Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 1 November 2014

A walk on the wild side in the heart of the city

Where else could you wander from the city centre into the heart of a working forest teeming with wildlife?

Belvoir Park Forest is one of the few wooded areas left in the city that can still boast a population of red squirrels — and Belfast itself is the only UK city that still has red squirrels.

Indeed, the native squirrels are surprisingly tame and have been known to jump onto the upper storey windowsills of the RSPB headquarters in Belvoir Park Forest to take advantage of the squirrel feeders.

This route follows one of many wooded tracks within Belvoir Park Forest and then continues along a portion of Belvoir Drive, where it passes the Belvoir Activity Centre and Primary School.

It then turns right back into the forest park, crossing over a subsidiary of the Lagan and comes back to the car park, located at the entrance of Belvoir Forest Park.

Directions

The entrance is located in the car park of Belvoir Park Forest at Belvoir Drive, which is just off the Outer Ring Road (A55) opposite the new Tesco in south Belfast — look out for brown signs to Belvoir Park Forest. There is ample car parking provided.

By bus, Metro Service 77 and 78 will take you to Belvoir Drive, leaving from Chichester Street, Belfast City Centre .

This walk proceeds from the car park at Belvoir Park Forest, Belvoir Drive. As this path is a circular walk, you are able to start at any point on the circuit and walk in either direction. At the car park, signs are located both to your left and right hand side — the following route description commences from the path on your right hand side of the car park.

The beginning of this path takes you through mature trees within the wooded part of Belvoir Park Forest. As the path arrives at a natural clearing, it then veers right, leaving the park and heading out towards Belvoir Drive.

The route continues along Belvoir Drive, passing the Belvoir Activity Centre and Primary School. At this point the path turns right and heads back into the forest park, where again you are surrounded by lovely mature trees and bluebells — depending on the season.

The path continues to take you up and around the back of the Forestry offices, where the headquarters of the RSPB is also located, and back to the car park. The route is clearly marked with designated Highway to Health signage both within the forest park and on Belvoir Drive.

The Backdrop

Belvoir Park Forest is a working forest within a city. It is ideally placed to offer city dwellers a vibrant forest full of wildlife and many fine tree specimens. All this is available within easy reach of Belfast's outer ring.

The forest was opened in 1961 and covers 75 hectares along the south bank of the River Lagan.

At the highest point, walkers will reach approximately 400 feet above sea level. On a clear day, views take in Belfast Lough, Lagan Valley, the Mountains of Mourne, Strangford Lough and the Newtownards peninsula.

Along the way, look out for the fabulous abundance of wildlife — birds such as the great tit, blue tit, coal tit and long-tailed tit, cormorants, robins and thrush are commonly seen on the wooded sections of the trail. The glen is also host to a wonderful collection of woodland wildflowers in the springtime.

There are a number of historic sites to be found within the forest, for example, the Norman motte dates back to the 12th century and the ruined graveyard was recorded in 14th century documents.

The estate itself was enclosed by the Hills, a plantation family, around the 1740s. They built a house where the car park is now and the remaining buildings, which date from the same era, were once farm buildings belonging to the estate.

The Ice House, built into the side of the motte, also dates from this time. These features are ideal for educational pursuits. The forest has a fine exhibition, with full disabled access and guides are available for schools and organised groups.

Further information

For further information on walking or any other outdoor activity, please contact Countryside Access and Activities Network, tel: 9030 3930 or www.walkni.com .

Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN) in association with Belfast Telegraph have provided this information. Every care has been taken to ensure accuracy of the information. CAAN and Belfast Telegraph, however, cannot accept responsibility for errors or omissions but where such are brought to our attention, the information for future publications will be amended accordingly.

Walk Name: Castlereagh — Highway To Health Walk.

Area: Belvoir Forest Park, Castlereagh.

Nearest big town to start point: Entrance of Belvoir Park Forest , Belvoir Drive.

Distance: 3.16 km (Circular Walk)

Terrain: Surfaced & unsurfaced paths

Refreshments: There are a number of cafés and amenities in close proximity to Belvoir Forest Park, located at Forestside Shopping Centre.

Publications: www.walkni.com website

Walk Developed By: This walk has been developed with the assistance of Castlereagh Borough Council, Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke Association (NICHSA) and the Department for Regional Development (DRD) Roads Service.

Map: Belfast Street Finder, Sheet 15 of Ordnance Survey Northern Ireland, LPSNI Map Shop, Colby House, Stranmillis, Belfast BT9 SBJ ( www.lpsni.gov.uk ).

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