Gail MartinChris ArmstrongMickey Regan
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Size Isn't Everything

Posted on May 31, 2017 @ 6:30 PM in Mountainbiking

When thinking about where you’re going to spend those precious few hours on your bike during the week, there can be a temptation to go exclusively for the big names. Davagh Forest. Castlewellan MTB Trails. Rostrevor MTB Trails.

They are of course all outstanding trails and well worth a visit, but to keep to these three exclusively is to miss out on some of the other fantastic mountain bike experiences right at your doorstep in Northern Ireland.

Barnett Demesne

The idea that Barnett Demesne might not even be considered by some would be anathema to its many loyal riders. Located only four miles from the centre of Belfast, Barnett Demesne is located beside the Mary Peters track and boasts Ireland’s first official purpose-built jumps park! 

The trails

The trails themselves consist of 8.8km of green, blue and red lines, worked into a remarkably compact area. This lends to a quick course with sharp technical corners, some great boardwalks and rock sections, and a surprising number of climbs. All this is that bit more impressive when you consider that Barnett is tucked away in a relatively small bit of woodland, with walking trails on one side, sports pitches on the other and the river Lagan running through it.


What else is there to do?

Given the proximity to Belfast city centre, there’s no shortage of things to do in the area. In the immediate vicinity, that could mean taking the bike onto the towpath and cycling to a nearby cafes. Or you could head into town and visit any of the multitude of great restaurants, bars and music venues. 


Blessingbourne Estate

Blessingbourne is ideal for everyone, whether you’re a lone MTBer, going with the family or heading with a group of friends. In addition to the outstanding trails there, it has top class accommodation and plenty of resources on site to keep you entertained. In the last few months, it has won a multitude of awards including MountainBIkeNI’s “Best MTB Friendly Accommodation”, a “9.9” rating badge from, and most recently, won the much coveted Accommodation of the Year award in the self catering section of the Tourism NI awards.

The Trails

Mountain bikers that ride Blessingbourne for the first time are usually surprised. In addition to the 12km of blue and red trails, it also packs a few orange features. Berms, log rides and rock drops abide and it makes for an incredibly pleasant mountain bike experience. In particular, Blessingbourne Mountain Bike Trails are ideal for the beginner. With bike hire available on site, the 12km gives a good test of endurance for the newer MTBer, with zero hill climbs. There is also a pump track on site.

What else is there to do?

We recommend renting one of the self catering cottages at Blessingbourne and making a trip out of it. Colleen and Nick who own the Estate are outstanding hosts and only too happy to help with anything during your stay. Enjoy the walking trails around the historic estate, bring the little ones to the play area, or head out and visit the nearby town of Fivemiletown.

Tollymore Skills Course

There have been loads of blogs about Tollymore Skills Course, but we thought it would be remiss to leave out here, largely because it’s so much fun! The guys at Tollymore accommodate for all levels, whether you're getting on your mountain bike for the first time - or a seasoned pro. Book a session with them on their website.


The Trails

The skills course at Tollymore has around 1.5km of singletrack trails, ideal for both complete beginners and those looking to brush up on their skills. With everything you could want to hone up on (rollers, table tops, rock sections, northshore etc), you can rest assured you’ll come away as a better mountain biker.

What else is there to do?

With both Castlewellan and Newcastle just a stone’s throw away, both towns are filled with loads of great activities and restaurants for visitors. Tollymore also runs courses on mountaineering, rock climbing and canoeing!

Ethan Loughrey
Ethan Loughrey  Mountain Bike Officer

Hardest thing about Mountain Biking? Definitely the trees.

Get into Watersports with Get Wet NI this Summer

Posted on May 31, 2017 @ 12:22 PM in Adventure

Continue the fun out on the water through the summer months with Get Wet NI's Participation Events. Come and have a go at something new with your local watersports club, uncover a new passion or improve your skills and confidence.

