1. Wonderful waterfall at Cregagh Glen, Belfast
Cregagh Glen is a real hidden gem in the city and a place I walk regularly when I am in need of some time-out from the noise and busyness of modern life. This beautiful riverside and woodland walk is cared for by the National Trust and when I am meandering along the trail I truly find it hard to believe that I am a ten-minute drive from Belfast city centre.
A couple of hours will easily take you from the entrance on Upper Knockbreda Road to the Lisnabreeny Rath at the summit and back down again. However, the walk is fairly steep in places with several sections fitted out with wooden steps – making it a super leg workout and a great place to train if you have a race to prepare for! Along the trail which is nestled in the Castlereagh Hills you will be immersed in luscious vegetation and forest and pass by the spectacular, rushing waterfall. I personally lived in Belfast several years before completing this walk and couldn’t believe there was such a special place so close my home!
Half-way through the walk you will arrive at Lisnabreeny Hills – take some time to pause in the field here to take a deep breath and enjoy the sweeping views across Belfast and beyond – there’s something about seeing the city from afar and being outside of that busyness that causes the mind to slow down and put life into perspective a little.
Continue onwards and upwards, going under the little stone bridge and up through more woodland (can you find the tree swing?!) before emerging onto a trail which leads between fields to the summit – the hedgerows along here are abundant with blackberries at the end of the summer months and early Autumn and my kids love going here for a jam-making forage and returning home with purple-stained fingers.
The views at the top of this section of the route stretch right over to the Mourne Mountains on a clear day making it a truly wonderful place to go for a wander and enjoy some headspace when life gets hectic.
Getting there: Entrance on Upper Knockbreda Road, north of Cregagh Road junction.
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2. Fairy-tale freedom at Redburn Country Park, Holywood
I don’t know what it is about this particular woodland, but, every time I walk there, I feel like I have wandered straight into the pages of a fairy-tale. There’s something really magical about Redburn Country Park and I often head there for a week-day walk while my children are at school or at the weekends with my family so that we can spend time exploring and climbing trees.
All year-round Redburn is the ideal spot for walk and it is ever-changing throughout the seasons meaning it’s always a unique place to have an adventure. In springtime the forest floor is carpeted in a stunning display of bluebells and in Autumn the orange, gold, red and yellow leaves make it glimmer oh-so invitingly.
It’s a place I never get bored of and also never seem to follow the exact same trail twice, with so many little pathways leading off in all directions, and I’m half expecting to stumble across Little Red Riding Hood or a cottage made of cookies and candy as I ‘get lost’ among the trees.
Don’t just take my word for it though…skip into these picture-perfect woods for yourself and you may just find your imagination comes alive with wonder!
Getting there: Old Holywood Road, BT4 2HL
3. Rugged coastland from Portballintrae to the Giant’s Causeway, Causeway Coast
If coastal walks, cliffs and sea views inspire you to inhale deeply and unwind a little from the stresses of daily life you will thoroughly enjoy the walk from Portballintrae to the Giant’s Causeway. This is a fairly short section of the world-famous Causeway Coastal Route, however, what it lacks in distance it more than makes up for in scenic views.
You will wander along a beach, follow a trail around striking coastland which leads all the way to the well-known and loved Giant’s Causeway where you can explore its 40,000 black basalt columns. I would recommend really taking your time along this wonderful walk and stop often along to way to savour the rugged views and breath-deep the refreshing sea air – you will sleep well afterwards that’s for sure!
Getting there: Depart from main seafront carpark at Runkerry beach in Portballintrae
READ: Hiking the Mourne Wall Route
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4. Magical mountain views along Ott Trail and Carn Mountain, Mourne Mountains
If you fancy getting out in the Mourne Mountains but aren’t quite sure where to begin then this might just be the ideal trail for you. It’s a walk I’ve done countless times alone and with my family over the years and one we return to often and recommend to people who want to explore the hills.
Easily accessible from Slievenaman Road the beginning of the trail ascends fairly steeply but offers great views across to Fofanny Reservoir and leads right to the Mourne Wall, the ideal sheltered picnic spot.
At this point you have so many options – on a sunny day we have been known simply rest awhile and enjoy the views, but from here you can climb Slieve Loughshannagh following alongside the wall (to the left if facing towards the mountain range) and onwards to Slieve Meelbeg and Meelmore, or you can continue on the trail straight ahead to Doan or if you’re feeling more ambitious continue around the trail to Slieve Bearnagh.
If you ascend alongside the wall to the right you will climb Carn Mountain with its cheeky little false summit but absolutely spectacular views towards Silent Valley and beyond – it’s a great place on a calm day to lie-back and drink in the scenery, savour a cuppa, take a deep breath and be truly present in the moment. There’s nothing quite like a little physical exertion and mountain terrain to revitalise the senses and recharge the batteries.
For me personally, spending time in the mountains never fails to stir-up a feeling of wonder and I am forever grateful that we have such beautiful natural spaces to escape to when the going gets tough.
Getting there: Ott Car Park, Slievenaman Road, BT34 5XL
5. The story of St. Patrick on Mount Slemish, Broughshane, Ballymena
Mount Slemish is one of those places I had driven past hundreds of times before I ever made a point of going there for trek. Once I did, it is fair to say that I was well and truly hooked, for though she is small, she is mighty!
Slemish is a really brilliant and fairly challenging hike, especially if you do it in the snow like I did on my last visit there! But the views at the summit, well, they are well worth the effort – you can see so far, right across to the Sperrins, the striking outline of Cavehill in Belfast and right across to Scotland on a clear day.
Jutting impressively out of the surrounding luscious countryside, Slemish is an ideal place to retreat to when you need a little freedom from the daily grind and is a popular pilgrimage trail on Saint Patrick’s Day due to the traditional tale that Saint Patrick tended sheep here after being brought to Ireland as a slave.
Getting there: Slemish Car Park, Carnstroan Lane, Broughshane, BT42 4PF
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