Ballycastle has been enjoying a huge growth in visitor numbers during Covid-19. Most of the incomers head for the beach or the numerous high-quality eateries around the town. Very few find their way to the forest which envelops the area on one side, yet it is so easily accessible on foot, directly from the town centre.
If you are standing at the Diamond, with your back to the church, you are looking back up the hill of Castle Street. To your left is the Spar supermarket, but in the corner on the left-hand side of the square is Fairhill Street. The forest walk literally starts at the bottom of the street. Half way along, there is a carpark and at the start of the walk, there is another one.
Please note: this walk crosses a field with sheep. No dogs are allowed.
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Apart from a couple of hundred metres of walking on grass across a muddy field, all of this walk is on gravel or tarmacked trails. The route is circular, but with one long extension where you walk out along the track and come back again to continue the circle. Three hours will see you through, including time for a break and a cuppa.
Standing at the bottom of Fairhill Street, looking straight ahead, you will see a gravel track stretching up the hill in front of you. Another heads off to the right through a gate, along the disused railway line. You will be returning along this track.
As you head up the hill, you leave the urban area behind and progress towards the forest. At the first junction, you can, if you are already in need of sustenance, turn left over towards the Salthouse Hotel.
We will continue straight ahead.
Alternative 1: If you turn right, past the gate, and continue towards the right, you will end up in a smaller loop, down a hill past another gate and back to the carpark along the old railway line. Total length around 2 km.
We are now about to enter the forest, just past one house on the left and through a gate. The sign is quite clear: no dogs. And always close the gate behind you.
The next few hundred metres cross a wet and muddy stretch of private ground. Entry is permitted but without dogs, and gates must always be closed immediately. Towards the right into the field, turn left, past the tree and head diagonally to the right, towards a gate.
Go through the gate and into the forest. Close the gate and continue along the track, through the dense forest to a T-junction. You turn left.
Alternative 2: If you turn right here, and again right further down, you will end up back at the junction with the road to the Salthouse Hotel and down left to the carpark.
Alternative 3: If you turn right here, and continue down the track, take the left turn and continue on, you will end up on the same loop as Alternative 1 (down to the track beside the disused railway line and back to the carpark).
By now you are actually on a tarmac track heading out towards the side of Knocklayd. The trail continues all the way to the carpark around the back of Knocklayd. Somewhere along here you will need to turn around and come back.
There are a few side spurs, but none of them will take you back to the Fairhill Street carpark.
When you decide to head back, you will remember and recognise the spot where you came out of the forest after having crossed the field. Now, you do not go back through there – you continue down the hill. You are now on the Alternative 3 return route.
At the bottom of the hill, you will find a gate blocking vehicular access. You simply walk around this, following the road around to the right. You are now walking along the disused railway track back to the starting point.
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This is a route which can be done any time of year. In spring, look out for the bluebells!
As always, bring basic First Aid kit, and as some of these trails have been known to confuse those who are not familiar with them, bring navigational aids or even a map and a compass! The latter is far more fun.
The walk takes around 3 hours to complete. It’s a good idea to bring a pack lunch, and you should never attempt any walk without enough water to keep you hydrated.
It’s also a good idea to trace this walk on Google Earth before walking it.