Ashley HunterBrendan Monaghan & Stephen PrenticeHelen Lawless
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Plants to Spot on Coastal Walks

Posted on May 26, 2016 @ 1:00 PM in Walking

We are lucky to be always within 50 miles of the coast in N. Ireland-even in deepest Tyrone! In less than an hour’s drive in almost any direction , I can hop out of the car, look across the sea, and  feel  freedom and anticipation- rooted (in my case) in Sunday family picnics near Newcastle  or Ardglass.  Most walkers enjoy the coast; the sound and sparkle of breaking waves, the touch of a sea breeze on the skin, the cries of gulls and the sea smell, all have a relaxing effect. We were once told that sea air contained ozone, but "seaside smells" are more likely due to a mixture of chemicals-algae and decay products from the sea itself.  Ice-cream and sunscreen oils add their own contribution.

The variety of scenery - beaches to dunes, shingle to rocky shores and salt marshes to coastal cliffs, all enhance the feeling of being alive. Seaside plants have evolved to survive and flourish in tough conditions along unique coasts. Wind seldom completely abates, sand, mud and thin soils with a high salt content dry out quickly and sea- spray is more or less continuous - Coastal plants need to be tough! Have a walk along the shingle and pebbles at the top of many beaches-the toughest environment of all for seaside plants. What might we see?

Common Scurvy-grass is hard to miss on the shingle of beaches in May. Along some motorway verges, the seeds of a closely related species (Danish Scurvy Grass) have been spread from wheels of lorries arriving off cross- channel ferries. No doubt, de-icing salt helps the plant feel at home! Why the name? The plant has fleshy leaves containing vitamin C. Scurvy was caused by a lack of vitamin C in the diet, so eating the leaves gave some protection against the illness.

Scurvy Grass

Sea Campion is found on shingle beaches, cliffs, dunes and waste ground near the sea. The almost pure white flowers are produced from mid-April until August. A plant of beauty, but often passed by.


Sea Milkwort, found growing in compact mats on the shingle of most beaches, has tiny pink flowers and small fleshy leaves .The compact and fleshy nature of the plant helps to conserve moisture.

Sea Milkwort

Thrift at its best in May, produces drifts of pink flowers on rocks and along cliff paths. Most will not remember three-penny piece coins, you are too young! The globular flower-heads on the coin were thrift flowers.


In late spring, in thickets amongst dunes and sand-hills, Burnet Roses with beautiful pale cream flowers are in bloom.They are very spiny (the spiniest rose of all) and can cause unpleasant scratches. The hips are purple-black, other roses have red hips. Varieties of this plant have been used as garden plants.

Burnet Roses

‘There is pansies , that’s for thoughts’ wrote Shakespeare. Short grassland behind a beach will invariably have wild pansies with yellow or violet-blue flowers (two separate varieties), often in flower from April until late summer, but best in May.

Wild Pansy

Rest-harrow has pink pea like flowers throughout late spring and summer, among dunes or grassland behind the shoreline-but not found everywhere. The name comes from the difficulty caused to horse- drawn ploughs or harrows by the tough roots. Rest-harrow eaten by cattle taints milk, butter or cheese, so farmers certainly don’t like the plant. Fortunately it seems to grow mostly on the coast. The roots were once chewed like liquorice, but I confess I have never tried it!

Rest Harrow
Would I have a favourite? It has to be the Oyster plant and I have two good reasons. The flowers, out in late June are a wonderful shade of azure blue with touches of purple. The other is rarity. Oyster plants grow among shingle and pebbles on a few beaches along the Down coast  Fleshy grey green leaves cut down water loss and were once used as either raw or cooked ‘greens’. The plant is much too rare for that now! We are at the plant’s northern limit, I hope you find it! The search is worth the effort. Tyrella or south of Bloody Bridge near Newcastle are likely spots.

oyster plant

Common Stork’s-bill. Pretty pink flowers of Common Stork’s bill arise from a rosette of dark green, finely and deeply cut leaves. The flowers open in the morning, are pollinated, and gone by mid-day. Examine the plant- the name Storks-bill comes from long beak- like seed pods. Common Stork’s bill is found on dry sandy heaths near the sea.

common storks bill

Spring Squill grows on short turf near the sea and is at its best in May. Grassy hillsides sloping west  on Rathlin Island can become a haze of blue with Spring Squill. The plant is still be found on grassy slopes above the sea south of Ardglass. Yet, it is a plant often missed. Sorry about the poor photo which includes Kidney Vetch , I will take a better one soon!

