Grab your walking shoes and woolly hats and work off the excesses of Christmas by heading outdoors to discover some of Northern Ireland’s most scenic locations this winter, says the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB).
Whether it’s a relaxing stroll along the banks of the river, a hike up a mountain, a ramble through the forest or even a mad dash after your dog, Northern Ireland has a walking route to suit the whole family.
NITB’s Destination PR Officer, Pauline Gormley says there are hundreds of walking paths and trails to explore.
“After a busy festive season there is no better way to blow away the cobwebs than to wrap up warm and take a winter walk,” said Pauline.
“Whether you are a hardcore hiker or you enjoy a relaxing Sunday stroll, there are hundreds of options and areas for you to explore in Northern Ireland.
“Walking is a fantastic way to take in the natural beauty of an area at your own pace so wrap up well and enjoy the winter backdrop and beautiful scenery,” she added.
To help walkers on their way, NITB has put together a list of top walking routes this winter.
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 in Stranmillis, 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. After passing through Lagan Meadows and over Shaw’s Bridge this section of the towpath finishes at Sir Thomas & 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. Suitable footwear is necessary.
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.
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 following the Causeway Coast Way, one of the most spectacular cliff top paths in the UK.
Co. Antrim also boasts Croaghan, a 6.5 mile circular stroll, with a variety of hills, forest tracks and stunning panoramic views of Rathlin Island, just off the Antrim Coast.
The Slieve Gullion walk is 9.5 miles and located within the Ring of Gullion Area of Outstanding Beauty. Rising to 573 meters, 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 legends and myths.
Gosford Forest Park comprises of 240 hectares of diverse woodland and open parkland set in gentle rolling drumlin 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.
Located in the dramatic setting of mountains and sea, Castlewellan Forest Park is one of the most outstanding tree and shrub collections in Europe. Many walkers enjoy its mile-long lake which gives a great insight into eighteenth-century landscaping.
Covering an area of almost 630 hectares at the foot of the Mourne Mountains, Tollymore Forest Park offers panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and the sea at nearby Newcastle. Tollymore has some very interesting features to look out for while on your walk including a barn dressed to look like a church and gothic-style gate arches that all show the influence of the highly individualistic designer, Thomas Wright of Durham.
North Down Coastal Path extends from Holywood in the west to Orlock in the east and passes through coastline and parkland. Historic relics and flora and fauna can be found in abundance and grey seals can be spotted offshore.
Murlough Nature Reserve is a fragile 6000 year old sand dune system owned by the National Trust, it is an excellent area for walking due to its spectacular location at the edge of Dundrum and the Mourne Mountains and was Ireland’s first Nature Reserve.
Castle Archdale Country Park offers a variety of walks on a 5 mile trail with lots to see as it goes along the shore passing the deer park enclosure, wildfowl ponds and butterfly garden. Winter is a great time of the year to explore this unique setting.
Crom Estate 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 which sits to the right of the trail dominating the landscape.
Peatlands Park, close to the southern shores of Lough Neagh, can be explored by over 10 miles of paths and wooden walkways which leads the visitor through many varied habitats. The park is rich in butterflies, moths and dragonflies as well as many woodland and wetland birds and several species of waterfowl.
Dungannon Park is a 70 acre oasis centred round an idyllic still-water lake and its magnificent scenery invites you to enjoy leisurely walks along the park trail. High grounds offer the walker splendid views of the surrounding townlands and countryside with views of Lough Neagh on a clear day.
Visitors looking for a great off-road, winter hill walk across rolling hills and frosty moorland should go to Robber’s Table. 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. As the 9 mile route climbs south over Ballynatubbrit Mountain it passes Robber’s Table, the site where supposed local seventeenth century Highwaymen met up to divide their spoils after raiding the postal carriages that traversed this upland landscape.
Port Path follows a stretch of scenic coastline between Portstewart and Portrush and the winter seascape is an experience not to be missed. As well as the magnificent offshore views, this route also passes by a number of interesting features such as traditional ice houses, stone built, turf roofed houses where ice was stored in the winter in order to preserve salmon in the summer.
Prehen Wood is one of Northern Ireland’s rare and irreplaceable ancient woods and it has a series of numbered way-markers that offer an environmental trail encouraging people to develop an awareness and appreciation of the natural and built environment.