CRISP winter days create the perfect backdrop to long leisurely walks with friends and family breathing in fresh air, kicking up freshly fallen leaves and taking in the beautiful scenery that surrounds us here, especially in one of Northern Ireland’s many forest parks.
There is no better way to shake off the cobwebs and clear the head before the mayhem and rush of the festive season than indulging in a leisurely long walk and Tourism Northern Ireland is encouraging everyone to get outdoors and explore the many forest parks and trails that are available.
Ruth Burns, Tourism NI’s Destination Marketing and PR Manager, said: “Winter is the perfect time to get wrapped up in a cosy coat and scarf and enjoy a ramble through one of NI’s many forest parks. Take your family or group of friends for a stroll through lush forestry and woodlands just full of wildlife and unusual trees where you may even spot a deer.
“There is something special about walking around our green spaces at this time of year when everything is dusted in a glittering coat of frost or enchanting fog which enhances the landscape around us in a magical way.
“There are hundreds of walking paths and trails that suit families with young children with easy distances on flat ground and parks with slides and swings to add to the fun.”
Here’s a a list of the top walking routes to try this winter.
1. Cave Hill Country Park, Belfast
The perfect place to take in a panoramic view of Belfast and boasts many walking trails from easy strolls to more strenuous climbs. As well as archaeological interests dating back to the Stone Age, walkers can also explore several ringforts and a lake dwelling at Hazelwood.
2. The Divis Ridge Trail, Divis and Black Mountain, Belfast
Walkers can enjoy spectacular 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 home-made scones, tray bakes and hot chocolate.
3. Glenariff Forest Park, Co. Antrim
Winter creates the ideal backdrop to the mature woodland views of Glenariff Forest Park. Walkers can explore the steep sided river gorges with freezing waterfalls and open, frosted moorland as well as a scenic trail which leads to the edge of the Ess-na-Crub Waterfall. 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.
4. Carnfunnock Country Park, Co. Antrim
Families will enjoy a day out at Carnfunnock Country Park where they can take in the unique walled garden and many meandering paths. There are a variety of garden environments which everyone is sure to enjoy including a flower garden, butterfly garden and scented walkway. The park also boasts an amphitheatre and a hornbeam maze in the shape of Northern Ireland.
5. Slieve Gullion Forest Park, Co. Armagh
The Slieve Gullion Forest Park is situated within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and walkers can take in the stunning views of the Slieve Gullion which rises some 576m above the surrounding countryside and dominates the landscape of south Armagh. Alternatively those after something a little gentler can enjoy a leisurely stroll around the walled garden.
6. Gosford Forest Park, Co. Armagh
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.
7. River Crusher, Co. Armagh
Why not walk along the banks of the River Cusher near Tandragee and take in all the delights that Clare Glenhas to offer. The abundance of trees such as hazel, oak and ash will look mesmerising on a cool, crisp winter’s day.
8. Annesley Gardens, Co. Down
Annesley Gardens in Castlewellan is a real hidden gem so walkers shouldn’t be surprised if they are the only ones exploring the many secluded spots in this hauntingly beautiful garden and arboretum. Home to some of the oldest and rarest existing trees in the British Isles the 2.2 mile walk takes in a variety of hidden Lakes and Ponds as well as fountains and ornamental gates opening up a treasure trove of plants, trees and secluded spots to create a real life ‘secret garden’.
9. Tollymore Forest Park, Co. Down
A day out at Tollymore Forest Park will be a day well spent for keen walkers as they can choose from a selection of trails including the Mountain and Drinns Trail, River Trail and Arboretum Path which all feature many curiosities, natural and artificial including rocky outcrops, bridges, grottos and caves. Walkers can also seek out the original tree of the slow-growing spruce, which originated nearby in about 1750 and is the oldest tree in any arboretum in Ireland.
10. Castlewellan Forest Park and Bunkers Hill, Co. Down
New walking trails have recently been launched in Castlewellan Forest Park and Bunkers Hill which boast breath-taking views of the Mourne Mountains. Brand new trails have been constructed and some existing trails have been upgraded to create the five walk trails which are the Slievenaslat walk, the Moorish Tower walk, the Annesley Garden walk, the Lakeside walk and the Cypress Pond Walk.
11. Crawfordsburn Country Park, Co. Down
It’s just a short distance from Belfast and has fabulous views across Belfast Lough. Families can enjoy a day exploring the vast woodland and enchanting waterfall as well as the many trees, shrubs and unusual plants.
12. Castle Archdale Country Park, Co. Fermanagh
Castle Archdale Country Park offers a variety of walks on a five mile trail and with stunning views of the unforgettable Fermanagh lakes and with a deer park enclosure, wildfowl ponds and butterfly garden there is more than enough to keep the whole family entertained.
13. Lisnaskea Forest, Co. Fermanagh
Wrap up warm in woolly hats and scarves and explore Lisnaskea Forest which is great for those with a young family because of its moderate walks. 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 even as far as County Cavan.
14. Drum Manor Forest Park, Co. Tyrone
Enjoy a fun day out at Drum Manor Forest Park which is the most centrally located Forest Park in NI, lying immediately south of the Sperrin Mountains and west of Lough Neagh. The park hosts almost 100 forest plots of both native and exotic tree species, perfect for exploring during a long walk.
15. Davagh Forest, Co. Tyrone
To uncover a true hidden gem, get outdoors and visit Davagh Forest near Cookstown. The forest lies in an untouched rural landscape of rolling hills and sweeping forests as well as lush woodland and streams.
16. Vinegar Hill Loop, Co. Tyrone
Vinegar Hill Loop is a seven 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 breath-taking 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 a dog at your side.
17. Roe Valley Country Park, Co. Londonderry
The Roe Valley Country Park offers a variety of routes along the River Roe or Red River. This seven mile walking trail circles both banks of the Red River, which originates amidst the peat bogs of the Sperrins 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 is a firm favourite with walkers.
18. Beech Hill Country House Hotel, Co. Londonderry
Just two miles from the bustling city of Derry~Londonderry explorers will find the Beech Hill Country House Hotel where three miles of circular trails twist their way through the mixed woodland and landscaped gardens near the River Faughan. A hub of history, Beech Hill was used as a World War II camp by the US Marines who carved their names on a tree in the woods which can still be seen today. The trails start and finish at the front of the hotel where walkers can enjoy a meal in the Ardmore restaurant which uses only the finest and freshest of locally sourced ingredients.
19. Somerset Forest, Co. Londonderry
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.
20. Burntollet Wood, Co. Londonderry
Just south-east of Derry~Londonderry, 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 with family or friends.
For more information go to www.discovernorthernireland.com