Spring Squill

Yellow Horned Poppy is found infrequently on rough stones at the top of storm beaches, you will be lucky to find it. The best site locally is a storm beach beyond Bloody Bridge, south of Newcastle. The plant produces bright yellow flowers  in early July, and later, long narrow seed pods . Remember all parts of the plant is poisonous.

yellow horned poppy

Long-headed Poppies are much more common and found abundantly  in sandy fields along the coast from late June until September . The name ‘long headed poppy’ is descriptive of long narrow seed pods produced after flowering. Poppies ‘en masse’ must be one of nature’s finest sights. This is not the Remembrance Day poppy -much less common here in N. Ireland.

Long headed poppies

Harebell flowers in July- a colourful sight for walkers on coastal cliff-tops such as the Giant's Causeway or amongst dunes. The plant has been given many names, among them ‘witches thimbles’ and ‘fairy bells’. This is the true ‘bluebell’ of Scotland –not the woodland bluebell.       

Explore rocky sections of coastline or coastal cliffs from July until the end of August and you might find  Rock Samphire, once eaten as a vegetable and  cooked like Asparagus,or pickled. Native islanders on St.Kilda scaled cliffs for samphire and fulmar’s eggs to supplement their limited diet-a dangerous business! Shakespeare refers to the practice in ‘ King Lear ’. ‘Half way down hangs one that gathers Samphire,dreadful trade’.

rock samphire

Orchids are my favourite wild-flowers. Rare ones are elusive, often requiring long journeys or patient searching. In July, amongst dunes and often only yards behind beaches, elegant spikes of ‘Pyramidal Orchid’ with magenta/pink flowers dot the dunes.  

Pyramidal Orchid

Green- Winged Orchids have only one site in N.Ireland - an area not much larger than a helipad,so you might not find it! You can’t get much rarer than that. However, the plant is fairly common in parts of England. The flower spike shown is a beautiful pale variant. Most specimens are magenta in colour. Early July is best time for this orchid on the only known site- 30 yds from the sea.  

green winged orchid

Sea Bindweed is very local with one reliable site, immediately across the Bush river, and where the dune system begins at Portballentrye. The picture shows the thick fleshy leaves needed for coastal survival.

Sea Bindweed

In July, along the coastal path between Whitepark Bay and Ballintoy, look for ‘The flower of Dunluce’  or Meadow Cranesbill, a plant you should not miss. Not found elsewhere in Ulster, but quite common in England.

Meadow Cranesbill

The little plant below with small succulent reddish leaves and star-like white flowers is English Stonecrop.  A lover of warm hollows in seaside rocks, it produces flowers from June until September and is sometimes even invited into gardens. A close relative, Biting Stonecrop, bright yellow in colour carpets stretches of flat sandy ground in Murlough Reserve near Newcastle.

Biting Stonecrop

I have left many out and they don’t deserve it.  Wild Thyme, Tree Mallow, Spurges, and lots of Orchids, so take that flower book with you, and maybe a camera , and dander along the coast.  

Search for coastal walks on and get out and allow your mind to escape from a busy world for a few hours.

Latest comment posted by Laura on April 19, 2020 @ 8:17 AM

Thankyou for this,it helped us identify Common Scurvy grass after a walk on a shingle bar in Scotland Read more >

Ronnie Irvine
Ronnie Irvine  Seasoned Hill Walker and UFRC Committee Member

A retired chemistry teacher and a hill-walker for more than 30 years, Ronnie has been on the UFRC Committee since shortly after retirement. He has a keen interest in Natural History and photography which he combines with his love of hill-walking. Having taken up web design on retirement he now runs his local walking club website and his own photographic site as well as finding the time to be a walk volunteer ranger with Outdoor Recreation NI.

