Sorry - this page is now out of date.
Please explore the links on the left for newer articles.
THE ULSTER WAY
This meandering circular route explores many of the rural areas of Northern Ireland, sometimes tasting the salty air of the coast and sometimes the clear air of the rivers, loughs and farming land.
The Ulster Way covers over 900km and is the only long distance waymarked path in Northern Ireland. Looping its way around the country, it sticks close to the coast on the eastern side but curves away from the border with the Republic of Ireland in the south and the west. As it takes over a month to walk the Ulster Way in its entirety, it is best to tackle sections in a day, weekend or week.
All points of the compass
As it often rains in Northern Ireland, and no part of the region is more than half an hour by road from the sea, the overall climate is characterised by its moistness. However, this does produce a lush and green landscape. This colourful fertility embraces not only the misty mountains, rocky cliff tops and ancient woodlands, but also the banks of the loughs and the grounds of the castles and country parks.
The circular route of the Ulster Way ensures that all the different landscapes can be experienced, and that the discerning walker can choose between a coastal exploration, a mountain trek, the tranquillity of a lough, the beauty of untouched rural areas, or even the grim splendour of the docks and gantries near Belfast.
The Mournes – south-east
When approaching the Mourne mountains from the north-east, Slieve Donard, Northern Ireland’s highest peak, greets the walker. A climb up its 850m gives a view of the surrounding mountains, nearby Carlingford lough and the Irish Sea.
Mourne Wall, which has enclosed the Silent Valley since it was dammed in the 1920s, encroaches onto the mountain. The Castles, which are rock towers, and the Diamond Rocks, part of the mountainous terrain, can also be conquered. To the south-west is Rostrevor forest, part of which is a nature reserve, which offers even clearer views of Carlingford lough. Narrow Water castle, a tower house dating from 1560, is upstream holding a strategic position on a river bend.
Tollymore Forest Park is a welcome refuge for walkers arriving from the south-west. The stately avenue of cedars, which marks the entrance to the park, contrasts to the wildness of the mountains. For those not as keen to stride the peaks of the Ulster Way, a walk along the banks of the River Shimna is tranquil and fascinating. Exotic trees dot the forest park, whilst bridges, grottoes, caves and follies are glimpsed along the river.
Lough Erne – west
This waterway is made up of two separate loughs linked by tributaries and pools. Upper and Lower Lough Erne have 154 islands dotted throughout them, supporting birds and wildflowers. Swans, terns, scoters, sandpipers, nightjars and garden warblers nest in the lower lough, whilst herons and great crested grebes frequent the upper reaches. The little islands, some of which have peculiar Christian or pagan monuments, such as the 12th century round tower on Devenish Island, can be visited on one of the many cruising boats.
The Sperrin mountains
The peaty Sperrin mountains are dotted with streams and lanes, and the terrain high on their peaks is excellent for walking. The Ulster Way leads from Gortin Glen Forest Park in the south-west, over the mountains and down into Roe valley. Sawel, the highest summit of the range, is off the marked way, but from its top there are views of Lough Neagh to the east, the Foyle estuary to the north and the Mourne mountains away down to the south-east.
The foothills of the Sperrins are fertile, with the Owenkillew river feeding the surrounding countryside. Higher up the terrain is more barren, the grazing sheep contributing to the lack of vegetation. To the east of the mountains are the Beaghmore megaliths which date from the Bronze Age. These seven ceremonial stone circles record the time of the Neolithic inhabitants of the area.
Giant’s Causeway – north
Spreading into the Atlantic on the north coast, the Giant’s Causeway is made up of over 40,000 basalt columns, formed from cooling lava. The columns are incredibly geometric, most of them being hexagonal in shape, belying their natural origins. Indeed, the myth of Finn McCool building the causeway so that his lover could travel to Ireland from the Outer Hebrides seems as believable an explanation as the volcanic eruptions of millions of years ago.
Two ruined castles, Dunluce to the west and Dunsverick to the east, romantically frame the causeway, and commemorate the 16th century MacDonnells and the ancient kingdom of Dalraida respectively. At Portbraddan, to the east, is Ireland’s tiniest church, only 12 feet by 61/2 feet, whilst the town of Bushmills, just off the waymarked path, is home to the world’s oldest legal whiskey distillery. These monuments are attractions in themselves, but the coastal walking and cliff top views make this part of the Ulster Way particularly rewarding.
Belfast – east
The Ulster Way passes around the outskirts of Belfast, and the city is worth visiting for its Victorian and Edwardian architecture, as well as its various museums and entertainments. The city can be a good base for exploring the east of the country, perhaps alternating walking and sightseeing. Nearby there are excellent views of the sea lough, valleys and rolling countryside from Cave Hill, as well as routes along canal towpaths.
© Walk Europe
Walk Europe is a guidebook which provides holiday ideas for single travellers, couples, families and groups of all ages and abilities.