Conor McKinneyPauline Mc GurkMichael Anderson
read more about the authors
Blog ethics

Mountain Biking and Mental Health

Posted on March 27, 2019 @ 12:51 PM in Mountainbiking

Following the publication of an article on the BBC which spoke of the huge benefits mountain biking can have for your mental health, MountainBikeNI wanted to delve a little deeper into the many potential benefits of the sport we love.


The stats on mental health can be quite scary. One in four people will experience a mental health condition at some stage in their life, and if anything, those figures are slightly higher in Northern Ireland than elsewhere in the UK.

Mountain biking should be fun above all else

A specialist in mental health (and avid mountain biker), Eamonn Duffy spoke to MountainBikeNI about some of the many benefits mountain bikers experience:

In recent years, the positive impact regular exercise (like mountain biking) can have on our mental health is an increasingly researched topic. It is well documented that regular exercise can promote good mental health via reducing social isolation, promoting the release of endorphins (or your ‘feel good’ hormones) and promoting a healthy weight which in turn improves self-esteem and confidence, alongside much more.”


An Outlet for Stress

One of the most commonly identified ways in which mountain biking improves mental health is by providing an outlet for stress. This was a recurring theme amongst MountainBikeNI followers, who contacted us in their dozens to agree with the findings.

One rider wrote about how mountain biking was a healing factor for him as he and his partner go through their first round of IVF.

I’ve been welcomed into a few groups and have ‘cycling mates’ who support each other in WhatsApp groups, and who I’ve been able to vent while huffing and puffing my way up fire roads. As a man in my 30’s, that outlet is invaluable, and getting into the habit of talking over where my head’s at is something I know can help in all aspects of life.”

Exercise, being with nature and the satisfaction of a good spin are all beneficial to mental health

Another explained how it gave him ‘smiles per miles’ after having suffered with depression for years. “For me it was a way of relaxing…and leaving everything behind. It gave me something to focus on. Now this year I’m racing in a XC fat bike race for 6 hours. Life’s good, I’m on the up. Everyone who is trying hard to get back to themselves… you can do it. It’s hard yes, but it can be done.”

Work too can play a big factor. Desk jobs can result in a sedentary lifestyle that’s hard to combat. As one mountain biker put it, “I try not to let my work overpower me nor take it home, but sometimes that just doesn’t happen… For me MTBing is my release.”


Making Friends

The social side of mountain biking can be just as important as the physical benefits. Making friends can be difficult as an adult as most people don’t even know where to begin. In the world of mountain biking it is relatively straightforward.

There's something about mountain biking that makes it easy to speak to complete strangers

Meet someone once or twice on your local trails and the next thing you know you’ve been added into a message group of 40 likeminded people probably in a similar situation – just looking for someone to ride with. Don’t be under the assumption that everyone in that group is a high flying, super shredding DH or EWS champion. In reality, they’re likely in the same boat as you.

You can also begin to meet other mountain bikers by joining the MountainBikeNI Trails Team, sponsored by Chain Reaction Cycles. This group meets up a few times a year to help with trail maintenance and litter picking.

As another MountainBikeNI commenter put it, “The social side to mountain biking is fantastic. A big problem in your head going out for a ride, shared with a mate might turn out to be a small problem. A different outlook on a solution to problems, maybe some ideas you hadn’t thought of. The biggest thing is chatting – it doesn’t even need to be about problems or issues, just talk.”


Finding Help

If you need help making that first step into mountain biking, one great resource can be found in the organisation Mind Your Mate and Yourself, formally known as PIPS. They organise a men’s group to ride the Castlewellan Mountain Bike Trails every Wednesday. If you'd like to join, simply turn up at Life Adventure Centre in Castlewellan at 9:30am any week. A Ladies group will also be starting at the end of May. For more information on this, follow their Facebook Page.

Some of those who attend the group told MountainBikeNI how beneficial it was. "It gives structure to my week... gets me out, breathing fresh air, burning fat and gaining muscle." "Keeps me from becoming isolated".


Some of the Men's Group from Mind Your Mate and Yourself

Other resources available include:

Aware (another excellent national organisation which provides help for people with depression)

Stop, Breath and Think (a mindfulness based app to help with anxiety and depression)

Lifeline (excellent for a listening ear and advice. They can signpost you to appropriate agencies and / or provide free counselling sessions).

Samaritans (also great for a listening ear / advice and signposting)


We would like to thank Eamonn Duffy for his invaluable input, Jill and all the team at Mind Your Mate and Yourself, as well all the mountain bikers who wrote to us to tell us their stories. Also to the team at Arc Fitness, dedicated to addiction recovery through fitness coaching.

