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|TYPE||Riverside walk loop with some re-tracing of route|
|DISTANCE||3.0 miles 4.8 km|
|SURFACES||Earth /gravel / grass paths, generally in good condition|
|HEIGHT GAIN / LOSS||308 feet climb|
|Hazards||Optional woodland small path steep and muddy in places|
This route starts from the Country Park visitor centre; however, should the centre and lower car park be closed, the car park on the access road should provide a suitable alternative.
Follow the signs to Ervey Wood out of the car park, across the lower corner of the meadow and over the bridge turning left downstream along the Burntollet River. After a short section along the edge of an open area, the path enters Ervey Wood, another fragment of the native woodland which would once have cloaked all the valley floors and sides in this area. Here the glen sides are less steep than the Ness Woods, but there is still a similar atmospheric mixture of wood and rock.
The path here is broad and smooth surfaced and provides easy walking as it follows the riverside closely. On your left there is an almost continuous earth raised ditch wall, suggesting this area was perhaps once farmed in some way or that someone felt it necessary to maintain a visible boundary here for some other purpose.
The jumbled landscape of rocks, trees old and young, moss, fern, ivy and grasses creates a stage set in which it is easy to imagine former native creatures lurking and hiding. Could that ‘cave’ ahead have once concealed a sleepy brown bear!?
The path follows the partially concealed river for about 500m, again there is an opportunity to spot dippers in the fast flowing eddies and just the tiny chance of a glimpse of an otter. Then it abruptly turns from the river, narrows and begins to climb out of the valley floor.
As you climb, the forest mix becomes more mature – this may mark a transition from Ervey to Tamnymore Woods – but the two names seem both to be applied to this area of woodland. Perhaps there is no boundary as such.
After about 300m walking in mature woodland the path breaks out of the forest at the end of an open meadow which surrounds a large car parking area. This area marks the end of the Ness Country Park, but it also gives easy access to the final and newest area of woodland on our walk – Burntollet Wood, which is accessed via a path exiting the car parking area at its west end. Follow this path through Tanmymore Wood, cross a bridge over a small stream and pass through a gate to find yourself in a spectacular new wood. In 2008 this was 58 acres of farmland, but was then acquired by the Woodland Trust and simultaneously planted with Wildflower Meadows and native trees. The clever combination (read their information board ahead) allowed both to thrive to together.
What is different here is that while you are clearly in a wooded area the network of paths which twist organically around the wood, are themselves linear wild flower meadows. Commercial forestry often uses firebreak grids to separate blocks of trees, here gently winding wild flower ‘breaks’ provide colour, interest and maintain an open aspect to the skies above the Faughan Valley and through to the Sperrin Mountains. Buzzards and rooks patrol above – this is a landscape with something for everyone!
Take your time here to explore. For walkers used to forestry track grids the path seems ‘all over the place’ as it turns, drops and climbs. It feels complex and that you might even get lost, but from above it is a simple loop (with one branch line out to the A2 road) which circumnavigates the private house located in the centre of the wood. This requires you to briefly exit onto the public road around the driveway end before returning again to your loop.
As well as the nature writ large there are also seats, excellent information boards describing the wood creation, trees and flowers and a series of pebble wildlife mosaics, semi-hidden at multiple points just off the main path. I counted six – you may find more.
Once your circuit is complete it is time to begin your return trip. You can simply retrace your steps following the signs to the Ness Country Park, or vary the route simply (see map) by looping down below the car parks and if you are feeling particularly adventurous there is the option of following a woodland ‘wild path’ through slightly more challenging terrain to cut a corner and rejoin the main path at a junction with a rocky gully.