The Murlough Nature Trail is approximately 2.5 miles long and starts and finishes in the National Trust car park. The trail initially follows the main visitor walkway, Slidderyford Path, to Murlough Beach. After a short walk along the beach one enters the Central Reserve via the Archaeology Path. From here the trail loops back to the car park by way of the Back Track. The trail is marked with yellow-topped posts and has a number of points of interest along it.
Please keep to the paths to avoid disturbance to wildlife and note there may be some access restrictions at certain times of year.
Murlough lies just off the A2, the main Belfast to Newcastle Road, near Dundrum Village grid ref J 410 350 OS 1:50,000 Sheet 4.
Point of interest:Ancient sand dune system, range of habitats, birdlife, seal
OS map:Sheet 29
Route:Murlough National Nature Reserve, a fragile 6000 year old sand dune system owned by the National Trust and managed as Ireland’s first Nature Reserve since 1967. The range and extent of habitats found at Murlough include a succession from bare sand to ancient dunes. Found within these are heathland, species-rich grassland, lichen-rich hollows, gorse and bracken scrub, and woodland.
Start at the main Murlough Car Park at The Cottage Café. Enter the Reserve through the pedestrian gate in the center of the car park. Turn left and follow the boardwalk.
Follow the boardwalk to spaghetti junction, where the boardwalks meet.
Continue down the boardwalks until you reach a gap in the dunes to the south which you can take in a great view of the Mournes Mountains. This walk offers some great sights and beautiful scenery. You can look out over both Slieve Donard and Slieve Commedagh which are both mountains cared for by the National Trust. In the opposite direction you can see Dundrum Castle which dates back from the late 12th century and was a fortress built by John de Courcy. The woods you can see around this Castle are now managed by the National Trust.
This brings you out onto Murlough beach. To find 'stop five' go onto the beach and turn left. Follow on past a black marker post until you reach the next yellow post.
Turn left back onto the Reserve from the beach
You have found yourself on the aptly named Archaeology Path, follow this path until you reach the next yellow post.
Stop seven, brings you to the area that is home to colonies of the endangered marsh fritillary butterfly. The marsh fritillary butterfly is a beautiful little fritillary which can be seen in flight from late May and June and spends the winter as a caterpillar. Sadly its numbers are declining all over Europe; the UK is considered a stronghold for this butterfly and it's a priority species in Northern Ireland. The caterpillar feeds on devil’s bit scabious, a tall purple flowered plant in full bloom in late August and September. Devil’s bit scabious also provides a very valuable nectar source for other butterflies, particularly in late summer.
When you reach the yellow post marked 8, you'll find 'Tomorrow’s Heathland Heritage' site with its vast array of bell and ling heather. August is the month to appreciate the Murlough heathland in its full glory. Look for the two species of heather; bell heather and common heather or ling. Bell heather’s flower heads are purple and flower slightly earlier than the pink ling heather, making for an attractive contrast. Thousands of years of rain have washed out the calcium from the sand allowing for more acid loving plants to flourish. Bell and ling heather both grow on the older dunes and this unusual dune heathland is a priority habitat to preserve.
Turn left and follow the path to get good views of Dundrum Castle and the farmland that used to be a satellite landing ground for bombers during the Second World War. The castle dates from the late twelfth century and was a Norman fortress build by John de Courcy.
Continue on the path that curves to the right to bring you to the Exmoor Kraal. On reaching the gravel lane, turn left (south) and return to the car park - 0.75 miles (1.2 km).
Facilities:Carparking area, picnic tables.
Accessible terrain:Wide gates, boardwalk suitable for wheelchairs.
Getting to the start by car:Murlough lies just off the A2, the main Belfast to Newcastle Road, near Dundrum Village. Look out for the signs.