Posted on May 28, 2013 @ 2:46 PM in
Photographs by founder of NI Walking Photography Group David Doyle
Northern Ireland may be a relatively small place however what it lacks in area it makes up for in variety. With so many diverse landscapes all under one roof we have put together a list of the most spectacular natural wonders and manmade structures of the Northern Irish countryside that every walker should experience first hand.
1. Mourne Mountains
The highest and most dramatic mountain range in Northern Ireland, the Mourne uplands are dominated by a compact ring of 12 mountains with many of the summits crowned by impressive granite tors. (However what makes these mountains truly special are the endless places to discover with little competition for space.) Criss-crossed by an unrivalled network of paths and tracks there are incredible opportunities to discover the variety of landscapes and habitats that can be encountered within such a confined geographical area. Everything from the rocky outcrops that can be found on several of the peaks, to upland heath habitat, wooded valleys and the agricultural planes of the lower Mournes, the entire Mournes Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is simply unique. **There are a whole range of Mourne mountain walks to choose from as well as a downloadable guide featuring itinerary suggestions and route descriptions available from WalkNI.
2. Rathlin Island
The most northerly inhabited island in Ireland, situated 10km off the North East coast, Rathlin’s wonder lies in the variety of birdlife that grace the shores of this remote and tranquil island. Just 8km east-west and 5.5km north-south it is home to tens of thousands of seabirds, including common guillemots, kittiwakes, puffins and razorbills as well as a world renowned RSPB centre making it a birdwatchers paradise. However as well as enjoying the comical antics of puffins and seals in spring and early summer from the cliffs, walkers can expect to be treated to some magnificent views including Donegal, the North Antrim coastline, the island of Islay and the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland.**There are 2 official walking trails on the island which is accessible by ferry throughout the year from Ballycastle meaning you can experience the island and its wildlife in any season.
3. Mourne Wall
The most distinctive feature of Northern Ireland’s highest mountain range this 22 mile (35.5km) stone wall, encloses 9000 acres of land. Originally built in an effort to keep cattle and sheep out of the water catchment area of the Silent Valley reservoir the wall spans over 9000ft of ascent, rising and falling over 15 of the highest peaks in the Mournes, including Slieve Donard. Built between 1904 and 1922, the Mourne Wall is a remarkable structural feat and frames some of finest mountain views in Ireland. **For a truly unique experience and to appreciate the 18 years of work that went into creating such an iconic part of the countryside walkers can take on the Mourne Wall Challenge a one day itinerary which provides a highly testing 22 mile route taking in 7 of the 10 highest mountains in the Mournes.
4. Silent Valley
Built to supply water to most of County Down and a large part of Belfast the Silent Valley Reservoir is both practical and stunning. Nestled in between the Mourne uplands walkers can expect this man made feat to live up to its name with a peaceful silence creating a sense of solitude. Built between1923 and 1933 by a workforce of over one thousand men the deep blue waters are contrasted against the heather, gorse and peat of the high Mournes enhancing the landscape.
5. North Coast
The North Coast and the Glens of Antrim are justifiably famous for the Giant’s Causeway, wonderful coastlines and unique natural beauty as well as countless myths and legends that accompany this historic part of the country. Comprising of 3 designated areas of outstanding natural beauty, nine glens, lush forest parks, secluded coastal tracks and numerous quaint fishing villages exploring the rugged coastline of the North on foot via the Causeway Coast Way is a must. **Details of the 33mile Causeway Coast Way route can be found on WalkNI as well as a downloadable North Coast & Glens of Antrim walking guide.
6. Glenariff Waterfalls
Glenariff, meaning ‘Queen of the Glens’, is widely regarded as the most beautiful and striking of the 9 Glens of Antrim. Penned by 19th Century English novelist William Thackeray as “a Switzerland in Miniature”, after visiting its waterfalls, rich woodland and steep, glacial escarpments it’s easy to see where he got his inspiration from. The crowning glory however has to be the impressive double-drop of the Ess-na-Larach Waterfall one of the many dramatic waterfalls that punctuates the deep sided gorge of the Glenariff Glen Nature Reserve. Not only do the waterfalls provide a spectacular site, they also provide a distinctive atmospheric noise to any walker who chooses to explore this stunning part of Northern Ireland. **There are 4 quality walks within Glenariff Forest Park including the Waterfalls Walk which takes in the famous Ess-na-Larach.
7. The Sperrins
The Sperrin Mountains, stretching along the border of counties Tyrone and Derry, can best be described as wild, untouched and beautiful. Spanning 40 miles, the mountain range is the largest in Ireland with 10 summits above 500m. 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 and the only commercially operated gold mine in the British Isles and the Sperrins are most definitely a walking wonder.
