Grab your walking boots and woolly hats, and work off the Christmas excess by heading outdoors to discover some of Northern Ireland’s most scenic locations this winter.
Rachel Quigg, Destination PR Officer, Tourism Northern Ireland said: “We are very fortunate in Northern Ireland to be surrounded by nature and beauty in every county with 8 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), 47 national nature reserves, 43 special areas of conservation and 10 special protection areas- making it a walker’s paradise.”
“Whether it’s a relaxing stroll along a river bank, a hike up a mountain, a ramble through a forest or even a mad dash after your dog, Northern Ireland has a walking route to suit the whole family.” added Rachel
Tourism Northern Ireland has put together some suggested winter walks for you to enjoy;
A winter morning is arguably the best time to walk the Lagan Towpath as the mist hovers just above Belfast’s main river. The towpath starts just minutes away from Belfast City centre, and sets off along the river and canal systems through a variety of wetland, riverside meadows and mixed woodland as far as Lisburn. After passing through Lagan Meadows and Shaw’s Bridge this section of the towpath finishes at Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park, one of Belfast’s most popular parks.
Divis and Black Mountain rest in the heart of the Belfast Hills and provide a backdrop to the city’s skyline, offering spectacular views across Northern Ireland, Belfast Lough and as far as Donegal and the coast of England, Scotland and the Isle of Man.
Stay: The 4* Ramada Plaza Hotel Belfast is situated in the picturesque surroundings of Lagan Valley Regional Park and just a 10 minute drive from the thriving Belfast City Centre.
Spanning over 40 miles across counties Tyrone and Londonderry, the Sperrin mountain range is the largest in Ireland and walkers can expect undulating hills covered in heather, quiet valleys, boggy uplands and a land teeming with wildlife. Add in over 90 sets of stone circles, the best known being Beaghmore and numerous other intriguing, megalithic structures, and the Sperrins are most definitely a walking wonder.
Visitors looking for a great off-road, winter hill to climb should check out The Robber’s Table route near Gortin. The highest point of this route provides superb views of the Bluestack and Derryveagh Mountains of Donegal to the west and the high Sperrins to the north east.
Stay: Blessingbourne Estate offers 5* luxury pet friendly self-catering accommodation with premier 13k Mountain Bike Trails and pump track with onsite bike hire; bespoke walking trail and 18-acre coarse fishing on private lakes.
The Mournes & Ring of Gullion
The Mourne Mountains are the highest and most dramatic mountain range in Northern Ireland and are criss-crossed by an unrivalled network of paths and tracks, providing enthusiastic walkers with incredible opportunities for exploration. Northern Ireland’s highest peak, the Slieve Donard climbs up through forest to meet the famous Mourne Wall for the final steep ascent to the top. A total climb of 850m, the dramatic views of Newcastle and the sea below definitely make it worth the ascent.
Covering an area of almost 630 hectares at the foot of the Mourne Mountains, nearby Tollymore Forest Park offers breath taking panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, and is home to one of Northern Ireland’s first Nature Play parks ‘Big Deer’. Whereas, Castlewellan Forest Park offers an array of loops through one of the most outstanding tree and shrub collections in Europe.
The Slieve Gullion walk is 9.5 miles and located within the Ring of Gullion AONB. Rising to 573 metres, Slieve Gullion is the centrepiece of the volcanic landscape and is a Special Area of Conservation.
The Forest Park is also home to ‘The Giant’s Lair’. This ambitious children’s trail takes visitors on an unforgettable journey through intertwined fairy houses, creating a fantastical childhood land of mystery, dragons, giants, witches and fairies waiting to be explored.
Stay: The 4* Slieve Donard Resort & Spa in Newcastle stands in six acres of immaculate private grounds. A golden strand of beach borders one side while the mighty Royal County Down golf links frames the other.
Causeway Coast & Glens
The Causeway Coast Way, especially the section from Portballintrae to Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge is among the most scenic coastal walks you can find anywhere. Follow a stretch of breathtaking coastline between Ballintoy and Bushmills for a great 12.4 mile walk. The route includes walking on beaches, across rocks and along cliff top paths.
Winter creates the perfect backdrop to explore the mature woodland of Glenariff Forest Park with freezing waterfalls and open, frosted moorland. The trail first takes you down the Inver River gorge, to the edge of the Ess-na-Crub Waterfall and your path back offers spectacular views straight down the misty glen to the coast and the sea beyond.
Stay: The 4* Causeway Hotel which offers stunning views across the bay to the Atlantic Ocean.
Whilst Fermanagh is renowned for its lakelands, the first destination for any keen walker should be Cuilcagh Mountain, the highest summit in the County, standing at 665m. This area is part of the UNESCO endorsed Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark due to its unique geology and spectacular landscapes. A new boardwalk meanders through one of the largest expanses of blanket bog in Northern Ireland. www.marblearchcavesgeopark.com/
Crom Estate near Enniskillen offers walks amidst a tranquil landscape of islands, woodland and historic ruins. Take the walk which follows the main estate path through stunning parkland towards the old castle, steeped in history. As you continue along the shoreline to Crom’s beautiful boathouse you can enjoy stunning views up to the 19th century castle (private) which sits to the right of the trail dominating the landscape.
Stay: Commanding stunning views overlooking scenic Lough Erne, the 4* Killyhevlin Lakeside Hotel & Lodges is an ideal location for exploring Fermanagh.
Translink run a Sperrins & Mournes Rambler bus service all year round with stops in key towns which are ideal starting points for many circular walks. For information on short breaks to Northern Ireland, go to www.discovernorthernireland.com