Northern Ireland's Outdoor Adventure Blog is your definitive guide to outdoor activities in Northern Ireland. This blog is packed full of useful information for everybody looking to take part in outdoor activities from the hardcore adrenaline junkie to those simply looking for some fun ideas for all the family. This outdoor adventure blog will cover a range of land, water and air based..
Make a splash and try something new this May as part of Get Wet NI 2019. Clubs from across Northern Ireland are offering watersport sessions for just £20 or less on Sat 11th & Sun 12th May. With no experience necessary and all of the equipment provided, there has never been a better time to get out on the water!
It’s that time of year when it’s all about the Bluebells! These pretty little flowers have started to make an appearance across Northern Ireland's countryside and forest floors. To help you discover new and exciting walks with some of the best bluebell displays check out a few of our favourite spots below.
Castle Ward, Strangford, Co. Down There are around 5 miles of bluebell trails waiting to be discovered in this stunning 820 acre demesne complete with 18th century mansion and over 13 miles of multi-use trail.
Scrabo Hill & Killynether Wood, Newtownards, Co. Down Enjoy some of the best views over Strangford Lough and North Down from the iconic Scrabo Tower, one of Northern Ireland's best known landmarks built in 1857 before indulging in a woodland walk.
Clare Glen, Tandragee, Co. Armagh A delightful walk along the banks of the River Cusher in County Armagh. Hazel is abundant, with oak, ash and wych elm over a stunning ground layer of wood anemone, wild garlic and bluebells as well as several different species of orchid.
Castle Coole, Co. Fermanagh An 18th century mansion surrounded by ancient wood where you will be captivated by a carpet of native bluebells.
Castlewellan Forest Park, Co. Down One of Northern Ireland's most famous lakes, a stunning Victorian Castle, incredible panoramic views, scenic walking trails the forest park comes alive in Spring.
Mount Stewart Newtownards, Co. Down The mild climate around Mount Stewart with its recently restored neo-classical house allows a wide range of plants to grow, from the Mediterranean specimens to the bluebells which are the stars of the show in Spring.
Benburb Valley Park, Co. Tyrone Explore and enjoy stunning natural and built heritage through walks along the Blackwater River including a recently developed Bluebell Walk.
If you spot Bluebells on your next walk make sure to send us your pictures using #WalkNI on Instagram, Facebook & Twitter.
Is this your first time signing up for the Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive? Are you wondering what a typical day at Ireland’s most scenic sportive looks like? Read on as we take you through what to expect on the day when cycling the 115-mile route.
6:20am: Bleary-eyed, we reach for the alarm just as it goes off and hit snooze. 5 more minutes.
6:25am: Must get up, must get up. This will likely be your second most challenging task today – but you can do it!Summoning enough willpower to get out of bed, we stagger to the shower, quickly get changed into our best cycling kit before fuelling up with a big breakfast for the day ahead.
7am: We set off for Event HQ at Páirc Mac Uílín GAA Pitch from our accommodation for the weekend, An Caisleán (there are a number of accommodation providers which you can find here). It only takes 5 minutes from the centre of Ballycastle to reach Event HQ. By this time, there’s already marshals on hand at Event HQ to help us find a good parking space. The familiar buzz of preparing for a big event finally overtakes the desire to go back to bed. Let’s do this!
7:05am: In the clubhouse, there are big sheets with the 1000+ participant names laid out alphabetically, so it’s easy to find your name. We quickly sign on and scope out the new jerseys for this year’s sportive.
7:10am: At Event HQ, there’s also a big board showing all 4 routes: 30 | 60 | 85 | 115 miles, and where the famous 4 feed stations are. There’s time for a chat now with the other participants:
‘Which route are you trying?’
‘Are you doing Torr Head?’
‘What was the highlight last year?’
The atmosphere is growing and the craic is one of the best parts of the day.
7:35am: We have time to squeeze in a last-minute pre-ride banana and double check the bike is in perfect condition with the Decathlon mechanical support team.
7:45am: Marshalls call our wave together – it’s finally time to head out on the 115-mile route of Ireland’s most scenic sportive!
8:30am: Pit-stop for a selfie along the Causeway Coast road – blue as far as the eye can see.
10:00am: We arrive at the first feed station at Ballinlea Road. It’s great to be able to catch a breather and see if these feed stations are worthy of all the praise you’ve heard. They are. Optionable: eat own bodyweight in jellybeans. 3 cups of tea later it’s time to head back out.
11am: Flash a sweet dab in Game of Thrones territory at the Dark Hedges for one of the official event photographs. Say ‘Winter is Coming!’.
2.30pm: A final stop at the 4th and final feed station of the day in Cushendun. This is right before Torr Head, and the nervous excitement is palpable – should we tackle Torr Head or opt for the bypass? We can hear our stomachs rumbling at this point so it’s good to stock up on fruit and biscuits before drinking our 76th cup of tea for the day.
