Thursday, April 10, 2014

On top of the world ... looking down from Divis and Black Mountain over Belfast and beyond

While the Belfast Hills dominate the landscape, looking over the city, I’ve spent very little time exploring them. Today I headed up to the Divis Road and the new Ridge Trail that was being launched by Outdoor Recreation and the National Trust.

During the Troubles, much of the mountain top was off limits to all but the military. But with its purchase by the NT and the development of over 10 miles of maintained pathways across the top of Divis and Black Mountain, the area is no longer inaccessible and is open to locals as well as tourists wanting to get a bit of exercise and check out the stunning panoramas over Belfast and County Down.

The new Ridge Trail is a gentle and circular 4.2 mile walk over gravel, limestone slabs, board walk and a short section of tarmac.

It’s not at all steep, and even though it was fairly overcast this afternoon, the views were stunning.

There is a complete absence of traffic noise and the normal sound of city life. Yet down below – even on an overcast day like today – you can make out landmarks stretching from Lisburn to Belfast city centre, the shipyards, and beyond.

Allegedly on a clear day you can see Scotland, the Isle of Man and Cumbria from the highest point. The circular viewing point just below the Black Mountain trigonometry point/standing stone helps set the scenery in context.

Outdoor Recreation NI ( developed the trail, with funding from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (through the Lagan Rural Partnership), NI Tourist Board and the National Trust totalling £459,700.

At the launch, the phrase “tourism is now more important than agriculture” was quoted several times.

NITB CEO Alan Clarke spoke of the focus on attracting tourists to Northern Ireland for short or additional holiday breaks, and the need to be able to offer outdoor pursuits as well as urban activities. The NI tourist portfolio still faces difficulties with Sundays, evenings and public transport … though the trail is open all week long, will be great for a summer evening walk, and the number 106 bus from Europa bus centre to Crumlin can set you down on the Divis Road!

After the launch I spoke to Heather Thompson (National Trust director for Northern Ireland) and Gareth Evans (DARD) about the vision of opening up the Belfast Hills to the public and DARD’s involvement in the funding.

Long term, the plan is to be able to walk from the Lagan/Lady Dixon Park, through Colin Glen and up to the Belfast Hills, with paths leading across from Black Mountain/Divis to Cave Hill and beyond. There are still some gaps, but the vision is not too far off being complete.

Practically, as well as the existing car park on Divis Road, there’s a new smaller car park up the lane opposite the Long Barn visitor centre (which offers refreshments too). I suspect I'll be back over coming months with family to revisit the Ridge Trail and make our way up to the summit.

[Click on any of the photos for higher-res versions.]

And if you've ever wanted to get up close to your Freeview transmitter ...

1 comment:

Norwin said...

The notion that tourism is more important than agriculture reminds me of the old native American proverb "Only when the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten, and the last stream poisoned will you realize that you cannot eat tourists".
Or something like that.