If you would like to create a MTB group or find one in your area, you can visit MountainBikeNI or contact us and we’ll assist you with connecting with others.

Latest comment posted by Shobha Tour on May 3, 2019 @ 1:12 PM

The Hardest To Mount Biking Definitely Depend To Way Too Hard To Mount Biking Read more >

Ethan Loughrey
Ethan Loughrey  Mountain Bike Officer

Hardest thing about Mountain Biking? Definitely the trees.

Onwards and Upwards- Two Tough Climbs with Amazing Views

Posted on March 27, 2019 @ 9:00 AM in Walking

Previously on WalkNI we shared our favourite ‘Little Hills With Big Views’ but what about those tougher climbs in the Mournes, that are well worth the extra effort for those breath-taking views? While many of the walks in the high Mournes require extra huffing and puffing, there are two iconic peaks that are a firm favourite amongst walkers.

Tough Climbs in the Mournes

Slieve Donard

Slieve Donard

Voted walkers favourite Mourne Summit in the 2018 WalkNI Awards, at 850m (2,789 ft) Slieve Donard is the highest mountain in the Mournes. A tough climb well worth the effort for its spectacular and extensive views on a clear day across Northern Ireland the Isle of Man, Wicklow, Donegal, Wales and Scotland.

There are two routes to choose from to reach the summit views:

Slieve Donard (via Glen River), 2.9 miles Linear (one way)

The most popular route for walkers exploring Slieve Donard from the seaside town of Newcastle, follow the river uphill from Donard car park through the forest. Emerging from trees the trail continues following the river past the Ice House to the Saddle between Donard and Commedagh. From here follow Mourne Wall as it rises steeply uphill to the tower on the summit of Donard.

Slieve Donard from Bloody Bridge, 3.2 miles Linear (one way) 

Starting from Bloody Bridge Car Park located on the sea side of Donard, again this trail follows a riverside path uphill crossing the river further up via a set of boulders. This twisting trail opens up onto broad track which boasts views across the valley. From this point Slieve Donard is largely hidden, but continue to follow the trail as it zig-zags uphill before reaching an old quarry track which extends 1.4km into the upper valley before skirting (right) along the north side of the quarry. Beyond the quarry the path meets the Mourne Wall at 750m. From here Slieve Donard can be reached by following the Mourne Wall uphill for 1km to the summit.

Slieve Binnian

Slieve Binnian

Slieve Binnian, 7 miles Circular

One of the most popular walks shared with us using #WalkNI on Instagram, it's easy to see why Slieve Binnian is a tough walk that appears on the must explore list of any walker. At 747m (2449 ft) the summit boasts several large granite Tors which provide the perfect resting stop and shelter to enjoy those well-earned views.

Your journey to the summit begins at Carrick Little car park, following a clear, stony track rising gently between fields. Crossing a stone stile beside an iron gate, turn left and follow the Mourne Wall uphill. You will soon feel your leg muscles working as the Mourne Wall rises steeply on the slopes of Slieve Binnian. This is an obvious line to follow for most of the way to the summit. However, before the point where the wall runs into a bare face of granite you should drift to the right and aim for the notch in the top of the mountain. This section involves using your hands and taking care on the rock.

The reward is a spectacular panorama views of the surrounding mountain. In clear weather it’s possible to see the Isle of Man and the Wicklow Mountains beyond Dublin. Pick your way carefully around the base of the Summit Tor and continue walking along the ridge of the mountain following a clear path past the Back Castles. There are a handful of wrinkly little tors that you don’t have to grapple with. Simply enjoy the views as you walk past them. The North Tor is a monstrous outcrop of granite towards the end of the crest, and the path passes it on the left side. 

The ground slopes away more steeply as the path wanders through the heather, past boulders and outcrops of granite on the way down to a prominent gap - the col between Slieve Lamagan and Slieve Binnian. At the col turn right and follow a clear path downhill. This passes close to the Blue Lough and by keeping right at junctions with other paths, you'll be led down to a clear track passing a corner of Annalong Wood. Simply follow the track alongside the Forest fence and return to the iron gate in the Mourne Wall. Cross the wall using the stile and follow the track back to Carrick Little car park.

Don't forget to share your colourful walks with us of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using #WalkNI

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.

Meet the Team Behind the Giant's Causeway Coast Sportive

Posted on March 22, 2019 @ 5:24 PM in Cycling

It can be easy to assume that cycling events such as the Giant's Causeway Coast Sportive just come together themselves. In actual fact, our small team works hard for months in advance - so we thought we'd introduce ourselves!