Get Wet Northern ireland

Co. Down

Coastal Rowing Summer Sessions For Juniors, Portaferry Coastal Rowing Club, Strangford Lough, Sat 8th & Sun 9th July.  A fantastic opportunity for kids aged between 11 & 18 yrs to have a go at rowing on the Gilpin Skiff. Each session will be led by a qualified cox from Portaferry Coastal Rowing Club

Bright Night Sailing For JuniorsDonaghadee Sailing Club, Various dates throughout May, June & July. An opportunity for those aged between 8 & 17 yrs old to get out on the water and learn some of the basics of sailing while having great fun with like-minded juniors.

Dinghy Ducks Sailing Programme, East Down Yacht Club, Downpatrick, Various dates throughout May & June. Get out on the water and learn to sail a Dinghy during these popular Friday night training sessions ideal for individuals, families and groups of friends.

Learn to Waterski/ Wakeboard with the experts, Meteor Water Ski Club, Various dates throughout May, June & July. Learn to ski on a beautiful picturesque lake. An adrenaline fuelled session with expert coaches. 

Get Wet Northern ireland

Co. Antrim

Go Rowing With Lagan Curraghs, Lagan Curraghs, River Lagan, Belfast, Various Dates throughout May, June & July.  Experience rowing a traditional currach on the River Lagan and Belfast Lough. Learn basic rowing techniques and try your hand on the steering oar.

4 Week Rowing Course for Beginners, Lagan Scullers, River Lagan, Belfast, 4 week course with various start dates from May to October. This four week course for beginners is aimed at improving your basic rowing skills and confidence in a fun and safe way.

Get Wet Northern ireland

Co. Fermanagh

Sunset Paddle, Share Discovery Village, Lisnaskea, Fri 2nd June. Sunset Paddles are an excellent way to be introduced to the sport of canoeing. You don’t need to have any previous canoeing experience, specialist kit or skills…just come and have a go!

Recreational Paddle, Erne Paddlers, Castle Archdale, Sun 4th June. A great way to see and experience the beautiful vistas and ancient sites of Lough Erne. Joine Erne Paddlers and explore some hidden gems only accessible by boat including.

Get Wet Northern ireland

Co. Armagh

Learn To Sail Beginners Sessions, Craigavon Watersports Centre, Various dates throughout May, June, July, August & September. Learn how to confidently sail in sheltered waters. This first step session is aimed at beginners and is an ideal way to learn the basics of sailing.

Canoe & Kayak Starter Sessions, Newry & Mourne Sea Kayak & Canoe Club, Camlough Lake, Sat 10th June. An ideal opportunity to get out on the water and try canoeing & kayaking with expert instructors.

Check out for even more fantastic events on offer throughout the Summer.

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.

Every Day in May!

Posted on May 24, 2017 @ 12:34 PM in Walking

Thomas Johnston talks about how he was inspired to get outside and active every day in May - be prepared to be inspired!  

In 2011 I reconnected with a cousin I hadn’t seen in years right around the time she was training for the 3 Peaks Cyclo-Cross race, which takes place in Yorkshire. After a couple of decades of not doing a great deal of exercise, except for some token efforts over the years at going to the gym, she inspired me to get out there again and I quickly rediscovered my love of running outdoors, in all weathers, at all times of the year. (I also bought a mountain bike but I really only have eyes for my running shoes.) I didn’t waste any time in entering the 2012 Belfast City Marathon, ticking off a long-held desire to “run a marathon” from my bucket list. In retrospect it was a foolish thing to do from a near-sitting start. It wasn’t a fast time and I got an injury that bothered me for a long time afterwards, but I still crossed the finish line! This led me on to taking part in Every Day in May, which I’ve been doing each year since 2013.

What is Every Day in May?

It’s a charity event designed to motivate people of all ages and abilities, wherever they are in the world, to go outside, to improve their fitness, and to raise money. Participants cover 5km or 10km each day during May using any self-powered means, such as walking, running, cycling, swimming, canoeing, and so on – anything so long as they are providing the power – with the emphasis being on the outdoors. To make it a more approachable event for people who don’t currently exercise they can split their activities over two sessions – it encourages people to get off the bus a stop or to earlier or to go out for a walk at lunch time. May is the perfect to do this because the days are getting longer, the weather is (hopefully) getting warmer and nature is positively exploding with activity. And being outdoors in nature is incredibly therapeutic.

