There is no better way to shake off the cobwebs and clear the head during the mayhem and rush of the festive season than indulging in a long walk around Northern Ireland’s beautiful countryside.
Northern Ireland really is a winter wonderland when the cold weather sets in, from the highest peaks to tree-lined lanes, rugged walkways and spectacular views and Tourism Northern Ireland is encouraging people to get outdoors and explore them.
“Winter is the perfect time to get wrapped up and enjoy a relaxing stroll along the banks of a river, a hike up a mountain, a ramble through the forest or even an energetic dash with the kids and your four legged friend,” said Tourism Northern Ireland’s destination PR and marketing manager, Ruth Burns.
“There is something special about walking around our green spaces, riversides and seasides at this time of year when everything is dusted in a glittering coat of frost or carpeted in brilliant white snow which beautifully enhances the landscape around us in a magical way.
“There are hundreds of walking paths and trails that suit families with young children that include easy distances on flat ground with slides and swings to add to the fun. Northern Ireland has walks that suit Sunday strollers as well as serious ramblers, meaning everyone is catered for,” added Ruth.
To help walkers put their best foot forward, Tourism Northern Ireland has put together a list of top walking routes this winter.
A winter morning is arguably the best time to walk the Lagan Towpath as the mist hovers just above Belfast’s main river. The towpath starts in Stranmillis, just minutes away from Belfast City Centre, and sets off along the river and canal systems through a variety of wetland, riverside meadows and mixed woodland.
The Divis Ridge Trail, Divis and Black Mountain allows walkers to enjoy panoramic views of Belfast, the Mourne Mountains and even Scotland on a clear day. After an exhilarating walk, stop and enjoy a hot drink and snack at the Divis Coffee Barn, which is the highest in Ireland at 1025 feet. It is perfect for hungry walkers and serves delicious treats such as homemade scones, tray bakes and hot chocolate.
Winter creates the perfect backdrop to explore the mature woodland of Glenariff Forest Park with freezing waterfalls and open, frosted moorland. The trail first takes you down the Inver River gorge, to the edge of the Ess-na-Crub Waterfall and your path back offers spectacular views straight down the misty Glen to the coast and the sea beyond. Located only 10 miles from Glenariff Forest Park is the Londonderry Arms Hotel, the ideal place for walkers to rest their feet and recharge their batteries.
Whitepark Bay is a spectacular sandy beach in a secluded location which is perfect for a gentle walk when you need to get away from the stresses of everyday life. The bay is one of the most natural coastline sites in Northern Ireland and is backed by ancient dunes and rare plants and orchids. The area is rich in fossils so perfect for any budding archaeologists who also enjoy a brisk walk.
Slemish Mountain offers jaw-dropping views for walkers after they have made their way along grassy tracks and rocky terrains. Wildlife enthusiasts will really love this walk and should keep their eyes peeled for Irish Hares, Wheatears, Ravens and Buzzards.
The Slieve Gullion walk is located within the Ring of Gullion Area of Outstanding Beauty. Rising to 573m, Slieve Gullion is the centrepiece of the volcanic landscape and is a Special Area of Conservation. The Ring of Gullion and Slieve Gullion have rich associations with Irish legends and myths and are home to the highest surviving passage tomb in Ireland, known locally as ‘the Calliagh Berra’s House’.
Gosford Forest Park comprises of 240 hectares of diverse woodland and open parkland set in gentle rolling drumlin countryside. It was designated as the first conservation forest in Northern Ireland and has a number of way-marked nature trails and treks to explore with the whole family.
Walk along the banks of the River Cusher near Tandragee and take in all the delights that Clare Glen has to offer. The abundance of trees such as hazel, oak and ash will look mesmerising on a cool, crisp winter’s day as you enjoy the spectacular views.
This steep climb through the forest to the summit of Slievenaslat is most definitely worth the walk for the spectacular views of the Mourne Mountains. Take in the panoramic views of Northern Ireland’s highest mountain range and surrounding drumlin landscape of Co Down. If that doesn’t tire out enthusiasts, then there are lots of other walks to choose from with a walk trail that stretches to 7.5 miles throughout the forest park.
Walkers should also explore the Peace Maze which is one of the largest permanent hedge mazes in the world, making it the perfect place for a fun game of hide and seek with the children.
Bunkers Hill offers over one mile of walks and family cycling trails as well as a Play Trail consisting of a variety of play structures made entirely from wood. The trail allows walkers to soak up stunning views of Slieve Croob, Dundrum Bay and the Mourne Mountains.
Castle Archdale Country Park offers a variety of walks on a 5 mile trail and with stunning views of the unforgettable Fermanagh lakes, the deer park enclosure, wildfowl ponds and butterfly garden there is more than enough to keep the whole family entertained.
Why not explore Lisnaskea Forest wrapped up warm in your woolly hats and scarves and as it offers moderate walks it is great for those with a young family. Ramblers will enjoy the winding forest roads and remote country lanes that offer stunning views of Lough Erne and the rolling hills beyond that stretch as far as County Cavan.
Vinegar Hill Loop is a 7 mile walk located near to Gortin, just outside Omagh, and provides a taster of what the beautiful Sperrins have to offer including lush green valleys and breathtaking scenery. This walk is the perfect way to spend a crisp winter morning with your family, or your other half hand in hand or a lively dash with the dog at your side.
The Sperrin Mountain range is the largest in Ireland and stretches along the Co Tyrone and Co Londonderry borders and is best described as wild, untouched and beautiful. A clear winter’s day is the perfect time to wrap up warm and take in the undulating hills covered in heather, the wonderfully quiet valleys and boggy uplands.
Robbers Table is an excellent off-road, winter walk across rolling hills and frosty moorland. The highest point of this route enjoys superb views of the Bluestack and Derryveagh Mountains of Donegal to the west and the High Sperrins to the north east. As the route climbs south over Ballynatubbrit Mountain it passes Robbers Table, the site where supposed local seventeenth century Highwaymen met up to divide their spoils after raiding the postal carriages that traversed this upland landscape.
Somerset Forest hosts a range of walks of varying lengths and degrees of difficulty and is located on the south western boundary of Coleraine. Walkers should be sure to keep an eye out for the abundant wildlife including herons, squirrels and other animals that call the park home.
Just south-east of Derry city, lies Burntollet Wood which sits beautifully in the picturesque, Faughan Valley. The wood sits adjacent to Ness Country Park which is an area of Special Scientific Interest containing fragments of rare ancient woodland. The Woodland Trust has planted over 43,000 native trees at Burntollet including oak, ash, alder and wild cherry which make the perfect backdrop for a crisp winter walk.
The Roe Valley Country Park offers a variety of routes along the River Roe or Red River. This 7 mile walking trail circles both banks of Red River, which originates amidst the peat bogs of the Sperrin Mountains, offering an explanation for its red colour. With the path running through an enchanting oak forest, combining legend with industrial and natural heritage, the park has great appeal.