Beverely Magowan

Beverley is the Commander-in-Chief of the Sportive. A founder of the event, it has been her baby since it began in 2011. Everything from the number of toilets rolls, to the number of exclamation marks in a Facebook post right down to the mechanical expertise for bikers, you can trust her to know inside out. An avid cyclist herself, it was also Beverley who created our brand new 60 mile route for this year’s event!



Sylvia Watson

Sylvia is one of the lesser known faces of the Sportive but she plays an integral role in its success. Coordinating feed stations, volunteers and staff rotas are all part of her task, not to mention ensuring our whole team is fed, watered and sheltered during our time in Ballycastle. You can usually find her at Feed Station 3 in Glenarm.



Aideen Exley

The voice behind the phone. Aideen is another founder of the Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive and works hard behind the scenes ensuring our riders make it home safe and sound. Coordinating with the onsite paramedics and mechanical assistance crew, it’s Aideen you’ll speak to if you ever need to call the emergency number.



Jayne Woodrow

Probably the most recognisable member of our team! Jayne is often selling our jerseys, giving out medals and generally cheering participants on over the course of the weekend. She loves meeting as many people as possible at the Sportive, so if you see her at this year’s event be sure to come up and say hello!



Dominic Lyttle

Dominic is our marketing guru for the Sportive. All the Facebook posts, Instagram stories (yes, we’re on Instagram now!) and other adverts you see peppered across the interwebs in the months leading up to the event are down to him.



Diane Crookes

There are a whole squad of other helpers at our Event HQ and feed stations. Diane is one of those, and likely to be among the most familiar having helped out at the Sportive since it started. Usually to be found at Feed Station 3, she (and all our team) are there to support you as the legs start getting tired.



Robert Downes

Robert is Chairman of the Causeway Cycle Club and a long time supporter of the Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive. We work closely with Robert and the club every year to ensure all eventualities are prepared for. Causeway CC provide many of the marshals and motorcycle marshals for the sportive. Robert is happiest when at the intersection of Torr Head, driving riders to take on the epic challenge.


If you'd like to join us all for Ireland's most scenic sportive on Saturday 22nd June, visit the Giant's Causeway Coast Sportive website and sign up now!

Ethan Loughrey
Ethan Loughrey  Mountain Bike Officer

Hardest thing about Mountain Biking? Definitely the trees.

4 Cool Ways to See Your Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive Route

Posted on March 13, 2019 @ 5:12 PM in Cycling

With 4 different routes to choose from at the 2019 Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive (35 | 60 | 85 | 115 miles), you’re spoilt for choice – and now we’ve got 4 cool ways you can see your route for the 2019 Sportive. Better still, they’re all completely free to use and adaptable for any cycling challenge you’re taking on.


  1. VeloViewer – This 3D map shows all of the elevation along the route, helping you plan out your training, so you can see where you need to push that extra bit harder. Check out the map here.



2. Google Earth – You can now view the new 60-mile Sportive route as a 360° virtual tour, taking in every detail of the most epic parts of the route. It works even better on mobile too – just move your phone around to see the virtual route and the spectacular scenery you’ll experience on the day. Take the tour here.


 3. Strava – For those competitive people, we’ve got you covered! The King of the Mountain / Queen of the Mountain segment is available on Strava. This is available for anyone taking part in the 60 / 85 / 115 mile routes. To enter the 2019 KOM / QOM join the Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive Club on Strava.


  4. Website – On our website you can find all the timings and information about each route, with links to both the route profiles and Garmin to see basic information like the path the routes take.



Dominic Lyttle
Dominic Lyttle  Assistant Marketing Officer

Dominic has recently joined the ORNI team following completion of a MSc in Marketing from Queen’s University Belfast.

In his spare time, Dominic enjoys trekking, travelling to new and exciting places, and playing basketball, alongside drinking far too much coffee!

Catching Up With One of Northern Ireland's Best Coffee Bars for Cyclists: TRAIT Coffee

Posted on March 1, 2019 @ 12:13 PM in Cycling

Mark opened his coffee bar TRAIT Coffee in November 2017 and it has since become a hit with cyclists and walkers alike – it was even named in Cool FM’s Top 11 Coffee Bars in Northern Ireland. We caught up with Mark to have a chat about the first whirlwind year at TRAITCoffee and what his plans are for the future.


