A stream in Roe Valley Country Park, Limavady, County Londonderry
Northern Ireland’s forests parks are ripe for exploration.
Whether you’re getting lost alone in the forest, walking with friends for the fresh air or playing with your children in the park, here are 10 reasons why you should explore more.
1. Portglenone’s bluebell bonanza
When a forest floor is an amazing carpet of bluebells, you simply have to explore. In late spring, the ancient woodland of Portglenone Forest throws up a blue haze of millions of flowering bluebells as far as the eye can see. It's a jaw-dropping sight, and if the weather plays its part, dappled light through the trees will make it all the more inspiring.
2. Prehen’s precious red squirrels
The large wooden carving of a red squirrel at the entrance to Prehen Wood is a strong hint of what you are likely to spot on a walk amid its forestry. Just outside Londonderry, this is a rare and irreplaceable ancient woodland, a place of great beauty, and, as one of Northern Ireland’s red squirrel strongholds, a precious wildlife habitat.
3. Tollymore’s stepping stones
A walk in the gorgeous Tollymore Forest Park is full of adventures and novelties – forestry, bridges, grottos, caves and three sets of stepping stones over the Shimna River. Which is probably why HBO filmed Game of Thrones® here. Crossing this waterway can be a completely different experience at different times of the year, but it’s always great craic and makes for a great photo opportunity.
4. Big Dog’s walks
There is nowhere more aptly named for an outing with your little Fido than a walk in Big Dog Forest in Fermanagh. It’s part of the unique Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark, home of some of the finest upland landscape scenery in Fermanagh and there is wildlife as varied as red deer, herons and dragonflies. Fido will have a ball.
5. Loughgall’s trim trail
A trim in Loughgall Country Park is nothing to do with your hair, though it could make you look and feel better. The park’s trim trail is made up of 13 outdoor exercise stations spread out around a bridle path. Just move through the stations and perform the exercise illustrated at each to look good, feel good, and discover the great outdoors.
6. Davagh’s deer
Glimpses of sika deer bounding across your path or standing partially concealed among the trees in Davagh Forest is a pleasure that lasts in the memory. And this untouched landscape of Sperrin Mountain hills and sweeping forests also has a network of walking and mountain biking trails, making it easy to explore and enjoy.
7. Glenariff’s waterfall walk
Superb though the various trails through Glenariff Forest are, the unique waterfall walk is sure to rival them all. The boardwalks and steps around the majestic waterfalls have been brilliantly constructed so that you are able to view them close up. The magical sounds of the water combined with the forest greenery and wildlife make this a walk to remember.
8. Carnfunnock’s clocks
You have all the time in world at the lovely Carnfunnock Country Park, where you can become your own clock. The park’s Time Garden features the biggest collection of sundials in Ireland and traces the history of time through a series of living, working sundial examples. Explore the cut cube dial, a dial marking out monks’ prayer time, a clown dial and even a human sun dial.
9. Gosford’s rare breeds
The abundant wildfowl, large collections of traditional poultry breeds, rare breed farm animals and a herd of red deer in open paddocks are a unique forest park sight in Northern Ireland. An exploration of Gosford Forest Park also takes you through cycling and walking routes, eco trails and over 550 acres of forest and parkland.
10. Colin Glen’s zip trip
Why walk in the park when you can zip it? Colin Glen Forest Park is not just a beautiful woodland river glen, it’s home to a series of amazing aerial adventures that can take you up into the forest canopy. A high 16m ropes course, a lower less daunting 5m ropes course, a multi-level rock face climbing wall and more, offers thrills and views over Belfast city from a height.