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It’s all Downhill from stunning North Coast

By Linda Stewart

Take a short trip from Castlerock village to Downhill Forest along a route that commands stunning coastal scenery and magnificent views towards Donegal.

The headland of Binevenagh on the North Coast is very distinctive with its cliffs that have vertical drops of more than 100m. This coastline offers spectacular panoramic views of Magilligan, Inishowen in Co Donegal and Islay and Jura in Scotland and includes some of the finest beaches and dune systems in Ireland, making it a great place for walking and cycling alike.

On the cycle ride, which mostly travels through travel-free sections of National Cycle Route 93, you will see two of the tallest Sitka Spruce trees in Ireland, known by some locals as ‘Laurel and Hardy’.

Directions

NCN Route 93 passes along the North Coast, connecting Portrush, Portstewart, Coleraine, Castlerock and Limavady. The promenade in Castlerock is easily accessed off Route 93. Castlerock is served by the Belfast/Londonderry railway line and also Ulsterbus services. By car follow the A2 to Castlerock.

The starting point for this route is the promenade in Castlerock, close to the seafront and adjacent to the toilet block. Cyclists follow the main road through the village, taking extra care crossing the railway line. Shortly after crossing the railway line, cyclists pick up the traffic-free cycle path that leads to the forest.

At the Sea Road/Mussenden Road junction, turn right and follow the cycle path towards Downhill Estate, home to the famous Mussenden Temple. Take care crossing Freehall Road, and again when crossing Mussenden Road to access the forest. Just inside the forest entrance gate, care must be taken descending the first hill.

Follow the waymarkers through the forest, passing two of the tallest Sitka Spruce trees in Ireland. The traffic-free section of this route ends where the forest paths joins Burrenmore Road. Cyclists then return to Castlerock via the same route (or leave the forest and continue along NCN Route 93 towards Gortmore View Point).

The Backdrop

Hezlett’s picturesque thatched cottage exterior hides a fascinating early timber frame dating from 1690, making it one of the oldest vernacular domestic buildings in Northern Ireland. The story of the Castlerock house is told through the experiences of the people who lived there.

The National Trust offers guided tours of the house — contact them at Downhill Demesne, tel: 028 7084 8728 for more information.

Meanwhile, there cannot be a more wild and dramatic place in Northern Ireland than the landscape park of Downhill. The mansion uniquely reflects the personality of its flamboyant creator, Earl Bishop Harvey.

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.

Downhill Forest is a small mixed woodland of 83 hectares just inland from the North Coast, near Castlerock. The forest was originally part of the estate of Frederick Harvey, the 4th Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry, which included Downhill Castle, now maintained by The National Trust.

The lake was originally designed as a fishpond and a number of mallard ducks have taken up residence.

Further information

For further information on cycling or any other outdoor activity, please contact Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN) tel: 028 9030 3930 or cycleni.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.

Cycle Name: Castlerock to Downhill Forest.

Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty: Binevenagh.

Nearest town to start: Castlerock.

Distance: 2 miles, linear.

Terrain: All off public road.

Traffic: Care should be taken from the promenade, crossing the railway line in Castlerock, and cycling on the roads through the village. Additionally, the cycle path crosses a couple of roads before reaching Downhill Forest. Cyclists may encounter Forest Service vehicles within the forest itself.

Refreshments: Refreshments and toilets available in Castlerock. Car parking available at promenade at starting point.

Publications: Cycling in the Borough of Coleraine leaflet. This route is also part of the Ballyshannon to Ballycastle route which is available to purchase at Coleraine Tourist Information Centre, tel: 028 7034 4723.

Cycle Developed By: Sustrans and Coleraine Borough Council.

Map: Sheet 4 of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discoverer Series, available from Land & Property Services Map Shop (lpsni.gov.uk).

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