7 Walks with Glorious Gardens

Posted on May 16, 2016 @ 1:23 PM in Walking

Birds singing, flowers in full bloom and the smell of freshly cut grass; there has never been a better time to visit some of Northern Ireland’s most spectacular gardens. From walks through arboretums featuring champion trees to winding paths through award winning rosebushes and historic houses with period features these walks with gardens are a must:

Mount Stewart Lake Garden Walk, Newtownards, Co. Down

Mount Stewart
Listed in the top ten gardens of the world compiled by UNESCO World Cultural Heritage the gardens at Mount Stewart were planted in the 1920s by Edith, Lady Londonderry. On this 2.3 mile walk, beginning at the front of the mansion, you will soon spot the monkey puzzle tree and Californian Redwood, your first indication of the remarkable variety of species within the estate. Beech trees, Rhododendron’s and Magnolia’s will line your way along gravel pathways.  With a rich tapestry of design and planting artistry, the formal areas of the gardens have a strong Mediterranean feel resembling an Italian villa landscape, while the wooded areas support a range of plants from all corners of the world.

Annesley Garden Walk, Castlewellan Forest Park, Co. Down

Castlewellan Garden
The forest park's best-kept secret don't be surprised if you are the only one discovering the many secluded spots in this hauntingly beautiful garden and arboretum. The garden was founded in 1740, with the Annesley family planting the arboretum in the 19th century. One of the finest collections of trees in Ireland, it includes 42 champion trees and 20 of the oldest specimen trees in Ireland and Britain.  Stop to admire the impressive American Giant Redwood (added to the garden in the 1850s) or take a seat under an archway of ivy. Once at the entrance gate, choose between the shorter 1.1 mile walk or the 2.2 mile route which continues uphill, circling the Duck Pond and Mitchell's Lake.  

Botanic Gardens, Belfast, Co. Antrim

botanic gardens
One of Belfast’s most historic parks set in the grounds of the Ulster Museum in addition to the beautiful landscaped gardens the park contains a tropical ravine with a fascinating collection of exotic species.  The circular walking route is just under a mile and will take you past the impressive statue of Lord Kelvin, famous physicist and founder of the Kelvin temperature scale, who was born in Belfast in 1824. You’ll also pass the Tropical Ravine which was constructed by Charles McKimm between 1887 and 1889 and contains a fascinating collection of exotic species, herbaceous borders and a colourful rose garden.  The most striking building, the Palm House, designed by Charles Lanyon and built between 1839 and 1852 is home to wonderful collections of tropical plants, many of which have been growing there since the 19th century.

Belfast Castle Estate, Belfast, Co. Antrim

Belfast Castle

Home to a quirky cat garden Belfast Castle occupies a prominent site on the slopes of Cave Hill and boasts spectacular cityscape views of Northern Ireland’s capital city. The pleasant circular 2.4 mile Estate walk is the perfect way to admire this magnificent sandstone building and learn of its close associations with Belfast’s past.  According to legend, Belfast Castle is safe as long as there is a (preferably white) cat residing there. This myth led to the creation of the "Cat Garden" right next to the stately pile on the slopes of Cave Hill which boasts no less than nine cats for visitors to discover. 

Rowallane Garden, Saintfield, Co. Down

The 19th century garden, famous today for its colourful plant collection and rugged landscape, was started in 1860 by the Moore family and further added to from 1903. Tranquil and calming there are many walks to choose from which visit the famous Rock Garden Wood, walled garden, rugged Old Wood and Pleasure Ground. The walled garden was originally built for fruit and vegetables by the Reverend John Moore, but was changed to ornamental planting by his nephew Hugh Armytage Moore who inherited the garden. With such an eclectic mix of herbaceous plants, bulbs, herbs and climbers this part of the garden unfolds weekly from spring to autumn.

Sir Thomas & Lady Dixon Park, Belfast, Co. Antrim 

Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon
This short circular walk (2.5 miles) through one of Belfast’s most picturesque parks is rich in horticultural and historical interest. Famed for its International Rose Garden, which attracts thousands of visitors during Rose Week held annually in July the park covers more than 128 acres and is made up of rolling meadows, copses, woodland a walled garden and a Japanese-style garden with water features for quiet contemplation. During World War II, American troops were stationed in the grounds of the estate while their officers lived in Wilmont House. Lady Dixon was well-known for her work with the troops and was created Dame of the British Empire as a result. Before she died in 1959, she donated the estate to the city of Belfast in memory of her late husband, Sir Thomas.

