GET a new leash of life and make the next walk with your dog a little different this winter by discovering some of Northern Ireland’s most scenic locations together, says the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB).
Whether it’s a leisurely stroll around the edge of a lake, a refreshing walk along the coastline or a more adventurous hike through a stunning forest park, there are plenty of options to suit everyone and you’d be barking mad to miss out.
NITB’s Destination PR Officer, Pauline Gormley says winter is a great time of year to discover new landscapes.
“After a busy festive season there is no better way to blow away the cobwebs and welcome in the New Year than going on a winter walk,” said Pauline.
“No matter what time of year it is your dog will still need to be walked so winter is the perfect chance to wrap up warm and venture somewhere new and we’re sure your dog will also appreciate the new view,” she said.
NITB has put together a list of top walking routes for you and your dog to explore this winter.
Belfast: A winter morning is arguably the best time to walk the Lagan Towpath as the mist hovers just above Belfast’s main river. The towpath starts in Stranmillis, just minutes away from Belfast City Centre, and sets off along the river and canal systems through a variety of wetland, riverside meadows and mixed woodland. After passing through Lagan Meadows and over Shaw’s Bridge this section of the towpath finishes at Sir Thomas & Lady Dixon Park, one of Belfast’s most popular parks. Dogs allowed on leads.
Divis and Black Mountain rest in the heart of the Belfast Hills and provide a backdrop to the city’s skyline, offering spectacular views across Northern Ireland, Belfast Lough and as far as Donegal and the coast of England, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Suitable footwear is necessary and dogs must be kept under close control at all times.
Co. Antrim: Winter creates the perfect backdrop to explore the mature woodland of Glenariff Forest Park with freezing waterfalls and open, frosted moorland. The trail first takes you down the Inver River gorge, to the edge of the Ess-na-Crub Waterfall and your path back offers spectacular views straight down the misty Glen to the coast and the sea beyond. Dogs are allowed on leads and there are some steep paths.
Follow a stretch of breathtaking coastline between Ballintoy and Bushmills for a great 12.4 mile walk. The route includes walking on beaches, across rocks and along cliff top paths following the Causeway Coast Way, one of the most spectacular cliff top paths in the UK.
Co. Antrim also boasts Croaghan, a 6.5 mile circular stroll, with a variety of hills, forest tracks and stunning panoramic views of Rathlin Island, just off the Antrim Coast.
Co. Armagh: The Slieve Gullion walk is 9.5 miles and located within the Ring of Gullion Area of Outstanding Beauty. Rising to 573m, Slieve Gullion is the centrepiece of the volcanic landscape and is a Special Area of Conservation. The Ring of Gullion and Slieve Gullion have rich associations with Irish legends and myths.
Co. Down: Located in the dramatic setting of mountains and sea, Castlewellan Forest Park is one of the most outstanding tree and shrub collections in Europe. Many walkers enjoy its mile-long lake which gives a great insight into eighteenth-century landscaping.
Covering an area of almost 630 hectares at the foot of the Mourne Mountains, Tollymore Forest Park offers panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and the sea at nearby Newcastle. Tollymore has some very interesting features to look out for while on your walk including a barn dressed up to look like a church, stone cones on top of gate piers and gothic-style gate arches that all show the influence of the highly individualistic designer, Thomas Wright of Durham.
North Down Coastal Path extends from Holywood in the west to Orlock in the in the east and passes through coastline and parkland. Historic relics and flora and fauna can be found in abundance and grey seals can be spotted offshore.
Murlough Nature Reserve is a fragile 6000 year old sand dune system owned by the National Trust, it is an excellent area for walking due to its spectacular location at the edge of Dundrum and the Mourne Mountains and was Ireland’s first Nature Reserve. Dogs are allowed on leads.
Co. Fermanagh: Castle Coole is a majestic 18th century home and has a stunning landscape park as well as a surrounding wooded landscape park sloping down to Lough Coole, ideal for long walks with your pet.
Castle Archdale Country Park offers a variety of walks on a 5 mile trail with lots to see as it goes along the shore passing the deer park enclosure, wildfowl ponds, wildflower meadow and butterfly garden. Winter is a great time of the year to explore this unique setting.
Co. Tyrone: Peatlands Park, close to the southern shores of Lough Neagh, can be explored by over 10 miles of paths and wooden walkways which leads the visitor through many varied habitats. The park is rich in butterflies, moths and dragonflies as well as many woodland and wetland birds and several species of waterfowl.
Dungannon Park is a 70 acre oasis centred round an idyllic still-water lake and its magnificent scenery invites you to enjoy a leisurely walk along the park trail. High grounds offer the walker splendid views of the surrounding townlands and countryside with views of Lough Neagh on a clear day.
Co. Londonderry: Port Path follows a stretch of scenic coastline between Portstewart and Portrush and the winter seascape is an experience not to be missed. As well as the magnificent offshore views, this route also passes by a number of interesting features such as traditional ice houses, stone built, turf roofed houses where ice was stored in the winter in order to preserve salmon in the summer. Dogs are allowed on leads. The Roe Valley Country Park offers a variety of routes along the River Roe or Red River. The park has great appeal for dog lovers and winter makes it a truly special place with only the call of mallard ducks breaking the silence. Dogs are allowed on leads.
Prehen Wood is one of Northern Ireland’s rare and irreplaceable ancient woods and it has a series of numbered waymarkers that offer an environmental trail encouraging people to develop an awareness and appreciation of the natural and built environment.
Please note, some locations may have signs to indicate restricted dog access or that you must keep your dog on a lead, so be sure to look out for these or call ahead to check access. Remember to be a responsible dog owner and clean up after your pooch.
Why not combine your winter walk with an overnight stay in the local area with prices starting from £49 per room per night.
For further information on winter walks in Northern Ireland click on www.discovernorthernireland.com or visit your local tourist information centre.