THE nights are drawing in and the days are getting colder, and while many people are tempted to retreat indoors, autumn is the perfect time to take a bracing walk in some of Northern Ireland’s natural beauty spots.
This autumn, Tourism Northern Ireland are encouraging walkers to put their best foot forward and explore some of the rugged coastlines, tree-lined paths and spectacular views that Northern Ireland has to offer.
“Northern Ireland is home to many beautiful regions for walking, some of which are well-known, some rewarding surprises, and all right on our doorstep,” said Rachel Quigg, Destination and PR Officer for Tourism Northern Ireland.
“Many of these walks are made extra special by dramatic autumn sunsets or with golden leaves on the ground, so we encourage everyone to wrap up and explore some of the special spots we have here,” Rachel continued.
Tourism Northern Ireland has compiled a list of some of the best walking routes this autumn in every county.
The Divis Ridge Trail, Divis and Black Mountain allows walkers to enjoy panoramic views of Belfast, the Mourne Mountains and even Scotland on a clear day. After an exhilarating walk, stop and enjoy a hot drink and snack at the Divis Coffee Barn, which is the highest in Ireland at 1025 feet. It is perfect for hungry walkers and serves delicious treats such as homemade scones, tray bakes and hot chocolate. Open Saturday and Sunday 10am – 3pm.
Barnett Demesne combines tree and plant collections with semi-natural features such as woodland and wildflower meadows. The park is home to many wild animals, including rabbits, badgers and grey and red squirrels, as well as birds such as jays, rooks and a range of songbirds. The park has a variety of walking routes, several of which link with the Lagan towpath, Clement Wilson Park and Mary Peters Athletics Track.
Whitepark Bay is a spectacular sandy beach that forms part of the iconic Causeway Coastal Route. Situated in a secluded location near Ballycastle, it is perfect for those who wish to get away from the stresses of everyday life and take a gentle walk on the shore. The bay is one of the most natural coastline sites in Northern Ireland and is backed by ancient dunes and rare plants and orchids. The area is also rich in fossils so perfect for any budding archaeologists who enjoy a brisk walk.
Misty autumn days create the perfect backdrop to explore the mature woodland of Glenariff Forest Park with its waterfalls and open 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 Glen to the coast and the sea beyond.
The Slieve Gullion walk is located within the Ring of Gullion Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Rising to 573m, Slieve Gullion is the centrepiece of the volcanic landscape and is a Special Area of Conservation. The Ring of Gullion and Slieve Gullion have rich associations with Irish myths and legends and are home to the highest surviving passage tomb in Ireland, known locally as ‘the Calliagh Berra’s House’.
Gosford Forest Park comprises of 240 hectares of diverse woodland and open parkland set in gentle rolling countryside. It was designated as the first conservation forest in Northern Ireland and has a number of way-marked nature trails and treks to explore with the whole family. Heritage poultry, a deer park and rare breeds of cattle and sheep are also on site.
The Slievenaslat walk in Castlewellan Forest Park offers spectacular views of the Mourne Mountains after a steep climb through the forest to the summit, with panoramic views of Northern Ireland’s highest mountain range and surrounding County Down landscape to be taken in.
For those wishing for a more casual stroll, there are lots of other walks to choose from in the grounds, with a walk trail that stretches 7.5 miles throughout the forest park.
Walkers in Castlewellan should also explore the Peace Maze which is one of the largest permanent hedge mazes in the world, making it the perfect place for a fun game of hide and seek with the children.
Elsewhere in County Down, a walk to the summit of Scrabo Hill takes in the famous Scrabo Tower, one of Ireland’s best known landmarks and some of the finest views in the country over Strangford Lough and North Down. The walk then descends to the disused sandstone quarries which provided building stone since Anglo-Norman times.
Florence Court mansion is located around eight miles from Enniskillen and its gardens, visitor centre and forest parks provide a perfect backdrop for a day exploring. The house and demesne is one of the most important Georgian Houses in Ireland, and you can enjoy glorious walks around the grounds which include a pretty walled garden and holiday cottage.
Lough Navar Forest near Derrygonnelly contains lakes, peat bogs, exposed cliffs and some amazing viewpoints. Within the Lough Navar forest are many way-marked walking trails highlighting short and longer walks, such as the Magho Cliffs walk, the Lough Navar Lakes walk, and a one mile looped way marked walk of Correl Glen Nature Reserve.
Autumn is the perfect time to explore Lisnaskea Forest as it offers moderate walks and it is great for those with a young family. Ramblers will enjoy the winding forest roads and remote country lanes that offer stunning views of Lough Erne and the rolling hills beyond that stretch as far as County Cavan.
Just south-east of Derry city lies Burntollet Wood which sits beautifully in the picturesque Faughan Valley. The wood sits adjacent to Ness Country Park which is an area of Special Scientific Interest containing fragments of rare ancient woodland. The Woodland Trust has planted over 43,000 native trees at Burntollet including oak, ash, alder and wild cherry which make the perfect backdrop for a crisp autumnal walk.
The Roe Valley Country Park offers a variety of routes along the River Roe or Red River. This 7 mile walking trail circles both banks of river, which originates amidst the peat bogs of the Sperrin Mountains, offering an explanation for its red colour. With the path running through an enchanting oak forest, combining legend with industrial and natural heritage, the park has great appeal.
The Sperrin Mountain range is the largest in Ireland and stretches along the Co Tyrone and Co Londonderry borders and is best described as wild, untouched and beautiful. A clear day is the perfect time to wrap up warm and take in the undulating hills covered in heather, the wonderfully quiet valleys and boggy uplands.
Meanwhile, Vinegar Hill Loop is a 7 mile walk located near to Gortin, just outside Omagh, and provides a taste of what the beautiful Sperrins have to offer including lush green valleys and breathtaking scenery. This walk is the perfect way to spend a crisp autumn morning with your family, or your other half hand in hand or a lively dash with the dog at your side.