Minnowburn, Shaw’s Bridge and Edenderry

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The Shaw’s Bridge to Edenderry riverside loop is probably one of the most popular walks in Belfast. This route however adds a number of twists to add variety, interest and less trodden paths. It also only follows the Lagan for 400m so is quite distinct from the popular variant.

TYPECircular walk through woodland, parkland and open meadows.
DISTANCE2.6 miles / 4.2 km
SURFACESMostly well made compacted surfaces with variable slopes. The meadow at Edenderry can be slightly muddy.
HEIGHT GAIN / LOSS230 feet climb
HAZARDSOfficial mountain biking trails cross parts of the walk, there is a short descent on concrete steps which can be slippy and a short walk on a quiet road in the final section.

In keeping with the aim of seeking quieter paths our route starts and ends at the Minnowburn National Trust car park rather than the more populous alternative at Shaw’s Bridge.

Leave the car park and cross the Minnowburn Bridge turning sharp right at the far end onto a path signposted ‘Minnowburn Beeches’.

The path cuts back beside the old stone bridge giving a good view of its three arches spanning the burn and a fourth smaller one which once channelled the now dry mill race.

Look to the right to find the hidden fourth arch

Continue upstream with the burn on your right and the dry mill race on your left. This is a short section but still one with the chance of seeing river birds: occasionally a heron or if you are very lucky a dipper bobbing in the stony bubbles or the blue flash of a kingfisher patrolling its territory.

After a short distance the path turns from the stream and crosses a minor road – take care. You now find yourself in the largest and most mature stand of beech trees in the Minnowburn site. This steep slope is recorded in the Northern Ireland Ancient Wood Inventory as Ancient semi-natural woodland (ASNW) and Planted ancient woodland site (PAWS). The predominant species here is beech which is not a native Irish tree – oak would once have been in its place. However, there would have been a continuity of woodland environment here, hence the survival of species such as Bluebells and wild Garlic which abound here in mid/late spring before the leaf canopy covers over.

Late winter and the wood structure is bare and clear

The path now climbs steeply up a set of curving wood faced steps and swings back on itself to skirt the edge of a newly wooded plateau. You proceed looking down to the great mature beeches on your left with the rapidly growing new forest on your right. This area will only get better as the years go on.

After 200m the path swings right and climbs slightly to a point when Malone House is just visible across the river valley. It then dips under the high voltage pylon pathway and drops down back to the minor road and the end of Shaw’s bridge.

Bridges old and new

This has been an important river crossing point for at least 500 hundred years. This was once the main road to Dublin and the old bridge which is now here is 300 years old.

Standing on the old bridge, looking at its concrete replacement, I like to think of the change in the types of traffic since this bridge was itself new, to the day in the early 1970’s when the last cars drove across and the concrete expressway was opened.

Cross over and turn left upstream through the pedestrian gate.

Three paths divide.

To the left is the boat house and ducks, straight ahead is the broad asphalt towpath, but I suggest you take the right hand path through a narrow strip of woodland between the river and open parkland. Continue for about 250m to where a mountain bike trail crosses the path.

Danger – Mountain Bikes crossing – sometimes

You are now in a ‘recreationally managed area’ and throughout the Barnett’s Demesne section of the walk you will encounter traffic signage aimed at separating pedestrian and mountain bike travellers. However, be aware that the “best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry” and bikes may appear from unsigned directions and be strangely absent in others!

Shortly after the bike crossing you arrive at a significant path junction where you should turn right and then shortly left to enter the corner of a large open area.

Rolling grassland, a fully wooded perimeter and sky. No clue to your urban setting – except perhaps the pylons!

Your route now skirts along three sides of this ‘field’ following a mowed grass path – be careful in wet conditions it can be slippery. There is a great sense of space here.

Passing the pylon you reach the top of a ridge which then bends left and you leave the open area. You now find yourself in a small forest clearing – a wooden obelisk here has the word ‘arboretum’ carved vertically which seems a little grand for this modest, pleasant spot which comes complete with bench to aid the comfortable viewing of its trees.

After the ‘arboretum’ the path drops slightly to a saddle junction where you now turn sharp left downhill.

Looking back at the three gnarled oaks which mark the way

The deciduous woodland now around you is generally young and immature, but a number of substantial gnarled oaks on your left tell the story of an older, long established, woodland.

Turn right at the foot of the slope where you meet a another path and follow along, with level marshy woodland on your left and older more mature stands of trees on the slopes to your right (look for active badgers’ setts here). After 750m you come to a pedestrian path junction (ignore the bike trail nearby) where you turn right uphill toward the Mary Peters track.

