The Belfast Castle we see today, some 120 metres (400ft) above sea level, is actually the third ‘Belfast Castle’ to have been built in the city. The magnificent sandstone building only dates back to the 19th century and almost wasn’t completed after the money ran dry. It is now managed by Belfast City Council and offers a host of associations with the city’s past.
This walk takes you through the rich woodland and parkland of the Castle estate, which commands stunning views down over the city, but you can always visit the visitor centre in the castle itself for more information as well as refreshments and facilities.
By car and bike, reach the entrance from Antrim Road, via Innisfayle Park or Cave Hill Adventurous Playground. The site is served by bus Metro Services 1A-1H (Mon - Sat) 1C-1E or 1H (Sun).
From the car park just before Belfast Castle, this route follows the blue way-marked ‘Estate Trail'. Cross the main driveway and take the path down the hill, turning in front of the castle (outside the security fence). Turn right down past the Adventurous Playground and its car park.
As the main driveway veers to the right, take the small path on the left leading uphill. This will take you past the rear of the Millennium Maze, on the site of the old rose garden. This path will lead you on to another tarmac driveway.
Turn left and follow the drive uphill for a short distance. Where the drive veers left, take the gravel path to your left, keeping to the right of the next junction. You will soon come to the Volunteer's Well on your left with a stream on your right.
At the well on your left, continue uphill before taking the second gravel path on your left to begin the descent back towards the Castle. At the next two junctions keep right. Occasionally you will get glimpses of Belfast Castle and the city below through the trees.
This path continues along the back of the castle for some distance before doubling back on itself and descending on to the main driveway. Turn right and follow the footpath until you reach the main gates to the park.
Watch for traffic as you cross the driveway and take the footpath ahead. This leads back up the hill to the car park, past the sculpture of a peregrine on the right.
The first ‘Belfast Castle' was built by the Normans in the late 12th century on what is now the city centre. In 1611 Sir Arthur Chichester, Baron of Belfast, built a stone and timber castle on the same site. This was burned down almost 100 years later, leaving only street names such as Castle Place and Castle Lane to mark the location.
The Chichesters (later the Donegalls) lived in England as absentee landlords but came to live at Ormeau at the beginning of the 19th century. After re-marrying in 1862, the 3rd Marquis of Donegall decided to build a new residence within his Deer Park on the slopes of Cave Hill. The architect, John Lanyon, drew up plans for the present castle in Scottish Baronial style.
Belfast Castle was completed in 1870, having far exceeded the initial estimate cost of £11,000. The Donegall fortune had dwindled so drastically that the project was nearly left unfinished. The son-in-law of the Marquis, Lord Ashley, heir to the title Earl of Shaftesbury, stepped in and paid for its completion.
Today it plays host to functions, receptions, conferences and exhibitions and is open to the public for all to enjoy its splendour. You can visit the Cave Hill Visitor Centre on the 2nd floor and toilets and refreshments are available in the basement. Tel: 9037 1013 for opening hours and admission prices.
For further information on walking or any other outdoor activity, please contact Countryside Access and Activities Network at 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: Belfast Castle Estate.
Area: Antrim Road, Belfast.
Nearest big town to start point: Belfast.
Distance: 2.4 miles / 3.9km.
Terrain: Gravel paths, some steep hills.
Refreshments: The cellar restaurant is open to the public and is located in the basement of the Castle. Public toilets also available.
Publications: A Walk in the Park, available from Belfast City Council, Parks Section or via the website www.belfastcity.gov.uk/parks . A Breath of Fresh Air — The Story of Belfast's Parks by Robert Scott available from Belfast City Council. Belfast Castle and Cave Hill Country Park leaflets available from Belfast City Council.
Walk Developed By: Belfast City Council.
Map: Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discovery Series sheet 15, available from LPSNI Map Shop, Colby House, Stranmillis, Belfast BT9 SBJ, www.lpsni.gov.uk