In 2013 – still nursing my marathon injury – I mostly walked or cycled 5km. In subsequent years I overcame that injury and my running improved, so I was able to alternate between running and walking. This year my fitness has improved to the extent that I am able to run 10km each day. And my partner is also taking part for the first time this year – he’s walking at least 5km every day and, being the good citizen he is, he’s picking up any litter he passes along the way! He won’t mind me saying that he’s pretty darn fit for 73 years – which just proves the Every Day in May is indeed for everyone.

We’ve taken the opportunity to explore the countryside on our walks and runs. We live beside Delamont Country Park which has some of the best views you’ll see anywhere in Ireland; from the Millennium Stone you can look over Down Cathedral (where St Patrick is buried) to the Mournes in the distance and then follow the sweep of the county Down countryside over Gibbs Island and along Strangford Lough all the way down the Ards Peninsula. However, Delamont is pretty hilly so I tend to only run through rather than around it!

We’ve also been along the Quoile River several times, around the lake at Castlewellan, the Waterworks in Belfast (using their parkrun route), Rowallane Gardens in Saintfield, Castle Ward, along the road from Portrush to Dunluce Castle which has some spectacular coastal views as well through our picturesque home village of Killyleagh – famous as the birthplace of Sir Hans Sloane (founder of the British Museum) among many other luminaries. County Down in particular has some stunning places to be outdoors. We’re planning to run and walk along the Comber Greenway and wherever else our map leads us.

We’re doing it for charity

I don’t want to sound like I’m blowing my own trumpet – but it’s not easy running 10km each day for 31 consecutive days! It’s extremely tiring and it’s not something people should do as a matter of course. Your body doesn’t have time to fully recover  – but as a one-off event for charity it’s doable. Walking 5km each – for someone not used to that level of activity – is also a massive achievement and something within reach of almost everyone.

As well as the physical aspect it’s also a challenge trying to fit the activity into your day. Factor in the time it takes to get ready and then shower at the end and before you know it you have to find two hours out of every day in between work and family life.

One thing I’m very conscious of when I take part in Every Day in May is just how lucky I am and how much I sometimes take my health for granted. I’m lucky to be fit enough to be able to run 10km every day knowing that at the end of it all I can just stop, recover very quickly, and get on with my life. There are many people in the world who can’t “just stop” being ill – so me running 10km every day is my small way of showing support for those people less fortunate than myself by raising money for charity.

This year we’re supporting two causes:

NI Hospice, in memory of my mum. It's impossible to overestimate her importance in my life. It was difficult to see her health deteriorate, especially towards the end, but she never lost her spirit while her body was failing her. She passed away in 2015. During her illness she was helped by – and always spoke very highly of – the awesome people at Northern Ireland Hospice.

Down Cathedral Organ Appeal, in memory of Helen Walker. Helen passed away earlier this year. She's linked with mum in a sad sort of way because her funeral was the same day as mum's anniversary. Singing in the Down Cathedral choir was a big part of Helen's life and it's our privilege to raise money in her name so that others can continue to hear the organ’s uplifting sounds.

Go outside!

The best thing about running, or walking or jogging, is that you can quite literally do it anywhere. And it costs very little. You don’t need any fancy or expensive equipment – just running shoes, shorts and a t-shirt (all easily packable items), and you’re away, wherever you happen to find yourself. I find it very therapeutic too. If something is bothering me I think about it when I’m out there and by the time I come back it’s resolved or I’ll know what to do to get past it.

Simply going outdoors and listening to the sounds of nature and life passing by (I can’t listen to music when I’m running – too distracting!) is enough to fill up my soul-meter. So my advice to you is Go Outside!

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!