2.40pm: Torr Head it is! Our legs are definitely feeling the burn, but the views are worth it. Also the marshalls at the junction gave us an amazing 15 second pep talk as we approached. This also means we get to take part in the KOM/QOM segment, a 1.2 mile stretch on Torr Head where the fastest man and woman wins King and Queen of the Mountain. To enter, we simply join the Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive on Strava and upload our times.
4.30pm: With a final push, we cross the finish line. We’re back where we started at Event HQ, legs heavy with exhaustion but thrilled we finished the route. There’re loads of spectators around now, adding to the atmosphere. We collect our medal and freebie and opt for a quick rub down from one of the physios. Picture time! Then it’s off for a well-deserved hot meal inside and shower.
8.30pm: Time for the After-Party in O’Connor’s in Ballycastle – we’ve never looked forward to a drink so much in our lives! Highlights play on the walls as we over in intricate detail the ups and downs of one of the best days we’ve ever had out in the saddle. Cheers!
If you've always wanted to have a go at something adventurous on the water, we have some good news for you! Clubs all across Northern Ireland will be running 'taster' watersport sessions over the weekend of Saturday 11th and Sunday 12th May as part of Get Wet NI 2019, and all of events are £20 or less, with most of the events either free or under £10. You don't need any experience, all equipment is provided and all of the activities are suitable for all abilities, no matter what your interest is!
If you've always wanted to have a go at something adventurous on the water, we have some good news for you! Clubs all across Northern Ireland will be running 'taster' watersport sessions over the weekend of Saturday 11th and Sunday 12th May as part of Get Wet NI 2019, and most of the events are £10 or less. You don't need any experience, all equipment is provided and all of the activities are suitable for all abilities, no matter what your interest is!
Mid Ulster's Wild Adventure Weekend will take place on Saturday 13th and Sunday 14th April, all across Mid Ulster. If you haven't heard about it yet, we've listed some of the reasons to get excited for it below!
1. Most of the events are free or at a reduced cost
It can be difficult to run an event that fits everyone’s taste. Some events are suitable mostly for the children (such as the Kids Tree Top Adventure at the Jungle NI); others are ideal for people looking for a relaxing and social experience – and others still for people looking to get their next adrenaline kick.
This is one event not suitable for people looking for a relaxing activity
Wild Adventure Weekend however accommodates everyone. Hill walkers can find something to love, whether they’re a complete beginner or a seasoned pro. Adrenaline junkies meanwhile have plenty to keep themselves entertained, whether that’s at Portglenone Paddler’s Introduction to Canoeing and Kayaking, or a Tree Top Adventure with the kids at The Jungle NI.
3. Events are taking place all across Mid Ulster
With so many activities taking place over Wild Adventure Weekend (nearly 40!) the great thing is that nobody will have to travel too far to enjoy an event. One of the benefits of being at the centre of Northern Ireland!
Blessingbourne Estate has beautiful grounds for exploring
Many of the weekend’s activities are social, whether for yourself or the kids. Events such as the Breagh Tours Low Level Walk will see people from all over coming together to explore the stunning Goles Valley in the Sperrins, with expert tour guide Brendan Adams. For those who fancy something a bit more uptempo, nothing bands together a group of people as quickly as modern urban warfare in the form of Airsoft, which you can try out at Torrent Airsoft’s day of fun.
Airsoft has become an increasingly popular alternative to paintballing
5.Supporting local clubs and businesses
We can often be tempted to look abroad for an adventure; but allow yourself to be surprised by Northern Ireland and explore what your local community has to offer. Local groups such as the Portglenone Paddlers (and plenty of others) run events entirely organised by volunteers, while larger businesses help to attract tourism and bring increased spending to Northern Ireland.
Staff can also provide some reassurance when needed!
Following the publication of an article on the BBC which spoke of the huge benefits mountain biking can have for your mental health, MountainBikeNI wanted to delve a little deeper into the many potential benefits of the sport we love.
The stats on mental health can be quite scary. One in four people will experience a mental health condition at some stage in their life, and if anything, those figures are slightly higher in Northern Ireland than elsewhere in the UK.
Mountain biking should be fun above all else
A specialist in mental health (and avid mountain biker), Eamonn Duffy spoke to MountainBikeNI about some of the many benefits mountain bikers experience:
“In recent years, the positive impact regular exercise (like mountain biking) can have on our mental health is an increasingly researched topic. It is well documented that regular exercise can promote good mental health via reducing social isolation, promoting the release of endorphins (or your ‘feel good’ hormones) and promoting a healthy weight which in turn improves self-esteem and confidence, alongside much more.”
