Take flight to the wild side of Dundrum Bay
The grassy track on the western shore of Dundrum Inner Bay on the Co Down coast is a pleasant change from cycling on roads.
It follows a stretch of disused railway line through an area that has become a haven for birdwatchers, with a variety of semi-natural habitats including herb-rich grassland, scrub and a narrow fringe of saltmarsh, and is part of the Lecale Way.
Turn right off the main A2 from Belfast to Newcastle, just a few hundred yards before entering Dundrum village, to reach the small National Trust car park where the trail begins.
To the east of the trail are the waters of Dundrum Inner Bay or, at low tide, its estuarine sands and muds. The area is of very high interest for its marine life and is part of the Murlough Special Area of Conservation.
It is important for wildfowl and waders in the winter such as oystercatcher, lapwing, redshank, curlew, black-tailed godwit, turnstone and grey plover due to the relatively mild climate and abundance of food found on the mudflats.
The gentle shelving shoreline of Dundrum Inner Bay merges with the shingle and dunes of Murlough. Across the bay lie the fertile plains of Lecale while behind the village, on the summit of a rocky hill, stands one of Northern Ireland's most evocative medieval ruins — Dundrum Castle.
Turn left and continue along the trail, following the waymarkers if necessary. The path follows the old railway line and opposite Ardilea Bridge an artificial embankment carries the track across the Inner Bay. The trail ends just beyond the bridge at Widow's Row, a small group of 19th century fishing cottages. Cyclists can return to the carpark by the same route.
Dundrum Bay is an important feeding area for summer seabirds such as gannets, Manx shearwaters, terns and auks and in winter supports internationally important numbers of wildfowl such as common scoter. The area is also a haul-out site for common and grey seals.
During the summer months several species of birds use the nearby beaches and dunes for nesting; ringed plover nest on the shingle beach itself and sandmartins nest in burrows made into the face of the dunes.
The route also commands good views of Dundrum Castle. The castle dates from the late 12th century and was a Norman fortress built by John de Courcy. The Normans introduced rabbits to Ireland, which were subsequently farmed at Murlough for meat and fur for centuries. Many local people still refer to Murlough as The Warren.
Dundrum Castle Woods have been an important feature in the landscape above the village for hundreds of years. The woods, surrounding Dundrum Castle are approximately 7.5 acres in size and were planted between 1820 and 1825 by the Marquis of Downshire, who followed the fashion of the early 19th century demesne planting, with its emphasis on mixtures of native, naturalised trees and exotics.
The canopy features mature beech with some sycamore and ash, scattered oak and wych elm along the lower edge and a few larch and Scots pine.
The coastal path itself is of considerable nature conservation interest with a variety of semi-natural habitats along its length, including herb-rich grassland, marginal scrub and scrub-woodland, marshy tall herb stands, brackish pools and a narrow fringe of saltmarsh.
Birds such as tits and warblers feed on large numbers of insects found along this cycle and birds of prey such as sparrowhawks and buzzards may also be seen using the nearby woods for feeding. With breathtaking views across the bay, this is one cycle that you are unlikely to forget.
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: Dundrum Coastal Path.
Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty: The Mournes.
Nearest town to start: Dundrum.
Distance: 1.7 miles linear.
Terrain: All off public road.
Access Restrictions: Cyclists must be aware that this grassy path forms part of the Lecale Way and is popular with walkers. Also be respectful of birdwatchers.
Facilities: Car park, bike racks, picnic table and National Trust holiday cottage. National Trust coffee shop nearby.
Cycle Developed By: The National Trust.
Map: Sheet 29 of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discoverer Series, available from Land & Property Services Map Shop (lpsni.gov.uk).