Trails of the unexpected around Craigavon lakes
Northern Ireland's first purpose-built mountain bike trail winds its way round the natural contours of the Craigavon lakes, meandering through broadleaf woodlands and wildlflower meadows.
The route is also the first official purpose-built mountain bike trail in the UK to be designed and built within a city park.
It uses the natural habitat around the park to create a challenging and also scenic riding experience and is suitable for all cyclists with basic off-road riding skills.
The majority of the trail is purpose-built single-track linked with some wider tarmac sections. Some sections are more challenging than others and may include obstacles such as roots and rocks with some sharp turns.
From Belfast take the M1, exit at Junction 10 and take the 1st exit at the roundabout. Follow the road until you come to a set of traffic lights. From here follow the signs for Craigavon Centre until the Lakes Roundabout. At this roundabout take the 4th exit for the Watersports Centre.
Beginning at Craigavon Watersports Centre, cycle along the shared path to the left of the centre. From here follow the numbered signposts that are located at all 60 sections of the trail, as well as boulders on the ground to guide the cyclist in the right direction.
The trail follows the shared path past Craigavon Civic Centre, which will be to your left, and then veers right onto a narrow section through a grassy area following the lake shoreline. This section then rejoins the shared path continuing beside the lake shoreline until it meets the bridge that joins the North and South Lakes.
At this point follow the markers that will direct you up over the bridge to the other side, where you will then loop around and go under the bridge. On the other side of the bridge take a right turn where the markers will once again take you back over the bridge past the railway lines. Once on the other side, turn right and then left following the trail through some woodland and long grass along a narrow section.
This section then turns left back onto a shared path following the North Lake shoreline until it reaches another narrow section of path twisting through grassland — at the end of this section the path turns right onto a shared path.
At the next marker the trail turns left, where it meanders through woodland and at an interval the trail crosses over a shared path to woodland on the other side, where it eventually turns left to rejoin another shared pathway.
Follow this pathway until the next marker, which directs you left back onto a narrow path through another wooded section. This eventually crosses a shared path into woodland running alongside Tannaghmore Animal Farm, and at the end of this section the trail crosses the roadway at Tannaghmore Animal Farm across to a disused parking area. Follow the tarmaced path for approximately 50 metres until the next marker directs you between two boulders onto a narrow track into the woodland.
The trail then brings you back to the disused parking area. At a couple of intervals the trail crosses the shared path in and out of woodland until it returns to the bridge between the lakes. At this point follow the trail under the bridge onto the shared path following the South Lake shoreline.
The next marker directs you right onto a narrow section that still follows the shoreline. At the end of this section you cross the shared path onto a grassy bank — follow up this bank until the next marker, where you turn left into another area of woodland.
Follow the trail until you rejoin a narrow path that runs through grassland and fields until crossing a shared path back into a wooded section, which is more technical with twists and turns meandering through trees and rocks.
At the end of this section you cross a shared pathway and then turn left into a wooded section, which is again more technical. You eventually turn left onto the shared path that the cyclist should follow back to the Watersports Centre to the finish point.
Craigavon lakes were created during the early 1970s when an area of low-lying, poorly-drained land was excavated to create the two lakes which we see today. The South Lake was designated to act as a balancing lake, releasing rainwater collected into Lough Neagh.
During the late 1990s more than 10,000 trees were planted, creating the new woodland around the lakes and in 2008 much of the site, including the North Lake, was designated as a Local Nature Reserve. An area of particular importance lies between the two lakes containing areas of wet meadow and dry grassland, each providing a home for different types of plants and animals.
The land in this part of the reserve has had large quantities of limestone waste deposited on it in the past, creating conditions that are ideal for the growth of Bee Orchids — this is reputed to be the largest colony in Ireland with more than 1,000 plants having been recorded in the area.
Cycle Name: Craigavon Lakes Mountain Biking Trail.
Nearest town to start: Craigavon.
Distance: 6.5 miles circular.
Terrain: All off public road on purpose-built, single-track mountain bike trails.
Traffic: 100% traffic-free. At some points the mountain bike trail can cross and follow sections of shared path where there may be people with children, dogs or other cyclists.
Refreshments & Facilities: There are superb visitor facilities at Craigavon Watersports Centre. Bikes, equipment & guides are available for hire. Eating, drinking and toilet facilities are also available. Safe bicycle lock-up and refreshment facilities are available at Rushmere Shopping Centre.
Publications: ‘Walking and Cycling in Craigavon’ available from Lough Neagh Discovery Centre Tourist Information Point — tel 028 3832 2205. Also, downloadable Craigavon Lakes Family Mountain Biking Trail. Card available from cycleni.com.
Cycle Developed By: Craigavon Borough Council, Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN) and Sports Council Northern Ireland.