About the Photographer:
David Doyle had an interest in photography for around 20 years; however only started becoming more serious about photography when he took up walking (about 5-6 years ago) and soon discovered he had an eye for landscape photography. As a member of several walking groups one of the problems he found was that he didn't get enough time to stop to take photographs, so in August 2010 he started the NI Walking Photography Group on facebook especially for people who enjoy walking and photography. Today the group has over 200 members which comprises of photographers and walkers of all ages. For more information visit http://www.facebook.com/groups/niwpg/
Posted on May 13, 2013 @ 3:24 PM in
Charity bike events are a great way to get involved with your local community, raise money for good causes and have fun too. I did my first charity bike ride several years ago and this year will be my seventh Wirral Bikeathon, a charity bike ride near Liverpool.
Truth be told, I didn't enter myself into the first one, it was my Wife. Before we had children, I used to cycle a lot but when they were young (we had twins) it was a never ending cycle of feeding, washing, cleaning, shopping and sleeping (me as well as the kids!). So there was never any time to go cycling and I gradually withdrew from any form of exercise. As a middle-aged man, this was bad news and the love-handles became a spare tyre of more tractor proportions than a bicycle.
Ever supportive, unbeknown to me, my Wife entered me into that first Bikeathon. Bit of a shock, and an even bigger one when I realised it was just six weeks away and I hadn't been on my bike for around five years. I needed a plan. Here's what I did.
I had just six weeks to prepare so I needed to get back on my bike and build up my fitness levels. At first I found it a little daunting but then I said to myself, I can walk a mile, so I must be able to cycle five. The first circuit of the Wirral Bikeathon is just 14 miles so all I had to do was a small amount of cycling in each of the six weeks and I'd be fine. In the first week I did one ride lasting 30 mins, that's it, nothing too strenuous there. The following week I increased this to 45 mins and 60 mins the week after, all of which were on the flat.
For those of you asking if you have to do any fitness training, you can just turn up on the day but with just a small amount of preparation, you'll enjoy the event so much more. My article on How to Prepare for a Charity Cycling Event gives advice on a wide range of topics and is well worth a read. The article looks at basic fitness training as well as what you should eat, drink and wear. In addition, it gives guidance on how to prepare your bike and what bike gear you'll need.
So having done three gentle rides, I wanted to step it up a little. My fourth ride was for 60 mins again but this time I included a gentle climb. The following week I did this again but added an extra climb, nothing too steep or difficult. Finally, the week before the actual event, I was feeling good so I did a 90 min ride and included a couple of small inclines.
The big day came and I was really excited but a little nervous if the truth be known. I got to the event early and was amazed at how many people were there, all as excited as me! It was such a buzz to be surrounded by one thousand (yes, a thousand) other cyclists. There were people aged from 8 to 80 (truly), people on road bikes, mountain bikes and several tandems. There was a real party atmosphere and everyone was clearly looking forward to setting off.
So off we went. The Wirral event is split into two circuits, both of 14 miles, but most do just the first one and this is what I had intended to do. However, by the time I'd finished the first circuit, I felt so good that I decided to complete the full 28 miles. And believe it or not, I could have kept going (but didn't). I was so proud of myself for having taken part and I enjoyed it so much, I've entered every year since.
So, as well as raising money for a great charity, cycling events like these are a way to motivate yourself into getting fit and having fun.
Posted on May 13, 2013 @ 3:17 PM in
OutdoorNI’s Sarah Nelson spent a morning horse trekking at Sheans Horse Farm. Here’s how she got on…
Helping to fulfil the stereotypical view that all little girls love ponies I went to horse riding lessons as a child however those days are now long gone and apart from one brief hack many years ago I hadn’t been on a horse since. So with my visit to Sheans Horse Farm booked it was safe to say I was very much looking forward to quite literally getting back in the saddle. Situated just outside Armoy, Sheans Horse Farm is a riding school and trekking centre on the 400 acre McKinley family farm in the hills of North Antrim.
Not wanting to miss out, Beverley our seasoned horse riding pro from the office came along too. Beverley took up horse riding 4 years ago so was definitely more skilled than me however our differing abilities weren’t a problem as on arrival our instructor Maggie made sure to find out our individual capabilities and what we would feel comfortable doing.
