LOVERS of the great outdoors will be in for a mountain of treats this summer.
The Northern Ireland Tourist Board says there is a range of walking festivals and newly opened bike trails on offer.
Pull on your walking boots or grab your bike and get active over the summer months while also discovering some of Northern Ireland’s most scenic locations.
Whether it’s a leisurely stroll around a lake, an adventurous hike up a mountain or a trip to one of the newly opened purpose-built bike trails, there are plenty of options to suit everyone.
NITB’s Destination PR Officer, Pauline Gormley, says summer is a great time of year to discover what Northern Ireland has to offer.
“Northern Ireland is awash with beautiful sights and scenery and there is no better way to experience them than on foot or on your bike,” she said.
“Throughout the summer months, and in fact into September and beyond, there will be lots of great walking events taking place, with something suitable for all levels of fitness.
“This year also saw a number of new mountain bike centres open up all within 90 minutes drive of each other which has transformed Northern Ireland into the next ‘must-visit’ destination in the UK and Ireland for mountain bike enthusiasts,” said Pauline.
To help get you started NITB has put together a list of walking festivals and the newly opened mountain bike trails.
This year’s Walk the Glens Festival in Co. Antrim will run from Friday May 31 – Sunday June 2. Over the course of the weekend walkers can chose from a selection of walks ranging from the 2.5 mile Heritage History Walk and the 5 mile Sallagh Braes walk, right up to the 12.5 (7 hour) Three Peaks walk. The trails are famous among walkers for their spectacular scenery and views of both the Antrim and Scottish coastline. Registration will take place before each walk at The Old School House, Mill Street in Cushendall and refreshments will be provided after all walks. The festival also includes entertainment and walkers are all welcome to enjoy a BBQ, music, song, storytelling and refreshments. Most walks require walking boots and some are only suitable for walkers over 16 years of age.
The Mourne International Walking Festival, taking place from June 28 – 30, is set within the spectacular scenery of the Mourne Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Festival has something to suit all levels of fitness and ability with routes between 10km and 40km at both high and low levels. On each day of the Festival there will be lowland self-guided walks ranging from 10km to 40km with the route well marked and easy to follow. For something a little more adventurous on Saturday and Sunday, there will be a mountain hike and a mountain ramble, and subject to weather conditions on the day, the scaling of more than one mountain will be required. The Festival not only offers excellent walking but also great entertainment with the highlight of the weekend being the Blister Ball in Warrenpoint on Saturday evening with a hot supper and dancing into the small hours.
Head to County Tyrone from July 20 – 21 and discover the Sperrin Mountains for yourself at theSperrins Hillwalking Festival. During the weekend event there will be the opportunity for all abilities of walkers to enjoy a range of walks – family, moderate and challenging, all led by professional walking leaders. There will also be activities and entertainment in the evening to relax and unwind after a day in the hills. A fantastic opportunity to meet new people, join in on a range of activities and get fit at the same time.
The Wee Binnian Walking Festival is taking place from September 6 – 8 with buses departing and returning to the registration centre at Killeavy Football Club, Forkhill Rd in Newry, Co. Down. The annual festival offers guided mountain and lowland walks in the Mournes, Slieve Gullion and Cooley Mountains with grades catering for all hill walkers. The event has a reputation for great sociability and also offers walkers entertainment, social evenings, refreshments and even a sponsored draw.
This year has seen four new purpose-built mountain bike trails opening in Northern Ireland;
Davagh Forest, near Cookstown, Co. Tyrone
Approx 31km of exciting cross-country mountain bike trailsdesigned by Phil Saxena of Architrail, who designed the Olympic Mountain Bike course in Beijing 2008. Suitable for a wide range of levels including families, beginners, intermediate and advanced.
Rostrevor, Co. Down
21km of cross country trails which includes two downhill trails – the only purpose-built downhill trails in Ireland. Suitable for intermediate to advanced riders.
Castlewellan, Co. Down
25km of purpose-built cross-country mountain bike trails which are suitable for a wide range of levels –including families, beginners, intermediate and advanced.
Barnett Demesne / Mary Peter’s, Belfast
12km of purpose built mountain bike trails just 10-15 minutes drive from Belfast city centre which is suitable for beginners and intermediate mountain bikes. There is also a purpose-built jumps park for advanced mountain bikers.
To find out more about walking and mountain biking in Northern Ireland click onwww.discovernorthernireland.com or visit your local tourist information centre.