Larrybane, Game of Thrones Location, Co.Antrim.

I took a drive up to a place called Larrybane yesterday which is halfway between Ballintoy (another GoT location, see my posts on it) and Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. In fact to get there you have to follow the signs for Carrick-a-Rede and park up in one of the two car parks when you arrive (the first one you come to is for the bridge but theres a another one lower down thats better for Larrybane). The good thing is, Larrybane is completely free to access (the bridge is a pricey £7.50 each but hey, we all know by now that the National Trust is very good at robbing tourists eh? We’ve all become aware of their dodgy Giants Causeway shenanigans) and its really worth investigating – especially if youre a Game of Thrones fan and youve just visited Ballintoy mere minutes away. Larrybane was once a busy old limestone quarry and you can still see the remnants of the works buildings there.  

If you look at the top left corner of the first picture you can see the Game of Thrones set location at Larrybane. And in the second picture the same location yesterday with just my car parked there haha. This site was where Brienne of Tarth was first introduced to the show back in Season 2 (I think).

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Theres a huge sweeping bay below the old quarry at Larrybane and you can actually see the point in the far distance where Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge spans the gap in the cliffs if you look very closely. Its that V shaped cut in the rocks just left of center towards the back of the picture. I have included a close up of it I took below.

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Some of the old quarry ruins that remain. Looking pretty ominous against the cloudy November sky.

The view from the top of the headland is pretty spectacular I must say. It was a reasonably overcast day but some parts of the sandy bottom of the sea were a stunning turquoise blue. The island you see in the first picture is known as Sheep Island. I didnt see any sheep on it (theyd have to be able to swim to get out there) but it has some old folklore history yet its now designated as an area of special scientific interest and human access is prohibited during bird nesting season.

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If you take one of the small trails through the grass at the top of the headland and look over the other side (be careful!), this is the view youll see. Its just as amazing as looking in the other direction and you might just be able to spot Ballintoy Church (which sits at the top of the road down to Ballintoy harbour) near the middle of the picture.

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This was taken right down at the bottom of the cliffs (theres a crumbling old road to walk down) where the rubble and fallen limestone rocks from the quarry festoon the shoreline. You can see Sheep Island again in the background and I expect there may be some fossil hunting to be done down here at low tide.

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This is a zoom in to the V shaped cut I mentioned in the rocks (on the second picture) where Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge crosses over the gap. You should actually be able to see the people crossing it. Its a bit of a walk to get to the bridge and once you do it youd likely not go again, but the walk there has everyone looking back towards Larrybane as the view behind you is so stunning. Personally I enjoyed visiting Larrybane (FREE!) just as much as the bridge. And it didnt have hordes of tourist bus passengers either walking in file to get there 😀

 

 

North Coast Dreams (video) Slideshow of the Causeway Coast County Antrim.

Ive created a little slideshow video here of several pictures Ive taken around the North Antrim coastline. Its my first attempt at this so forgive its amateurish limitations. Locations seen include Castlerock, Binevenagh, Portrush, Portstewart, Dunseverick, Port Moon, Gortmore, White Rocks, and a glimpse of Dunluce Castle.

 

Portmuck Islandmagee County Antrim

Islandmagee is a peninsula on the east coast of Co.Antrim and in many ways its often disregarded by many in Northern Ireland given that its off the beaten path. Its very much a rural community there although it does house Ballylumford power station which provides Northern Ireland with half its electricity, but hidden away at the north eastern tip of Islandmagee lies Portmuck which really is worth a visit.

Portmuck doesn’t get its name from its hygienic condition, but rather from the old Irish word for pig which was “muc” therefore the label actually means harbour of pigs. A long time ago the area had a roaring trade in cattle, horses, and pigs so it looks like the swine managed to give the place its name (though some say its because the island off shore here looks like a sleeping pig but its open to question). The island is known simply as The Isle of Muck (lol) which was once a hiding place for horses when they were being smuggled across from Scotland by those wishing to avoid excise or having them taken away.  It was also a retreat for a few scamps on the run from the law.

 

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Some information you will see on arriving at the car park in Portmuck. You can read some notes about the history of the place and there are toilets and useful picnic benches nearby.

 

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The little beach at Portmuck and a view taken from the right side hill looking down on the harbour. Really very tranquil and peaceful.

