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Northern Ireland was made for walking – from challenging summits to leisurely towpaths

The North offers a rich variety of hikes, from mountains to sea to everything scenic in between

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The Sperrins

The Sperrins

Eco diversity – Lagan Towpath is ripe with wildlife

Eco diversity – Lagan Towpath is ripe with wildlife

Glenariff Forest Park, Antrim

Glenariff Forest Park, Antrim

Do go chasing waterfalls in Glenariff Forest Park, Antrim, where they are plentiful

Do go chasing waterfalls in Glenariff Forest Park, Antrim, where they are plentiful

Sperrins

Sperrins

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The Sperrins

Whether you’re a leisure walker who prefers lowland strolls or are a seasoned hiker who bags several summits a week, there are beautiful routes aplenty in Northern Ireland to explore.

It’s the region’s landscape that ensures so much diversity. The coastline stretches to 539km (334 miles) long, and about 70pc of this has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Inland, there is Lough Neagh, the largest lake in Britain and Ireland, with uplands and mountain ranges circling the perimeter of the province. From Slieve Donard, the highest peak at 850m, to low parkland and rivers, there’s enough packed into this compact region to keep walkers happy for years.

In fact, it’s hard to choose individual routes amid such an embarrassment of riches, but this selection gives a flavour of what’s on offer (walkni.com is a great resource for researching other routes too). Most walks can be completed year round, though you’ll appreciate them all more in dry, clear conditions.

Pick one of these routes and give it a go then just keep exploring. There’s no better way to energise both body and mind.

Best Coastal Headland

Fairhead is one of Northern Ireland’s geological masterpieces. At 186m high, the cliffs here are the tallest in the North and share their hexagonal form and volcanic history with the nearby Giant’s Causeway. It’s a big draw for serious rock climbers, and this walk (which translates as The Secret Way) takes its name from a popular climb on the rock face below. In the car park, you’ll find an information board detailing three signed walks; this route is also known at the Perimeter Walk, and follows the blue waymarks. It makes a circuit around the cliff top, passing two high loughs along the way. Fantastic coastal views include Scotland’s Mull of Kintyre, just 19km (12 miles) away across the Sea of Moyle.

Start and finish: Fairhead Car Park

Get there: From Ballycastle, follow the A2 east for 3km/2 miles. Turn left onto Torr Road, then left again onto Fairhead Road. Follow a sign to Fairhead Car Park, where there’s a £3 charge for parking.

Length /time: 5km/3 miles, 1½-2 hours.

Level: Easy to moderate. Largely flat, signed trail over sometimes rough ground.

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Pack: Your hiking boots. It’s a short circuit, but the moorland grass can be uneven underfoot.

Refuel: Thyme & Co (thymeandco.co.uk) in Ballycastle offers delicious, deli-style offerings including vegan and gluten-free options.

Best Woodland Waterfalls

Hike: Glenariff Forest Park, Co Antrim

Set within the celebrated Glens of Antrim, this forest park offers far more than just trees. There are 22 waterfalls, wooden walkways set deep within river gorges, and long-distance views along chiselled, glacial escarpments. Four signed walking trails vary from one to 10km (six miles) in length, meaning there’s a route for walkers of all persuasions. The best option is to combine the red Waterfall Trail and black Scenic Trail, to make a circuit that encompasses both the upper and lower reaches of the park.

Start and finish: Laragh Lodge.

Get there: The forest park is located along the A43 Ballymena-Cushendall road. For Laragh Lodge, turn south off the A43 around 2.4km (1½ miles) east of the main forest entrance.

Length /time: 8km (5 miles), 2½-3 hours.

Level: Easy to moderate; signed trails and constructed walkways with 140m ascent.

Pack: A trail map downloaded from nidirect.gov.uk/articles/glenariff-forest-park

Refuel: At Laragh Lodge (laraghlodge.co.uk) at the start and finish. This riverside bistro-pub dates from 1890 and is a perfect place to prolong the atmosphere of the walk.