While Beverley had come prepared with all the gear I was in need of being suited and booted up which thankfully wasn’t a problem as there was a big stock of riding boots and helmets available. After this it wasn’t long before Maggie introduced us to our chaperones for the morning; Archie and Phillip, our two very handsome…. horses! All tacked up and ready to go we wasted no time in getting started. Thankfully for 5 foot nothing people like me there were steps to easily mount the horses to help avoid any undignified clambering (that would be saved for the dismount!)
Having discussed our abilities at the start it was then time for Maggie to see how we were able to handle the horses which for me meant a trot around the sand school to refresh my memory. It was great to be able to build my confidence on the horse within the school before heading out on the trek.
Maggie and Shan then joined us on Pepsi and Trim, and explained what we would be doing before we headed off. I felt very confident on Archie and it didn’t take me long to realise he was my kind of horse - willing to do what I wanted when prompted but not willing to put any unnecessary extra effort in! Which meant he went at the perfect pace for me.
The trails started right from the stable yard so there was no need to go anywhere near a road as we began our off-road hack into the beautiful North Antrim Hills. With countryside stretching as far as the eye could see I could tell this was going to be a great experience. With nothing but the hooves to hear on the ground (and of course our occasional chatter) it was a very peaceful way to start our morning.
Although I would have been happy enough riding along with not a care in the world, Maggie really made it interesting for us by getting us to go up mounds and hills, learning to lean forward and back to help navigate the horse. We even travelled up through rivers with the horses drinking from the streams - I felt like I was on the set of Game of Thrones!
With green grass continuing for miles in the distance it really did feel like we were riding the horses in the perfect environment which was only emphasised further when we past the farms other horses frolicking freely in the fields before galloping past us on their way to be fed.
We continued up hill, walking and trotting before Beverley and Maggie went on ahead so they could have a go at cantering whilst Shan took me for a trot. The views were amazing the whole way up and seeing them from the height of the horse (plus the fact we didn’t have to walk uphill) made it even better! At the top, thanks to the sun splitting the skies we had stunning, uninterrupted views as far as Lough Foyle and the Sperrin mountains, Inishowen and even as far as Malin Head in Donegal. Evidence of the traditional hand turf cutting that takes place at the farm could also be seen at the top of the hill. After a lot of ‘ohhing’ and ‘ahhing’ at the views we began to make our way back down to the stable yard again having some fun trotting and cantering along the way. Before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye to our new four legged friends – however going by how much fun we both had I think it is safe to say we will be seeing them again!
Sheans Horse Farm
38 Coolkeeran Rd,
£25 for a 1 ½ hour trek
Gift Vouchers Now Available!
Posted on May 7, 2013 @ 7:14 PM in
A quick word from the team at Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland
It's been quite a month for mountain biking in Northern Ireland!
After the opening of 4 key trail centres in as many weeks, Northern Ireland now boasts over 100km of exhilerating mountain bike trails across 3 national trail centres in Davagh Forest, Castlewellan and Rostrevor which includes two simply epic downhill trails on the shores of Carlingford Lough. With 16km of cross-country trails across the regional centres of Blessingbourne Estate and the newly launched Barnett Demesne Trails we now also have the first and only official dirt jumps park in Ireland as well as a purpose-built MTB Skills Course at the Tollymore National Outdoor Centre.
With approximately 50,000 mountain bikers expected to use these brand new facilities in the first year alone, we are in a position to make the most of Northern Ireland's incredible natural landscape which has always been ideally suited for mountain biking. Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it?!
Needless to say, a lot of blood, sweat and tears have gone into these projects behind the scenes to indeed make this a reality! The fact is that these developments would never have been possible without strong partnerships from land owners, funders, councils, trail designers, consultants, contractors, local mountain bikers and the team at Outdoor Recreation NI. In truth, there are far too many people to mention individually here but they all can and should look back with a great deal of pride in what has been achieved.
Never content to rest on our laurels, we have now launched MountainBikeNI.com and are kick starting a marketing programme with official trail sponsors Chain Reaction Cycles, who themselves have been instrumental in the development of mountain biking in Northern Ireland over the last decade. Having this strong endorsement and marketing support from such a world renowned brand offers us an unparalleled opportunity to reach mountain bikers from far and wide and showcase what Northern Ireland has to offer!
Our team are also now working on a Phase II which will double the length of the trail network in Blessingbourne Estate (work starting June 2013) and are liaising with Omagh District Council re: potential developments in Gortin Glen Forest Park. Any future projects will be an outcome of Outdoor Recreation NI's Mountain Biking Strategy which is currently under development!
For now though, we are looking forward to a great summer ahead on Northern Ireland's very own network of MTB trails! Thank you to everyone for your ongoing support throughout the years - you know who you are!