Published 28/09/2009 | 10:12
It’s all Downhill from here on historic walk
Few of Northern Ireland’s ancient estates can be as wild and dramatic as Downhill, perched on the north coast with magnificent views over the rolling ocean.
It’s home to one of our most recognisable landmarks, the cliff-top Mussenden Temple, which is modelled on the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli.
The forest was originally part of the estate of Frederick Hervey, the 4th Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry, which included Downhill Castle, now maintained by the National Trust.
A walk through Downhill Forest will allow you to glimpse one of Northern Ireland’s fattest Sitka spruce trees (in 1962 the girth measured approximately 6m), an Early Christian promontory fort and an old water-powered sawmill with its lade running round the small lake in the middle of this woodland. The forest is located directly beside the Downhill Tourist Hostel if you plan on staying for more than a day.
There are two waymarked paths in the forest — one is just over a kilometre long while the other is two kilometres in length. The Ulster Way also runs through part of the forest.
From Coleraine, take the A2 through Articlave. Downhill Forest is on the left after around 11/2 miles. From Limavady, take the A2 towards Castlerock, and Downhill Forest is on the right approximately 31/2 miles after Benone.
Downhill Forest is a small mixed woodland of 83 hectares. People can either walk the shorter Pond Trail loop, just over a kilometre long and marked in blue, or continue on and do the Mill Trail as an extra loop, two kilometres in length and marked in red on the map.
These routes are fully waymarked through the forest and there is the appropriate signage to make sure walkers are well informed when they arrive.
When parking please do not block the gates, as lorries, emergency vehicles and other official vehicles may need access to this entrance at anytime.
The property at Downhill uniquely reflects the personality of its flamboyant creator, Earl Bishop Hervey.
Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry, he created an elegant mansion at Downhill, which now lies in ruins. On the nearby clifftop the Earl Bishop built the circular Mussenden Temple as his library, modelled on the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli.
Over the years the erosion of the cliff face at Downhill has brought Mussenden Temple ever closer to the edge, and in 1997 the National Trust carried out cliff stabilisation work to prevent the loss of the building.
Now part of the National Trust property of Downhill Estate & Mussenden Temple, the grounds encompassing Mussenden Temple and its manor house (Downhill Castle) are open to the public all year, dawn to dusk. The Temple offers magnificent views over Downhill Strand and Benone Strand beaches.
The lake was originally designed as a fishpond and a number of mallard ducks have taken up residence. Both the waymarked walks pass by this elongated pond.
The Ulster Way runs through part of the forest and the North West Orienteering Club have also created a permanent orienteering course at the site. The walks are situated in a working forest environment and may be subject to diversion and closure from time to time. Up-to-date information is available on the Forest Service website.
Nearby Portstewart Strand, one of Northern Ireland’s Blue Flag beaches, is another great area to visit — with a long sandy beach and a large dune system, it’s the perfect spot for a day out with the kids.
The Barmouth is a sanctuary for waders, wildfowl and nesting birds, which can be viewed from a purpose-built hide on the west side of the River Bann.
For further information on walking or any other outdoor activity, please contact Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN), tel: 028 9030 3930 or walkni.com .
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: Downhill Forest.
Nearest big town to start point: Castlerock.
Distance: 1-2 miles.
Terrain: Gravel paths through forest.
Refreshments: Refreshments and toilets available in Castlerock.
Map: Sheets 4 of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discoverer Series, available from Land & Property Services Map Shop ( lpsni.gov.uk ).