An Outlet for Stress
One of the most commonly identified ways in which mountain biking improves mental health is by providing an outlet for stress. This was a recurring theme amongst MountainBikeNI followers, who contacted us in their dozens to agree with the findings.
One rider wrote about how mountain biking was a healing factor for him as he and his partner go through their first round of IVF.
“I’ve been welcomed into a few groups and have ‘cycling mates’ who support each other in WhatsApp groups, and who I’ve been able to vent while huffing and puffing my way up fire roads. As a man in my 30’s, that outlet is invaluable, and getting into the habit of talking over where my head’s at is something I know can help in all aspects of life.”
Exercise, being with nature and the satisfaction of a good spin are all beneficial to mental health
Another explained how it gave him ‘smiles per miles’ after having suffered with depression for years. “For me it was a way of relaxing…and leaving everything behind. It gave me something to focus on. Now this year I’m racing in a XC fat bike race for 6 hours. Life’s good, I’m on the up. Everyone who is trying hard to get back to themselves… you can do it. It’s hard yes, but it can be done.”
Work too can play a big factor. Desk jobs can result in a sedentary lifestyle that’s hard to combat. As one mountain biker put it, “I try not to let my work overpower me nor take it home, but sometimes that just doesn’t happen… For me MTBing is my release.”
The social side of mountain biking can be just as important as the physical benefits. Making friends can be difficult as an adult as most people don’t even know where to begin. In the world of mountain biking it is relatively straightforward.
There's something about mountain biking that makes it easy to speak to complete strangers
Meet someone once or twice on your local trails and the next thing you know you’ve been added into a message group of 40 likeminded people probably in a similar situation – just looking for someone to ride with. Don’t be under the assumption that everyone in that group is a high flying, super shredding DH or EWS champion. In reality, they’re likely in the same boat as you.
As another MountainBikeNI commenter put it, “The social side to mountain biking is fantastic. A big problem in your head going out for a ride, shared with a mate might turn out to be a small problem. A different outlook on a solution to problems, maybe some ideas you hadn’t thought of. The biggest thing is chatting – it doesn’t even need to be about problems or issues, just talk.”
If you need help making that first step into mountain biking, one great resource can be found in the organisation Mind Your Mate and Yourself, formally known as PIPS. They organise a men’s group to ride the Castlewellan Mountain Bike Trails every Wednesday. If you'd like to join, simply turn up at Life Adventure Centre in Castlewellan at 9:30am any week. A Ladies group will also be starting at the end of May. For more information on this, follow their Facebook Page.
Some of those who attend the group told MountainBikeNI how beneficial it was. "It gives structure to my week... gets me out, breathing fresh air, burning fat and gaining muscle." "Keeps me from becoming isolated".
- Lifeline (excellent for a listening ear and advice. They can signpost you to appropriate agencies and / or provide free counselling sessions).
- Samaritans (also great for a listening ear / advice and signposting)
We would like to thank Eamonn Duffy for his invaluable input, Jill and all the team at Mind Your Mate and Yourself, as well all the mountain bikers who wrote to us to tell us their stories. Also to the team at Arc Fitness, dedicated to addiction recovery through fitness coaching.
If you would like to create a MTB group or find one in your area, you can visit MountainBikeNI or contact us and we’ll assist you with connecting with others.
Previously on WalkNI we shared our favourite ‘Little Hills With Big Views’ but what about those tougher climbs in the Mournes, that are well worth the extra effort for those breath-taking views? While many of the walks in the high Mournes require extra huffing and puffing, there are two iconic peaks that are a firm favourite amongst walkers.
Voted walkers favourite Mourne Summit in the 2018 WalkNI Awards, at 850m (2,789 ft) Slieve Donard is the highest mountain in the Mournes. A tough climb well worth the effort for its spectacular and extensive views on a clear day across Northern Ireland the Isle of Man, Wicklow, Donegal, Wales and Scotland.
There are two routes to choose from to reach the summit views:
The most popular route for walkers exploring Slieve Donard from the seaside town of Newcastle, follow the river uphill from Donard car park through the forest. Emerging from trees the trail continues following the river past the Ice House to the Saddle between Donard and Commedagh. From here follow Mourne Wall as it rises steeply uphill to the tower on the summit of Donard.
Starting from Bloody Bridge Car Park located on the sea side of Donard, again this trail follows a riverside path uphill crossing the river further up via a set of boulders. This twisting trail opens up onto broad track which boasts views across the valley. From this point Slieve Donard is largely hidden, but continue to follow the trail as it zig-zags uphill before reaching an old quarry track which extends 1.4km into the upper valley before skirting (right) along the north side of the quarry. Beyond the quarry the path meets the Mourne Wall at 750m. From here Slieve Donard can be reached by following the Mourne Wall uphill for 1km to the summit.
