Seven Walking Wonders of Northern Ireland
With so many diverse landscapes in Northern Ireland, we have put together a list of our most spectacular natural wonders and manmade structures that every walker should experience first hand.
1. The Mourne Mountains
The highest and most dramatic mountain range in Northern Ireland, the Mournes are dominated by a compact ring of 12 mountains, with many of the summits crowned by impressive granite tors. Criss-crossed by an unrivalled network of paths and tracks, there are incredible opportunities to discover the variety of landscapes and habitats within this compact area. There are a whole range of walks to choose from in this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Download the walkers' guide for the Mourne Mountains here. Top image: Hen Mountain in the Mournes.
2. Rathlin Island
Ireland's most northerly inhabited island, situated 10km off the north east coast, Rathlin’s wonder lies in the variety of birdlife that grace its shores. Just 8km east-west and 5.5km north-south, it is home to tens of thousands of seabirds, including common guillemots, kittiwakes, puffins and razorbills. However, as well as enjoying the comical antics of puffins and seals in spring and early summer, walkers can enjoy some magnificent views including Donegal, the North Antrim coastline, the island of Islay and the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland. Rathlin is accessible by ferry year-round from Ballycastle meaning you can experience the island and its its wildlife in any season.
3. The Mourne Wall
The most distinctive feature of Northern Ireland’s highest mountain range, this 22 mile (35.5km) stone wall encloses 9,000 acres of land. Originally built in an effort to keep livestock out of the water catchment area of the Silent Valley reservoir, the wall spans over 9000ft of ascent, rising and falling over 15 of the Mournes' highest peaks, including Slieve Donard. Built between 1904 and 1922, the wall all is a remarkable structural feat and frames some of finest mountain views in Ireland. For a truly unique experience, walkers can take on the Mourne Wall Challenge, a one-day itinerary which provides a highly testing route taking in 7 of the 10 highest mountains in the range.
4. The Silent Valley
Built to supply water to most of County Down and a large part of Belfast, the Silent Valley reservoir is both practical and stunning. Nestled in between the Mourne uplands, walkers can expect this man made feat to live up to its name, with a peaceful silence creating a sense of solitude. Built between1923 and 1933 by a workforce of over one thousand men, the deep blue waters contrast with the heather, gorse and peat of the high Mournes, enhancing the landscape.
5. The North Coast
The North Coast and the Glens of Antrim are justifiably famous for the Giant’s Causeway, wonderful coastlines and natural beauty plus countless myths and legends associated with this historic part of the country. Comprising of three designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, nine famous glens, lush forest parks, secluded coastal tracks and numerous quaint fishing villages, exploring the rugged coastline of the North on foot via the Causeway Coast Way is a must. This 33-mile route is included in the walkers' guide for the North Coast & Glens of Antrim, which can be downloaded here.
6. Glenariff Waterfalls
Glenariff, meaning ‘Queen of the Glens’, is widely regarded as the most beautiful and striking of the nine Glens of Antrim. 19th century English novelist William Thackeray described it as “a Switzerland in Miniature” after visiting its waterfalls, rich woodland and steep, glacial escarpments, and it’s easy to see what he meant. The crowning glory has to be the impressive double-drop of the Ess-na-Larach Waterfall, one of many punctuating the deep-sided gorge of the Glenariff Glen Nature Reserve. The waterfalls also provide a distinctive, atmospheric noise for walkers exploring this stunning area. There are four quality walks within Glenariff Forest Park, including the Waterfalls Walk.
7. The Sperrins
The Sperrin Mountains, stretching along the border of counties Tyrone and Derry, can best be described as wild, untouched and beautiful. Spanning 40 miles, they're the largest mountain range in Ireland with 10 summits above 500m. Walkers can expect undulating hills covered in heather, quiet valleys, boggy uplands and a land teeming with wildlife. Add in over 90 sets of stone circles and numerous other intriguing, megalithic structures, and the Sperrins are most definitely a walking wonder.
Hen Mountain image and collage by founder of NI Walking Photography Group, David Doyle.