Get close to nature on the tranquil Antrim Hills
The Belfast Telegraph’s Walk This Way series came to a close last week after three years up hill and down dale.
We’re marking this landmark by revisiting the top-rated walk in each county as determined by hits on the WalkNI.com website. After this, we will be launching our next series of explorations around Northern Ireland’s spectacular and varied landscapes.
This week’s walk, first published on June 29, 2007, is one of our most spectacular, taking you off the beaten track into splendid isolation, even though part of the route goes through one of Northern Ireland's most popular forest parks.
Not only does Co Antrim’s Dungonnell Way pass through Glenariff Forest Park, it also follows Skerry East Road — one of the most attractive but least-used roads in Northern Ireland — and visits one of the lesser-known Glens of Antrim at Glenravel.
The 9.5-mile circular route offers a great chance to experience the loneliness of the Antrim Hills without getting your feet wet — the entire length of the route is hard surface.
Cargan village is located 10 miles north of Ballymena on the Glenravel Road (A43) and eight miles south of Cushendall. The walk can be started at various points on the circuit and can be walked in either direction.
Car parking is available at Dungonnell Dam, in Cargan village, and at the Drum Wood. It is a waymarked route with clear signage at all junctions.
The Dungonnell area lies on the watershed between the source of the Glenariff River, which drops six miles north to the sea at Red Bay, and the source of Glenravel Water, which flows south to meet the River Bann and on to Lough Neagh 30 miles away. This rewarding walk offers spectacular views that can be experienced both landward and seaward along the route.
The village of Cargan lies at the foot of Slievenanee Mountain in Glenravel, one of the lesser-known Glens of Antrim. In the 1800s it was known as Fisherstown, after the man who in 1866 developed an iron ore mine within the village.
The ore was shipped to Barrow-in-Furness, at first by horse and cart to the dock, then from 1875 by railway to Ballymena and onwards. The railway closed in 1937.
Dungonnell Dam was opened in 1971 and provides a water supply for Waterfoot, Cushendall, Cushendun, Glenravel, Broughshane, Clough, Glarryford and parts of Ballymena. Covering an area of 30 hectares when full, the reservoir holds a plentiful supply of brown trout.
Dungonnell lies in the Garron Plateau Area of Special Scientific Interest, designated because of its outstanding geology and peatland flora and fauna. The area also contains habitat types and species that are rare across Europe, earning it a further designation as a Special Area of Conservation.
The Garron Plateau is the biggest area of intact blanket bog in Northern Ireland. This site is rich in rare and notable plants, including narrow-leafed march orchid, bog orchid and marsh saxifrage — one of Northern Ireland’s rarest plants. Other plants that grow in abundance include the yellow-flowered bog asphodel and the insect-eating sundew.
The plateau is home to a large population of red grouse and serves as a good hunting ground for merlin, peregrine falcon, buzzard and hen harrier. Snipe, curlew, lark, teal and mallard may be sighted as well as fox, hare, rabbit, badger, red squirrel and stoat.
‘The Drum' wood managed by the Woodland Trust occupies 21 acres on gently sloping pasture and lies just above Cargan village at the foot of Slievenanee Mountain next to East Skerry Road. The area has been planted with 15,000 trees of native stock, including oak, ash, rowan, Scots pine, birch and alder.
Open areas have been left at the top of the woodland, next to the car park, supporting plant species including the common spotted orchid and ragged robin. The wood takes its name from the winding gear used for taking iron ore down to the railway. Ned Jackson Smyth created the steel centrepiece Angel of the Drum. The human outline within the rust-coloured steel symbolises man's connection with the rust-coloured earth.
The route was drawn up by Glenravel Environmental Improvement Association and funded by the Environment and Heritage Service and the Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust (using a NNRTI grant).
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: Dungonnell Way.
Area: Antrim Coast & Glens Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the boundary between Ballymena Borough Council and Moyle District Council.
Nearest big town to start point: Village of Cargan.
Terrain: Forest tracks and minor roads.
Access Restrictions: Visitors using the path should take extra care to conserve the special plants and animals by neither picking nor disturbing them, and by staying to the way-marked route at all times.
Refreshments: Cargan village and Glenariff Forest Park.
Publications: Dungonnell Way leaflet available from Ballymena TIC, tel: 028 2563 8494. Ballycastle Tourist Information Centre, tel: 028 2076 2024.
Walk Developed By: Glenravel Environmental Improvement Association, tel: 028 2175 8980 (email. firstname.lastname@example.org )
Map: Sheets 9 of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discovery Series, available from OSNI Map Shop, Colby House, Stranmillis, Belfast BT9 SBJ (osni.gov.uk).