk along here instead. On your way you will pass an old lime kiln still in good condition. They put alternate layers of limestone (from the hills above) and coal in it to burn and produce quicklime used in cement etc (the quicklime was raked out of the arch at the bottom after burning).

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Look up here, about 200ft high above you are the limestone cliffs used in the kiln, hard to believe these were once under the sea. The little cottage is called a “Bothy” an old labourers cottage used either for kiln workers or fishermen I suspect. Sometimes these would be left open as a refuge, but this one is locked.

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Over to your left are the remnants of some long lost building foundations, and part of a wall. Maybe a fishery or some ancient cottage. After that you will come to this private house. I reckon it must get a lot of photographs taken of it, as it adds a great focal point to the entire area. The bay and Torr Head lie before you.

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A place of natural beauty. Fair Head pointing towards the sky in the first picture. Torr Head in the second. You might just be able to see the shadow of Scotland on the horizon here.

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Like a land that time forgot. Murlough Bay, County Antrim,  10th April 2015 🙂

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. 

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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

Castlerock and Belvedere Summer House Downhill

Just by parking your car (or getting off the train) at Castlerock you have so much access to many wonderful sights and coastline around this area. We left the car at “Tunnel Brae” – two carparks with a viewpoint over the town and set off to walk across the Black Glen towards Belvedere Summer house – part of the large Downhill Demesne. I really don’t need to say much more than the walk was absolutely stunning.

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Castlerock beach on a November day.

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Some local information (sorry about the bird poo)

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Known as the Twelve Apostles, and situated just behind the Tunnel Brae carpark, these were old labourers cottages built in the 18th century, if you follow the road along here you will find the path towards Downhill Demesne.

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Another little cottage at the end of the road with a sign for the Black Glen walk.

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From the Black Glen looking back towards Castlerock. Its not as far as it looks.

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We’ve already visited Mussenden so its on to Belvedere.

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Your first view from the valley below. It was built by the Bishops daughter Mary.

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This little set of windswept trees have been painted and photographed many times by others.

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Looking into the Summer house. Its quite small really, but a major part of the entire Demesne. You can get in round the back.

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If you look really closely here, to the far left under the tree, you can see the railway tunnel to and from Castlerock. Another tunnel is at the far end of the headland (under Mussenden) where you are now. These are the two longest railway tunnels in Northern Ireland.

Creightons Woods, North Down, County Down

Having lived in this area for over 10 years now, it came as a bit of a surprise to go for a drive a few days ago and discover a place Id never seen before, literally 15 minutes from my home. Theres almost nothing about Creightons Wood on Google in terms of information or location, and judging by the condition of the place it seems as if it doesn’t see many visitors these days. The sign at the entrance is badly rotting, and many of the trees have fallen over and are diseased. Such a shame, as on this mild November morning I had the whole place to myself and didn’t see any wildlife in there, not even a bird (which felt slightly weird!). The woods are hundreds of feet above sea level (which is at Belfast Lough below). As the wind blew that morning it made an eerie wailing noise through the trees, really fantastic stuff. There were many varieties of mushroom growing there too, none Id take a chance on eating however, as I’m not at all educated on all things fungi. But I hope to visit this abandoned and melancholy place again soon.

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The old sign into the woods. An old poster of a lost dog remains stuck to one leg of it. I wonder was he ever found?

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Trees tower high into the November sky. Not a sound but the wailing wind.

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Many trees have fallen over a long time ago it seems. Leaving big pools of dark water where their roots used to be.

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Strangely, parts of the woods seemed to be flourishing too however, with a stream here bursting with green leafy life even at the edge of an oncoming Winter.

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Another tree sits precariously after falling, and a green blanket of moss covers the foreground in Creightons Wood.

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A circle of mushrooms.

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Picture taken from the top of a big mushroom.

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A fungi giant. If I had know he was edible I would have taken him home.

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Looks like someone in the past had placed a piece of old picket fence to cross the stream.

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The roots and base of a fallen tree looks like some creepy witch figure here.

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No, not a six foot long piece of broccoli, but a little fallen tree covered in moss.

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Flooded land at Creightons Wood. November 2014.