Hillsborough Castle Boundary Trail, Hillsborough, Co. Down

Hillsborough Castle

Walk in the footsteps of Presidents and Princesses as you visit a working royal residence and explore the 96 acres of stunning gardens.  The gardens, developed from the 1760s onwards, offer a contrast of ornamental grounds, woodland, waterways, and lawns and feature a magnificent ‘Cornish Red’ Rhododendron, which is in the Guinness Book of World Records as being the largest specimen of its type in the world. The 1.6 mile boundary trail will take you past spectacular gardens, impressive 150 year old Lime Trees, Quaker Burial ground, Ice House, a serene Temple water and Pond and of course Hillsborough Castle itself. Built in the 1770s, the castle is a working royal palace that functions as the official residence of the Royal Family when they are in Northern Ireland and has been the home of the Secretary of State since the 1970s.

Sarah Nelson
Sarah Nelson  Marketing Officer

Sarah joined the marketing team of Outdoor Recreation NI in 2011. A firm believer in giving anything a go at least once (unless it involves jumping out of a plane at 6,000ft!) she is always looking for new adventures in the outdoors and can often be found wandering the Mournes or Glens of Antrim attempting not to get lost!

6 Ways To Make The Most Of The Spring Bank Holiday

Posted on May 10, 2016 @ 12:08 PM in Adventure

With the Bank Holiday weekend approaching we know how important it is to make the most of your long weekend. So for those looking for some inspiration, check out our top 6 ways to have the best Spring Bank Holiday ever! 

1. Make The Most Of Great Adventure Deals

Bank Holiday Family Fun

Bank Holiday Blow Out, Mon 30th May, Carrowmena Activity Centre, Limavady, Co. Derry~Londonderry
The perfect way for adventurous families to spend time together in the great outdoors. With a massive 20% off activities this event is not to be missed! Tackle the 28ft climbing wall, fly down the 100m zip line and canoe along the beautiful River Roe with Binevenagh as a back drop.

2. Spend Some Quality Time Together

Family Adventure Day Northern Ireland

Family Fun Day, Mon 30th May, The JungleNI, Moneymore, Co. Derry~Londonderry
If you have family in tow, make your way to The JungleNI Family fun day filled with activities sure to keep all ages entertained. Choose from a range of activities including; zorbing, lama trekking, high ropes, paintballing and more.

3. Head Off In Search Of Your Next Adrenaline Fix

Adrenaline Adventures Northern Ireland

Bank Holiday Open Park Day, Mon 30th May, Todds Leap, Ballygawley, Co. Tryone
Get off the couch and do something different with 10 amazing activities on offer all day, the only trouble is you'll not know what to do first! Have a go on your favourite adrenaline fuelled activities as many times as you like! Are you brave enough to take on Ireland's longest zip line, the white knuckle off road ride at rally competition speed or flying high over the cliff edge on the giant swing?

4. 'Sea' The Sights

Sea Safari Northern Ireland

Strangford Sea Safari, Mon 30th May, Clearsky Adventure Centre, Strangford, Co. Down
Climb aboard and explore the spectacular Strangford Lough during this high speed boat tour. You heart is sure to start racing as you speed across the water to visit the seals at Cloughy Rocks Nature Reserve and head out in search of the Lough's infamous whirlpools

Rathlin Island Boat Tour, Portrush Sea Tours, Portrush, Co. Antrim
Explore the iconic Causeway Coast including its white sandy beaches, historic castles and famous attractions including the Giants Causeway and Carrick-a-rede. Having explored the spectacular coastline you will speed across the water to Rathlin Island to see the puffins at the RNIB Sanctuary.

5. Don't Panic (If You Leave It Until The Last Minute!)

Canoeing Northern Ireland

Canoe/ Kayak Open Session, Sat 28th May, Mobile Team Adventure, Belfast, Co. Antrim
For those who tend to plan thing last minute keep calm and don't panic during the Bank Holiday weekend. Mobile Team Adventure Centre's open canoe/ kayak sessions are the perfect activity to keep in mind for a last minute adventure. With no experience or booking necessary this drop in session just a stone's throw from the city centre guarantees a lot of fun for all ages! 

Tell us about your adventures on Facebook & Twitter.

Jayne Woodrow
Jayne Woodrow  Marketing Officer & Active Clubs Coordinator for Walking

Jayne joined the marketing team of Outdoor Recreation NI in March 2014. She oversees the marketing and communication on WalkNI, OutdoorNI and Walking in Your Community Project. Most recently she has been working with Parkrun Ireland & UK to introduce the 'Walk @ parkrun' initiative.

Northern Ireland's Outdoor Adventure Blog