AUTUMN has arrived and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) is encouraging everyone to pull on their walking boots, take a stroll in the crisp air and enjoy some of the most spectacular landscapes of the year.
There are many different types of walking routes available right across Northern Ireland from forest trails to mountain hikes which will enable you to discover the stunning surroundings with your family, partner or friends.
NITB’s Destination PR Officer Pauline Gormley says it is a wonderful time of year to take a walk in the great outdoors.
“Autumn is the most colourful season of the year and it is a great time to explore the spectacular natural settings we have here in Northern Ireland including hills, woodlands, mountains and riversides,” said Pauline.
“Whether you want to go for a stroll in your local forest park or a more energetic workout along a mountain trail there are options for everyone. Many of the routes are clearly marked while others enable you to go off the beaten track and to get up close to nature.
“Walkers should remember to wear suitable clothing and footwear while they are out,” said added.
To help you take a step in the right direction, NITB has highlighted a range of walking routes and autumn events taking place this year;
Belfast Castle Estate
Belfast Castle estate is situated on the lower slopes of Cave Hill Country Park in north Belfast and offers superb views of the city from a variety of vantage points. Follow the blue waymarked ‘Estate Trail’ for a 2.4 mile for a walk through its woodland and parkland which will take in the Millennium Maze, the Volunteer’s Well and Belfast Castle.
Explore this historic estate with a 1.5mile walk which takes in Malone House, meadows, woodland and the River Lagan. Start at Malone House car park and follow the path round the front of the house and downhill while admiring views over the Lagan Valley, across Minnowburn Beeches and the wildflower meadow. Along the way you will discover the old Shaw’s Bridge and a disused kissing gate.
Carnfunnock Country Park, Larne
This country park offers walkers a whole host of great routes to explore the picturesque surroundings of Carnfunnock Country Park. The walking paths overlap each other in places and it is possible to follow any one. There are five waymarked trails with take in the Walled Garden with unusual sundials and wooden sculptures, a maze the shape of Northern Ireland, an ice house, woodland and wetland as well as great views of the coast.
A hidden gem at the north eastern tip of Islandmagee, Portmuck is a stunning little harbour with fabulous views of the Antrim Coast. The National Trust owns and manages the coastline on either side of the harbour and has provided excellent trails for visitors to enjoy the scenery and dramatic views. There are two linear routes on either side of the harbour – the Northern route to the left and the Southern route to the right.
Gosford Forest Park, Markethill
The Castle Path circular walking route in Gosford takes in the Arboretum and southern end of the Walled Garden before reaching the boundary of the privately owned Gosford Castle. From here the path leads through oak and Norway spruce plantations returning to the car park by the Rare Breed and Heritage Poultry enclosures. The trail is well signposted from the car park.
Peatlands Woodland Walk, Loughgall
The Woodland Walk is one of five lovely walks around this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Follow the path marked with the yellow arrows and watch for Cuckoos and birds of prey using the dead pines as lookout posts. Annagarriff Wood is a National Nature Reserve with unique flora and fauna species, many of which are found nowhere else in Northern Ireland.
Meelmore and Meelbeg, Hilltown
A moderate 5.5 mile walk in the High Mournes, summiting two of the seven highest peaks in the region. Walk up the stony track at the opposite side of the road from Ott car park until it splits in two. Here take the upper path until the Mourne Wall. At the wall turn left and follow the Mourne Wall up the summits of Slieve Loughshannagh (619m), Slieve Meelbeg (708m) and Slieve Meelmore (687m). Retrace your steps 300m back down Slieve Meelmore and descend into the valley. At the bottom of the valley pick up the Ulster Way which emerges onto the Slievenaman Road, 800m away from the Ott car park.
Once part of the Nugent’s Estate, this gentle walk is through a mature wood of mixed broad leaved trees. Visitors will enjoy spectacular views across the Strangford Narrows, towards Audleys Castle and Castleward and the Wood is home to Red Squirrels and badgers.
Lough Navar Forest Park, Derrygonnelly
From the main forest drive there are lots of short walks signed to various points of interest including lakes, viewpoints and places of historical interest. This is a stunning forest with a variety of landscapes offering views over Lower Lough Erne and on a clear day the Sperrin Mountains and the west coast of Donegal.
The Park Trail is set amongst the beautiful backdrop of Dungannon Park – a 70 acre oasis. The walk’s paths surround the grounds mature woodland, brightly coloured flowerbeds and the magnificent 13 acre freshwater lake. High ground offers the walker splendid viewpoints of surrounding townland and countryside with views of Lough Neagh on a clear day.
Davagh Forest, Cookstown
Davagh Forest is a true hidden gem and lies approximately six miles north west of Cookstown in an untouched rural landscape of rolling hills and sweeping forests. Here there is a range of walking and mountain biking trails available. The two mile short circuit walk follows the black waymarker arrows along a pleasant riverside path which meanders through beautiful woodland.
Errigal Glen Trail, Garvagh
The Errigal Glen Trail is one of two waymarked trails in the picturesque Glenullin region, three miles south west of Garvagh. The route follows woodland trail, country roads, forest road and open hillside. Points of interest include the ancient remains of the Errigal Old Church and the Gortnamoyagh Inauguration Stone.
Downhill Forest, Castlerock
Downhill Forest is a small mixed woodland of 83 hectares just inland from the North Coast of Northern Ireland. The Forest was originally part of the estate of Frederick Harvey, the 4th Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry, which included Downhill Castle. A walk through Downhill Forest will allow you to view one of Northern Ireland’s fattest Sitka spruces, an Early Christian Promontory Fort and an old water powered sawmill with its blade running round the small lake in the middle of this woodland. There are two waymarked paths in the forest, one is just over a kilometre long while the other is two kilometres in length and the Ulster Way also runs through part of the forest.
There are a number of events taking place as part of the National Trust’s Great NI Walk festival which is running until November 3;
Remarkable Trees, Minnowburn, Belfast, October 19. Meet some of the most remarkable trees and explore the mysterious worlds of woodland history, myth and folklore. Find out about traditional woodland crafts and management and learn about the art of green woodworking. Time: 11am-12.30pm.
Coastal Walk, Orlock, Groomsport, Co. Down, October 26. One of the National Trust’s least known beauty spots, Orlock is rich with historical interest and teeming with wildlife. Join the ranger for an enjoyable stroll and discover some of the area’s fascinating secrets. Meet at the lay-by south east of property. Time: 10am-12 noon.
Autumn Walk, Murlough NNR, Dundrum, Co. Down, November 3. Enjoy a five mile coastal walk around this National Nature Reserve, as part of the Newcastle Challenge Trail and Lecale Way. Bring a picnic. Booking is essential. Time: 11am-1pm.
For more information on walking routes click on discovernorthernireland.com or visit your local tourist information centre. A short break in Northern Ireland starts from £49 per room.