£500k investment to boost rural tourism in Mid Ulster

Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots MLA has cut the first sod on the OM Solar Walk with the Chair of Mid Ulster District Council following a £500,000 investment to boost rural tourism in the Mid Ulster region.

The Solar Walk links the OM Dark Sky Park and Observatory at Davagh Forest near Cookstown with Beaghmore Stone Circles, creating a 3.4km Solar Walk, linking the observed solar system in the sky with the astronomical solar and lunar alignments at the Beaghmore complex.

Speaking about the investment, Minister Poots said: “Tourism is vitally important to our rural economy and it is important that we invest in infrastructure that will help attract more visitors to Northern Ireland and encourage them to stay longer.

“I’m therefore delighted to announce this joint £500,000 investment with Mid Ulster Council including just under £395K from my Department towards the creation of this unique visitor attraction. OM Solar Walk will attract visitors to this rural part of Northern Ireland and provide a much needed boost to the local economy through encouraging visitors, particularly those from out-of-state, to dwell longer and therefore potentially increase overnight stays.

“It is clear from my visit here, that the creation of visitor experiences that showcase our natural landscape which are compelling and accessible to all, can offer long term sustainability and growth for rural tourism in Northern Ireland.”

The walk will use an Augmented Reality App to provide a digital guide of the solar system to explore space and planets in real time, linking the uniqueness of the sky above to the uniqueness of the area’s deep archaeological landscape.

The project is funded through the Rural Tourism Scheme of DAERA’s Rural Development Programme.

Chair of the Council, Councillor Cathal Mallaghan said: “With the start of work on our new solar walk, we have reached another milestone in our plans to showcase the unique landscape and skyscape of Davagh Forest, connecting the significant archaeological heritage of this part of the Sperrins with its internationally recognised darks skies.

“The walk itself not only creates a new physical link between Beaghmore Stone Circles and the OM Dark Sky Park and Observatory, but a virtual one also, with a new App and the use of augmented reality set to enhance the overall visitor experience.

“The investment is considerable at over £500K and as always, we are grateful for the substantial funding support which we are receiving through DAERA’s Rural Tourism Scheme.”