A natural amphitheatre surrounded by woodland and open for all to enjoy

Now follow the paved path anti-clockwise around the stadium. At the far end you will come to a statue of Mary herself – keeping an eye on things! Her Pentathlon Gold at the 1972 Munich Olympics gave us a much needed vision of achievement and positivity at a time of so much self-destruction. In the years since she has continued to promote what is best in sport and public life, setting an example of leadership which puts others to shame!

Now cross to the far corner of the car park behind the spectator stand and join the path dropping down towards the Lagan. The area to your right is popular with more adventurous mountain bikers so is best avoided.

On reaching the river turn right upstream for 500m of the only riverside walking on this route. Make the best of it – careful observation of the river edges should yield wildlife dividends.

Cross over the Gilchrist Bridge taking full advantage of the elevated vantage point to view the river.

Wooded Medieval Motte with water industry pipework in the foreground

At the far end look straight ahead to the remains of a medieval motte. A little to your right is Edenderry house (clearly shown on the 1830 OS map with a ‘fort’ within its grounds). This has been an important place for many years – and possibly a river crossing too, as it is today. The most recent ‘archaeology’ in the foreground is the remains of a brick building with industrial pipework – possibly links to the milling and water power history just upstream.

Now turn right and proceed 150m to the former linen and milling village of Edenderry.

Edenderry Main Street with old Schoolhouse?

Entering past the old corner store you find yourself on the long street of Edenderry village. On your right, modern housing sits on the site of the original mills. There was a linen bleach green here too and at a later stage a weaving factory with housing for the workers. The building in the picture above has the look of an old school but the OS map of 1900 marks it as ‘club’ – perhaps a multifunctional community building?

Proceed past the original fine row of cottages, each provided with a generous front garden. Today many of these are still nurtured with love and care, enriching the whole street. You now come to a side terrace street with a Gospel Hall at the far end. There is a sense of another era – almost of being on a film set!

Now take the third exit on the mini-roundabout (red postbox on your right) and continue along the terraced street.

A surreal transition from industrial urban to open fields

At the end of the street – everything changes and you are suddenly in a open field – without even a gate or stile to mark the transition. A broad grass path strikes out uphill to your left towards the tree-lined skyline. This will serve well to speed you on your way, but if you are feeling a little more adventurous, a route to the left (see map for options) will allow you to explore a network of tracks over small hills and between banks of whin and blackthorn. Your choice.

A winter scene rich in detail and the evergreen colour of green and yellow whin bush

If you do choose the left hand route, some weaving and twisting will be necessary to get you to the top of field where you rejoin the main path just before crossing a stile.

In the distance you can see the great mound of the Giant’s Ring on the skyline. It is easy to visit from here and if this is your only chance, I would make the short diversion to do so. However, it is well worth a walk in its own right and the Minnowburn to the Giant’s Ring entry describes one way to do this.

So our route now turns left and undulates along the edge of the large arable field with glimpses of Edenderry and the Lagan valley to your left.

Gentle undulations hide a Neolithic history. A standing stone is visible just to the left of the unusually spared lone tree

The field to your right contains three prehistoric sites, a large neolithic ritual burial enclosure, a megalithic tomb and a standing stone. The whole hilltop plateau, including the Giant’s Ring, would once have been a thriving centre of ancient civilisation occupying its special vantage point elevated above the wooded marshy valley below. Today, modern farming management leaves few clues to its previous function. See the link at the foot of this post for a detailed account of past investigation of the prehistory of this area,

You now come to the boundary with the National Trust managed Minnowburn property, where the path turns sharp right and climbs gently between fields before dropping down to cross Ballynahatty Road.

Cross carefully and enter the area of new planted deciduous forest. Ten years ago this woodland was a field – with a little help nature is reclaiming its ground.

The path now drops steeply to a old fence which marked the edge of a mature beech woodland.

Go through the gap by the rustic handrails and enter a delightful section of twisting and climbing forest path.

This is another area of long established woodland and in late spring the display of Bluebell and wild Garlic bear witness to this. However, there are always riches to be seen as you contour through this tiny strip of natural woodland habitat.

After about 400m you join a steep flight of concrete steps (careful – slippery when wet) and descend to Edenderry Road (no pavement), turn right and shortly afterwards return to your starting point, Minnowburn car park.

Journey’s end (and often the location of a very civilised coffee van)

External Links

Route Map to Download and Print (PDF)

Related Walks

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