Hi Mark, congrats on the unbelievable success of TRAIT Coffee and thanks for speaking with us today. You opened the coffee bar in November 2017 – what was the inspiration behind TRAIT Coffee?

For the last 10 years I have craved my own business. To be in charge of my own destiny is the main appeal. Creating a strong brand and a unique space was key, alongside bringing a service that wasn't already available in Comber was vital for growth. Once I had set my heart on opening a speciality coffee shop in my hometown, the journey commenced.

I recall the nights where I doodled lists of potential business names – I would judge how the potential names looked, the meaning and most importantly a name not already in use. My research was extensive but very interesting. I also spent time studying existing coffee shops, staff interaction with customers, interior design, food offerings and social media presence.  I am a big fan of hard work and believe the more you put in the bigger the reward.



What was the process of opening the coffee bar like (hiring staff, finding the perfect venue, getting the art wall)?

Firstly, I had to identify a premises. A property small in stature but one that would financially allow me to be creative. 33 Castle Street, Comber stood out for many reasons: its proximity to The Comber Greenway and main Belfast to Ards Peninsula cycle route, a huge gable wall to mark its identity, space to the rear for future expansion and lastly my hunch, that it 'felt right’. That word 'hunch’ has been the basis of many of my decisions.

I wanted TRAIT Coffee to be seen as humble and modest from the roadside yet a unique and charming interior space. I designed all the interior space myself and felt I would achieve a greater sense of community spirit from sourcing locally handcrafted furniture and craftspersons. I also believe the design of the wall seating in a U shape is not only quirky but adds further to the feel of a social space. The definition of the word TRAIT is a unique characteristic; hence my gable wall shows a large bespoke thumbprint, as your thumbprint makes you unique. A massive credit to Dean from Visual Waste who helped with brainstorming logo ideas and bringing the thumbprint to life. It certainly was an eventful day on Castle Street when Dean climbed his ladder holding his spray paint. Business neighbours and local residents guessing what the image was going to be.

I work a few shifts in TRAIT as well as working in a full-time job elsewhere. This current arrangement is something I am hoping will change with greater traction and expansion in the future. Overall, I feel with experience I'm getting better on this front.

How has the first year been at TRAIT Coffee?

Our first year in terms of identity and presence was a success. With experience, I am hopeful we can make more friends and push on in terms of expansion. We have also evolved with time and based on the wants of our customers we are now offering freshly prepared toasties on our menu.

The Comber Greenway and Ards Peninsula are very popular with cyclists and walkers – what makes this area such an attractive place for a café like TRAIT Coffee?

I see TRAIT Coffee as a ‘pitstop’ or ‘midpoint’ where you can refuel when exploring the interesting landmarks and breath-taking scenic areas the wonderful Peninsula has to offer.

Credit: Dave Kane

Do you get out on the bike yourself around Northern Ireland?

Occasionally my family and I would cycle the Comber Greenway. My smallest is 4 so the journey is usually stop/start!

What would be the go-to treat for a cyclist at TRAIT Coffee?

Either flapjacks, pear and ginger bread or Thumbprint Cookies.

I’m getting hungry here – is it lunch time yet? Do you find more cycling clubs or individuals coming in?

We’re seeing more groups of cyclists attending since opening, half of which are not affiliated to any clubs but are out for a leisurely cycle. On Sunday past we had Manic Cycling Club from Newtownabbey, and good friends of TRAIT would be James Curry and Matthew Teggart who cycle professionally for Ireland.

What are TRAIT Coffee’s plans for 2019?

My plan for 2019 is to build a cycle shelter to the rear of the shop. This shelter will also house a few quirky bikes available to hire and is somewhere you can have your bicycle maintained whilst visiting TRAIT and nearby shops.


Quickfire Round:

What’s the best tasty-treat you’ve made? Banana Bread

Favourite coffee? Cappuccino

Favourite film? The Founder

Favourite outdoor place in Northern Ireland? Delmont Country Park, the views over the Peninsula are incredible.

Thanks for chatting to us Mark!

TRAIT Coffee is open Tuesday to Friday 10am-4pm | Saturday 9am-4pm and Sunday 10am-4pm, and is located at 33 Castle Street, Comber – follow them on Facebook and Instagram. Call in on your next cycle!


Dominic Lyttle
Dominic Lyttle  Assistant Marketing Officer

Dominic has recently joined the ORNI team following completion of a MSc in Marketing from Queen’s University Belfast.

In his spare time, Dominic enjoys trekking, travelling to new and exciting places, and playing basketball, alongside drinking far too much coffee!

Northern Ireland's Outdoor Adventure Blog