Drumnaph Community Nature Reserve

Walking Route

Drumnaph Community Nature Reserve consists of a mix of habitats and three walking trails to choose from. The Woodland Trust owns approximately 80 acres of Drumnaph Wood, which is located to the eastern side of the reserve. This section contains both ancient woodland and newly planted woodland as well as some wetland habitats.

In early 2012 an opportunity arose to secure the purchase of an additional 130 acres in the western section of the reserve, which includes a patchwork of ecological habitats including ancient woodland, wildflower meadows, ancient grazing habitats and wetlands. 

The choice of walking routes is detailed on information boards at both car parks.


3.7 miles

Start Point:


Finish Point:


Point of interest:

The natural beauty and wildlife of this ancient woodland

Nearest town:


OS map:

Sheet 8


Grass pathways are in place


Ruachan Trail (0.7 miles)

Leaving the western car park at O’Loughlin’s Farm and follow the waymarkers. These lands have been used for low-intensity agriculture for many years. The O’Loughlin farm is now a rare example of species-rich habitats containing many plants and animals that are now scarce in the wider landscape. Just beside the car park, there is an old lone hawthorn tree. The Gaelic name for this tree is ‘Sceach Gheal’ meaning white bush which comes from its profuse blossom during May. Single Hawthorn trees feature widely within this upland landscape. Historically farmers have avoided damaging these trees in the belief that disaster would befall those who dared to dig up or cut down a ‘fairy thorn’.

Continue on to the banks of the Grillagh river. ‘Griollach’ means a wet and mucky area and is the name of a local townland through which the river flows. The Grillagh river is used by Atlantic Salmon, which enter freshwater some 35 miles north through the mouth of the River Bann at Coleraine and make their way upstream in order to spawn.

You are now beside a stone bridge in an area called ‘Ruachan’. ‘Rua’ means red in Gaelic and its use here is likely to be in reference to the rust coloured land which is stained by naturally occurring ochre. This can be seen clearly leeching into the local ditches and streams, from which it was easily extracted for use. Ochre was one of the simplest and earliest used dyes and in view of the place name it is likely that people would have taken it from this area.

Along the side of the path is an impressive mature hedge which is dominated by Holly. Directly south of the path is an area of cutaway bog. Peat or turf was a hugely important fuel in most parts of rural Ireland as for many centuries little wood was available due to the destruction of the woodlands during the 17th century following the Elizabethan conquest.

Cross this pathway to transition between two habitats. To the west we have the cutover bog dominated by plants that thrive in acidic nutrient poor conditions. To the east and up the hill we are looking at an acid marsh which is dominated by rushes, sedges and grasses. Continue to arrive back at the car park.


Loch Bran Trail (1.1 miles)

You are now moving through grassland which is typical of the local agricultural landscape. While this area is not as rich in plant and animal species as the rest of the reserve, mature hedgerows offer important habitat for many plants, insects, birds and mammals. However, poor management and removal is threatening many once common species that have grown to depend on them. As you leave the fields you will enter an area of acid grassland and wet flush. This is a very species rich habitat containing species such as Meadow Thistle, an indicator of old longstanding acid meadows. With flowering plants such as Orchids, Lesser Spearwort, Lady’s Smock and Scabious, to mention but a few, this area supports a wide variety of pollinating insects.

You are now looking south across Loch Bran, named after one of the huge mythical hounds who belonged to the Gaelic hero Fionn mac Cumhaill. Today Loch Bran has grown over with mosses, rushes and sedges and is a great example of a transitional mire, surrounded by low-lying bog land. The vegetation is dominated by Sphagnum or bog moss. The build up of moss in waterlogged conditions over many centuries creates peat.

Standing on the hill we look south across Loch Bran bog and behind us lie large areas of whin shrubs. The amount of whin on the reserve is controlled to maximise the wildlife benefit from this important species, while not allowing it to encroach on to other sensitive habitats.

You are now alongside the site of an ancient Rath known as ‘An Ráth Ard’. Half of the Rath has been removed by the creation of the field in which you are standing and the other half remains to the west. On a clear day there are wonderful views from this area. To the east across the lower wood there is the unmistakable shape of ‘Sliabh Mis’ or Slemish, the mountain on which Saint Patrick is said to have been kept as a slave tending pigs. Further north and east the large wind turbines are on the Antrim Hills around Loughgiel. In the far south east you can see ‘Sliabh Crúibe’, Slieve Croob in Co Down. The large mountain in the south is ‘Sliabh gCallann’ or Slieve Gallion which is close to Cookstown and of course the mountain dominating the western view is ‘Carn Tóchair’ (Carntogher).