 

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From the hill top overlooking Portmuck bay you can see The Isle of Muck (not to be confused with an island of the same name in Scotland) which today provides the third largest nature reserve for birds in Northern Ireland including kittiwake, guillemot, fulmar and razorbill with peregrine falcons commonly hunting over the island. You can catch sight of puffins, otters, common and grey seals and porpoises offshore too. The only way on to the island is by approaching from the land facing side (seen here).

 

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From the hill top you should see some wooden steps to take you down to the rocks below. I highly recommend you go down. Once there, walk right along the shore until you come to this beautiful white stoned beach. The water is stunningly clear as you look across to the island.

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Made up of mostly limestone pebbles (limestone is quite common along many shoreline parts of Co.Antrim) the beach here is hidden behind the headland at Portmuck and you wont see it unless you go look for it. Many of these stones will contain fossils and you can find them relatively easily if you know what to look for (just like Whitepark Bay https://niviews.com/2015/02/18/whitepark-bay-north-coast-county-antrim/ )

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The limestone beach in bright sunlight really glows and the camera probably hasn’t done it justice here. You might be able to see a line in the water cutting across to the island which is actually a causeway that can be used to walk over at very low tide. I don’t know anyone who’s done it but the old picture here (not mine) clearly shows that its possible when the tide drops low enough: https://i.imgsafe.org/1452c6cf49.jpg its also said that livestock (many years ago) where brought to and from the island this way. I have to say however, I think it looks a lot more beautiful when the causeway is covered by the sea.

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The edge of the causeway.

 

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Just beyond the beach lies some huge green cliffs which Ive read contains a two mouthed cave that may be accessible at low tide. Sadly this was as far as I could go today though.

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At the left side of the beach there’s a small gate that allows you access to walking a path high above Portmuck Bay (marked by this sign).

 

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Once at the top, the view was simply stunning…. 🙂 You can see the Portmuck island just behind the bay.

Silent Valley Reservoir County Down

Its maybe hard to believe, but Northern Ireland was once short of water so someone decided to build a big storage place to gather all the rain that keeps falling on our heads for 364 days of the year (it seems) and they called it Silent Valley.

Silent Valley now supplies water for most of County Down and Belfast and it was built between 1923 & 1933 using a workforce of over 1000 men – 8 of whom died in the process. Its situated near Kilkeel and the water supply to fill the dam included diverting a river from Annalong which meant they had to tunnel a 3.62km hole through one of the Mourne mountains (Slieve Binnian) which was an amazing feat lit by using just candlelight.

Today, Silent Valley gets 50,000 visitors a year with most coming to experience the stunning views and make use of the many trails and walks around the area. The park has an information centre, a conference centre, and an education centre, all set inside some old bungalows (see below) and there’s a cafe there too. The famous Mourne Wall also cuts through the park which was constructed to mark out the catchment area for the Silent Valley dam. Its maybe not as good as the one in China but its still pretty impressive when you see it fade off into the distance.

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After parking your car (its £4.50 entrance fee for a car full of people at time of posting) you walk along the path before arriving at the information centre above. Nothing too impressive yet.

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Some information on the dam. Apparently the valley used to be called Happy Valley but its not certain why the name was changed (one idea about this is on the sign above). It really is incredibly quiet up there though. Spot the 2 crane flies. 🙂

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Your first view of the dam. The water was below the overflow level on the day I visited which drains excess water off via the circular construction thing you can see on the right of the picture. I’m not sure where the water goes when it disappears down the hole (maybe its how the devil gets his shower water) but if you want to see it in action there’s a small video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxUEfQd4mk4

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The first picture is looking up the reservoir from the walkway embankment. Even on an overcast day like this its still pretty impressive. The second picture is looking across from the left hand side of the water.

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A little bit of back story about the men who built the dam. They even had their own workers village called “Watertown” and you can still see some of the old foundations of Watertown next to this sign.

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There are 5 walking routes around Silent Valley with one to suit every ability. I did the “Mountain Trail” (3.4km) route which is considered moderately difficult but it really wasn’t that bad. It gives good views over the reservoir from the left hand side of the water (as you come in). This picture was taken from near the top of the mountain trail.

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As you descend from the Silent Valley mountain trail you’ll reach the Mourne Wall which usually becomes a feature of many of the Mourne mountain range walks given its meandering 22 miles of length. Its always stunning to see it disappear off into the distance.

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And finally, a little plaque in memory of the 8 men who died in construction of the dam (and one at Ben Crom dam too).

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.

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.

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.

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.