7 Top Tips to Help You Conquer the Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive.

Posted on May 23, 2017 @ 2:30 PM in Cycling

Sportives are hard, and the Giant's Causeway Coast Sportive is certainly no exception. To help you prepare for the day, whether you've signed up to the 35, 85 or 115 mile legs, we've got some great tips from top Irish long distance triathlete and coach, Lorcan Healy

1. Get the miles in!

Don’t underestimate the challenge. As with other endurance events – such as half marathons, marathons and triathlons – you wouldn’t complete them without any training. This means getting the miles in on the bike and increasing your fitness to meet the demands of your sportive. A general rule of thumb is that you should be able to comfortably cycle two thirds of your sportive distance in training. For example, if you’re riding the 115 mile leg of the Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive, you should be able to clock 77 miles in your training. Also, mimic the terrain of your course in training. If it’s a hilly sportive you are planning, get your climbing legs on during training and try a few hilly cycles.


2. Break the distance of your sportive into chunks

Your sportive cycle can seem daunting, especially if it is a super hilly 115 miler, or a distance you haven’t cycled before. If you break the distance of the route into sections, it becomes less daunting and will help keep your motivation levels up. Aim for the food stops which you’ll come across every 20/30 miles. This is a great way to break the distance down. Food stop to food stop; it will help keep your morale high and the sportive will seem to fly by.


3. Make sure your bike is in good condition

Your bike is the tool that is going to get you across that finish line so it to needs to be in good shape. Make sure your bike is fighting fit the day before your sportive. The last thing you want is to be fit and motivated to complete the challenge ahead only to be let down by a mechanical issue. Consider leaving your bike into Chain Reaction Cycles to get a service before your big event. Or if you’re a keen amateur bike mechanic check your tyre pressure and brakes are working and not rubbing on the rim. Don’t forget, mechanics from Chain Reaction Cycles will also be on standby throughout the day to help with any technical problems!


4. Take the right kit

Anyone familiar with the weather in Northern Ireland will understand that one minute the sun can be splitting the sky and the next it's bucketing out of the heavens. Being cold on the bike is a miserable experience, therefore being prepared is key. Suitable kit is a must when undertaking a cycle that will last a few hours. Check the weather forecast the day before your event. If there are showers expected then fold a lightweight rain jacket and keep it in your back pocket of your cycling jersey. It's best to be prepared so you have nothing to worry you on the morning of your sportive.


5. Pace yourself!

This is huge. It should be in your head as you prepare for your sportive and yet this is the most common factor that sees people withdraw three quarters of the way into the cycle. Don’t pay the price for setting off too fast - you'll just end up wanting the road to open up and swallow you as you dive deeper into the suffer fest. In a big event such as the Giant's Causeway Coast Sportive, it is easy to get caught up in the atmosphere and with fitter riders; it is a mass participation event but NOT A RACE! Ride at your own pace or with people who you may have trained with. This will allow you to keep plenty of energy in reserve for the more challenging aspects of the course.


6. Nutrition

This is an important factor on the day of the event. Any cyclist who has run out of fuel and has “bonked” or felt the “knock” will tell you that it is a very unpleasant experience. Make use of the food stops available during the sportive. Keep drinking energy drinks every 10 / 20 minutes and eating energy bars and gels every 45 / 60 minutes. If you do feel yourself getting tired, a good idea is to have a caffeine energy gel. After this, you'll feel like somebody has given you a new set of legs. Also the night before the event try to eat foods that are high in carbohydrates such as pasta and rice as it is this that will provide you the energy to conquer whichever route of the sportive you're doing.

7. Enjoy it!

You’ve done the training and worked hard in preparing yourself for the challenge so enjoy the experience! There's no doubt you will find the going tough at certain points (cough Torr Head cough) but think of all the work you've put into preparing yourself for it. Completing a sportive is a huge achievement and highly rewarding so enjoy the whole experience. Enjoy crossing that finishing line and meeting other participants and sharing your stories from the event. Enjoy the after party! There's no doubt in my mind you'll be buzzing for a few days after and will be signing for your next sportive very soon.

Enter the Giant's Causeway Coast Sportive now!

Lorcan Healy is a professional physiotherapist and triathlete coach with Peak Performance Coaching. He has ridden competitively across Europe and provides indepth coaching lessons and training programmes.

