Belfast is a city surrounded by uplands – the silhouettes of Cave Hill, Divis, The Black Mountain and the Castlereagh and Holywood Hills form its backdrop. Yet these hills for most remain unvisited and unknown. This is partly owing to the usual Northern Ireland problem of general lack of public access, but now, in the case of Divis and the Black Mountain this is no longer a factor. If you haven’t made it there yet this walk should serve as an introduction to this expansive and rewarding area.
The area is owned and maintained by the National Trust who have provided two car parks, a café and a very well designed and maintained series of trails. There is no admission charge so if you can get yourself to the car parks this is a very accessible mountain experience just five miles from the heart of Belfast City.
Maps and photos note: click or tap to see any maps or photographs below as a high resolution version.
Before first visiting the great mansion and Gardens of of Mount Stewart it would not be unreasonable to imagine it perched on an elevation with magnificent views over Strangford Lough to the distant Mountains of Mourne. In reality the house shelters in a hollow whose benign microclimate supports lush and verdant gardens which completely shield it from the world beyond.
However, the hills are still there and, thanks to the recent acquisition by the National Trust of land covering the whole of the historic demesne, this walk allows you to visit some of them.
Today we saw an otter eating its fishy breakfast just off the seawall walkway at Holywood. For 10 minutes it slipped in and out of view, sometimes just a raised line in the water, sometimes head up, jaws wide open and a fish clutched in its front paws and then a downward roll and just a magnificent tail slipping back below the water.
We were probably looking for seals (quite common here), or maybe Eider, but we were looking, and that makes all the difference!
Marking the turning of the seasons is a old as as human life itself. Before there was writing stones set deep in the landscape marked out the critical turns of the year. Much of this has been lost with our modern world’s attempted disconnect from nature, but the turning year still influences our moods, fears and hopes. The coming of spring matters to all – even if only a precursor to barbecue season and summer holiday flights!