Woodland Trail (1.9 miles)

From the western car park, head east and you are now in the ancient Drumnaph Woodland. The woodland is dominated by Hazel, with some large Oak trees and more rarely, Elm trees, most of which have been destroyed by Dutch Elm Disease that has encroached into the woodland over the past 20 years.

You are now on a slight rise where to the north there is an area of dried-out former bog which is now dominated by tussocks of heather and rank grasses. An important plant here as well as other parts of the reserve is the aromatic Bog Myrtle, a small shrub which has long been used to deter biting insects and to flavour foods. Bog myrtle is also used in beer making.

The young woods planted here will form the mature forests of the future. Almost 30,000 native trees have been planted here; mostly Ash, Oak, Hazel and Rowan. Planted in 1998, the young trees have flourished and already tower over walkers.

You have just arrived at a rath which is known by the local people as ‘Lios na Sí’. Just across from Lios na Sí is a modern stone circle. Stone circles are part of our ancient past and remind us of our connections to our ancestors many thousands of years ago. This new stone circle was created by the local community in homage to local folklore. The engraving on the stones reflect the traditions, history, mythology and culture of the community surrounding Drumnaph and the broader area.

You are on a path on the banks of the Griollach River. This area is known as ‘Béal Eochraí’ which means the mouth of the spawning area reflecting the start of the area most used for the spawning Salmon. Spawning usually peaks in December although can occur from November to January. The deep water at the bend here, which has been carved out by the current also acts as an important staging area for Salmon and Trout on their way further upstream. Stony rivers offer excellent habitats for young Salmon which thrive in fast shallow water.

If you look carefully into the trees directly to the south you may just see the ruin of an old house. This is all that is left of a little house which was home to Sally ‘Allen’ Bradley, one of the last occupants of this area. Local tradition tells that many families lived in and around the edge of the woodland prior to the great famine in the 1840s and that they succumbed to starvation, immigration and eviction.

Continue to come upon the fen and ponded area on the reserve. This wetland was drained and almost lost when a stream on the other side of the path was lowered and deepened as part of the Department of Agriculture’s drainage policy. The loss of wetland habitat threatened many species in the area so the wetland was dammed to maintain its higher water levels. The path along the river is, in fact, the dam, with overflow pipes controlling the water level. These dam structures and overflow pipes have saved this wonderful wetland. Indeed, many small ponds and wetlands have been created, maintained or enhanced. These offer an increasingly rare habitat to frogs, newts, dragonflies and a myriad of other plants and animals, which otherwise would have been lost.

You are at the woodland edge, the border between the dark forest and the open countryside. Just before you leave the wood you will notice an engraved limestone pillar. This marks the way to McCartney’s Oak about 200 metres to the south, the largest and oldest tree on the reserve. The fringe habitat on the edge of the woodland is critically important in ecological terms to many of our bird, insects and mammals, especially bats. On warm summer evenings this area is alive with bats feeding on the many flies that drift on the wing along the woodland. As night gives way to day, the bats will be replaced by swallows, martins and swifts who continue to feed on the flies during daylight hours. By taking separate shifts bats and birds can feed on the same food sources, but do not directly compete.

You are at the eastern edge of the Drumnaph Community Nature Reserve. The two fields that lie on either side of the entrance lane to the car park are examples of the diversity of the management carried out here. These fields are very rich meadow habitats and during the summer have a profusion of flowering meadow plants, sedges and grasses that form the base of the local ecosystem.


As this is a natural woodland environment, no toilet or refreshment facilities are provided.
New pathways do include a short section suitable for pushchairs and wheelchairs.

Accessible terrain:

Mostly grass pathways. A small section suitable for wheelchairs consists of a smooth, stone base. The entrance kissing-gate is wheelchair-friendly.
The walk grade is mostly easy/medium.

Accessible signage:

The two walking routes are both way-marked (as indicated on the information board at the entrance to the wood and also on the illustration provided)


The Woodland Trust's leaflet 'A Walk through Drumlamph Wood'

Publication availability:

Contact The Woodland Trust, tel: 028 9127 5787 or email wtni@woodlandtrust.org.uk. Alternatively, download a copy on this webpage.

Getting to the start by car:

For the west car park, take the Tirkane Road leading north west from Maghera town centre. Continue for 3.5km, before turning right onto the Halfgayne Road. The west car park is 1km along this road on the right hand side.

To reach the east car park from the west car park, continue for 700m along the Halfgayne Road, before turning right onto the Gortinure Road. Continue along this road for 1km before turning right onto the Grillagh Road, the east car park is 300m on your right.

The nearest Tourist Information Centre is:

Magherafelt Tourist Information Centre
  • Free (parking charges may apply)
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