One of the most popular walks shared with us using #WalkNI on Instagram, it's easy to see why Slieve Binnian is a tough walk that appears on the must explore list of any walker. At 747m (2449 ft) the summit boasts several large granite Tors which provide the perfect resting stop and shelter to enjoy those well-earned views.
Your journey to the summit begins at Carrick Little car park, following a clear, stony track rising gently between fields. Crossing a stone stile beside an iron gate, turn left and follow the Mourne Wall uphill. You will soon feel your leg muscles working as the Mourne Wall rises steeply on the slopes of Slieve Binnian. This is an obvious line to follow for most of the way to the summit. However, before the point where the wall runs into a bare face of granite you should drift to the right and aim for the notch in the top of the mountain. This section involves using your hands and taking care on the rock.
The reward is a spectacular panorama views of the surrounding mountain. In clear weather it’s possible to see the Isle of Man and the Wicklow Mountains beyond Dublin. Pick your way carefully around the base of the Summit Tor and continue walking along the ridge of the mountain following a clear path past the Back Castles. There are a handful of wrinkly little tors that you don’t have to grapple with. Simply enjoy the views as you walk past them. The North Tor is a monstrous outcrop of granite towards the end of the crest, and the path passes it on the left side.
The ground slopes away more steeply as the path wanders through the heather, past boulders and outcrops of granite on the way down to a prominent gap - the col between Slieve Lamagan and Slieve Binnian. At the col turn right and follow a clear path downhill. This passes close to the Blue Lough and by keeping right at junctions with other paths, you'll be led down to a clear track passing a corner of Annalong Wood. Simply follow the track alongside the Forest fence and return to the iron gate in the Mourne Wall. Cross the wall using the stile and follow the track back to Carrick Little car park.
It can be easy to assume that cycling events such as the Giant's Causeway Coast Sportive just come together themselves. In actual fact, our small team works hard for months in advance - so we thought we'd introduce ourselves!
Beverley is the Commander-in-Chief of the Sportive. A founder of the event, it has been her baby since it began in 2011. Everything from the number of toilets rolls, to the number of exclamation marks in a Facebook post right down to the mechanical expertise for bikers, you can trust her to know inside out. An avid cyclist herself, it was also Beverley who created our brand new 60 mile route for this year’s event!
Sylvia is one of the lesser known faces of the Sportive but she plays an integral role in its success. Coordinating feed stations, volunteers and staff rotas are all part of her task, not to mention ensuring our whole team is fed, watered and sheltered during our time in Ballycastle. You can usually find her at Feed Station 3 in Glenarm.
The voice behind the phone. Aideen is another founder of the Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive and works hard behind the scenes ensuring our riders make it home safe and sound. Coordinating with the onsite paramedics and mechanical assistance crew, it’s Aideen you’ll speak to if you ever need to call the emergency number.
Probably the most recognisable member of our team! Jayne is often selling our jerseys, giving out medals and generally cheering participants on over the course of the weekend. She loves meeting as many people as possible at the Sportive, so if you see her at this year’s event be sure to come up and say hello!
Dominic is our marketing guru for the Sportive. All the Facebook posts, Instagram stories (yes, we’re on Instagram now!) and other adverts you see peppered across the interwebs in the months leading up to the event are down to him.
There are a whole squad of other helpers at our Event HQ and feed stations. Diane is one of those, and likely to be among the most familiar having helped out at the Sportive since it started. Usually to be found at Feed Station 3, she (and all our team) are there to support you as the legs start getting tired.
Robert is Chairman of the Causeway Cycle Club and a long time supporter of the Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive. We work closely with Robert and the club every year to ensure all eventualities are prepared for. Causeway CC provide many of the marshals and motorcycle marshals for the sportive. Robert is happiest when at the intersection of Torr Head, driving riders to take on the epic challenge.
With 4 different routes to choose from at the 2019 Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive (35 | 60 | 85 | 115 miles), you’re spoilt for choice – and now we’ve got 4 cool ways you can see your route for the 2019 Sportive. Better still, they’re all completely free to use and adaptable for any cycling challenge you’re taking on.
VeloViewer – This 3D map shows all of the elevation along the route, helping you plan out your training, so you can see where you need to push that extra bit harder. Check out the map here.
2. Google Earth – You can now view the new 60-mile Sportive route as a 360° virtual tour, taking in every detail of the most epic parts of the route. It works even better on mobile too – just move your phone around to see the virtual route and the spectacular scenery you’ll experience on the day. Take the tour here.
3. Strava – For those competitive people, we’ve got you covered! The King of the Mountain / Queen of the Mountain segment is available on Strava. This is available for anyone taking part in the 60 / 85 / 115 mile routes. To enter the 2019 KOM / QOM join the Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive Club on Strava.
4. Website – On our website you can find all the timings and information about each route, with links to both the route profiles and Garmin to see basic information like the path the routes take.