Best Mountain Horseshoe

Hike: The Western Sperrins, Co Tyrone

This route offers a good introduction to hillwalking in the Sperrin Mountains and provides superb views into Donegal. Its focal point is 517m-high Mullaghcarbatagh, one of the only Sperrin summits where rock bursts through the peaty ground. Begin by heading south-east along Bradkeel Road, then turn left onto a narrow lane. A series of tracks and lanes lead south-east to open hillside, where you climb to the broad top of Craigacorm (323m). Now follow the ridgeline north to Mullaghcarbatagh. This summit is marked by a beehive cairn almost three metres tall, and tremendous views in all directions. Continue to the mountain’s north-west top, then descend southwest back to the start.

Start and finish: At Bradkeel Road.

Getting there: From Plumbridge, head north along the B48. After 4km (2½ miles), turn right onto Butterlope Road, then turn left onto Bradkeel Road. Park on the right, around 100m later (grid ref: H 495,945).

Length and time: 10km/6 miles;
3-3½ hours.

Level: Hard. Open mountain terrain with 380m ascent.

Pack: OSNI map 1:50,000 sheet 13, plus Helen Fairbairn’s Northern Ireland: A Walking Guide, which includes a full description of the route.

Refuel: With your own picnic hamper. This is a remote area and it’s some distance to a serviced restaurant.

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Eco diversity – Lagan Towpath is ripe with wildlife

Eco diversity – Lagan Towpath is ripe with wildlife

Eco diversity – Lagan Towpath is ripe with wildlife

Best River Towpath

Hike: Lagan Towpath, Belfast

Built more than 250 years ago, Lagan Canal was once at the forefront of industrial progress in Northern Ireland. Today it’s the preserve of walkers and cyclists, and lies at the heart of Lagan Valley Regional Park. It remains a surprisingly natural corridor of greenery, linking the urban centres of Belfast and Lisburn. The old towpath still switches between river bank and canal, but is now paved and signed. Wildlife can be seen on the water and in adjacent woodlands, while locks, weirs, bridges and historic buildings all punctuate the route. Multiple access points mean you can either walk small sections then return to your car, or else complete the entire path and use the train to return to the start.

Start: Lockview Road car park, Stranmillis, Belfast.

Finish: Canal Street, Lisburn.

Get there: Use the train to complete a one-way trip; Belfast Botanic and Lisburn Central stations are short strolls from the start and finish points.

Length and time: 14½km/9 miles, 3½-4½ hours.

Level: Easy. Signed, flat pavement throughout.

Pack: A route map and information leaflet downloaded from walkni.com/walks/lagan-towpath.

Refuel: Cutter’s Wharf (cutterswharf.co.uk), overlooking the river at the start of the route, or The Carden gastro pub (thecardan.com), beside Lisburn train station at the end.

Best Mourne Peak

Hike: Slieve Binnian, Mourne Mountains, Co Down

Standing sentinel at the southern-eastern corner of the Mourne Mountains, Slieve Binnian (747m) provides a superlative viewpoint over the rugged heart of the range. It’s Binnian’s topography that makes it unique however; the summit ridge is crowned by several huge granite tors, which are a legacy of the last Ice Age. From the car park, head along a stony track until you meet the Mourne Wall. Turn left here, and follow the wall steeply up to the Summit Tor. Now turn north along the ridge, passing the Back Castles on your way to North Tor. Descend steeply to the col beneath Slievelamagan, then turn right onto a path past Blue Lough. Follow this track, past Annalong Wood, back to the start.

Start and finish: Carrick Little car park.

Get there: Follow the A2 to Annalong village, then turn inland. The car park is 4km (2½ miles) later at grid ref: J 345,219.

Length and time: 9½km/6 miles, 3½-4½ hours.

Level: Hard. Unsigned mountain terrain with 600m ascent.

Pack: Previous hillwalking experience, full mountain gear, and OSNI map 1:50,000 sheet 29.

Refuel: Harbour Inn, Annalong (harbourinnannalong.co.uk). Celebrate your return to sea level with locally caught seafood while overlooking a picturesque harbour.


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