Lorcan Healy
Lorcan Healy  Triathlete and PT

Lorcan Healy is a top Irish long distance triathlete and coach. He has raced at the highest level within Ireland, the UK and Europe.

Bear Grylls Island Survival Academy – it may hurt a little…

Posted on May 11, 2017 @ 3:17 PM in Adventure

Just as I was beginning my après lunch coffee in Belle Isle Castle’s Grand Hall a team of menacing uniformed figures marched in.  They were on a mission, their leader Will quickly briefed us on the afternoon ahead. In fact, he told us very little (a theme which would remain for most of the day), only to dress appropriately as we will get wet and dirty and to be in a Land Rover outside at 1400. They left to the sound of a pin dropping in the background...

We piled into the Land Rovers and raced off into the grounds of Belle Isle Estate before arriving on the shores of Upper Lough Erne.  Following more instructions from Will (again suitably brief), we were equipped with buoyancy aids and paddles before venturing out onto the Lough. Just as I was beginning to take delight in the peaceful tranquillity an orange smoke flare set off from an island begin us.

After landing our kayaks on mass at the wooded island, we followed Will and his brigade to a pre-prepared campsite. Heath (another man not to be messed with) further focused our minds as he instructed us on how to safely use a knife during the remainder of the day.  The term ‘triangle of death’ (the area between your two kneecaps and you know where) will remain with me for a while.

The first task was to prepare a warm drink with a spark, a tampon and a Kelly Kettle.  Although no Café Latte, we were able to fashion a nice cup of coffee. Will and Heath then demonstrated their soft side and passed around the Jaffa Cakes. Just one each, they didn’t want to spoil us.

We split up into groups and rotated through several different exercises.  During the first, Will provided detailed instruction on the dark arts of concealment before issuing some camouflage cream and netting.  He then gave us two minutes to hide in the undergrowth within 20 paces before he came to find us.  I am immediately ran over 40 paces away, frantically covering myself in netting, diving into the biggest bush I could find and then closing my eyes in the hope that this would further help prevent my capture – it didn’t!  

With Heath’s guidance, we then became trackers carefully following a trail of footprints through the forest.  We achieved our goal with 20 seconds to spare. My two-year-old doesn’t stand a chance the next time we play hide and seek.

Following a short exercise in shelter building we returned to camp to be greeted by Venison Hot Dogs – a magic combination. After which the competitive spirits were raised with a round of axe-throwing.

As we walked back to the kayaks, this previous group of strangers were laughing and sharing fond stories of an excellent adventure. As it turned out we didn’t quite have one foot into the luxurious Belle Isle Estate just yet. Somebody had stolen half of the kayaks.  Will and Heath looked slightly sheepish although no one dared make any accusations.

The newly bonded group worked together to construct a raft to bring the remaining party ashore. I overheard the instructors trading bets on the raft’s chances of success – our odds weren’t good!

However, the raft optimistically named ‘Titantic II’ defied the odds and we reached the shore successfully.

The Land Rovers whisked us back to the luxurious accommodation afforded throughout Belle Isle Castle and Cottages, before enjoying a delicious dinner in the Castle’s Grand Hall, produced using the finest local ingredients.

Belle Isle Estate is the exclusive destination of the Bear Grylls Island Survival Academy. For more information on tailored incentive and corporate experiences contact:

Belle Isle Estate  

+44 (0) 28 66 387231

Chris Scott was a guest at the official launch of the Bear Grylls Survival Academy at Belle Isle Castle and Private Island

Photos within this blog are kindly provided by Ken McBride Photography


Latest comment posted by Wayne on May 11, 2018 @ 11:12 AM

From the very beginning, we plunged into a brave new world. The emphasis of the course was "self-help" - how to stay alive if he was in the desert. Training is based on the theories and practice of ... Read more >

Chris Scott
Chris Scott

When not boring everyone about his little kids’ latest antics, Chris enjoys sailing and cycling, if only to offset his love of eating out and Marlborough Cabernet Sauvignon..

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