Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 23 October 2014

Walk of the Week: Beech Hill - Marine Trail

Three miles of circular trails twist their way through the mixed woodland and landscaped gardens of the Beech Hill Country House Hotel near the River Faughan.

The property is a nature lover’s haven, where the trails weave their way through the woodland which appeared on the first edition Ordnance Survey maps (1830-1844) and in records from the mid-19th century.

This long-established woodland is home to plant species such as wood sorrel, bluebell and an array of fungi. This quality of woodland is rare in Northern Ireland and provides the opportunity to catch a glimpse of red squirrels, bats, buzzards and pheasants.

Directions

Along the main A6 Londonderry to Belfast road, turn off at Faughan Bridge (Beech Hill signage at the bottom of the hill). Travel a mile further to Ardmore Chapel. You will see the hotel entrance on your left.

Follow the blue waymarker disks that say Marine Trail from the trail head, which is located at the western end of the hotel car park. The trail flows in an anti-clockwise direction, leading you past the Kennedy–Skipton coat of arms and the top pond. Follow to the left of the top pond. The Gate Lodge, Walled Garden and Stone Arch can be seen from here.

Continue to cross the top pond bridge. The trail then weaves its way through the woodland to emerge onto the Lime and Beech Tree Avenue. Continue following the blue waymarkers. The trail then joins an old vehicle track leading past the car park which contains the old Quonset Huts.

Continue following the Marine Trail directing you to the right, onto the purpose-built trail. From here the trail weaves through the peaceful natural woodland until reaching a trail junction.

Bear left following the Marine Trail waymarkers, before crossing over a vehicle track. Look out for the ‘footprints' of the other 400 Quonset huts which once made up Beech Hill Camp, before reaching the vehicle track. Weave your way through the woodland, passing the Marine Memory Tree just before rejoining the vehicle track.

Bear left up the hill towards the bridge between the middle and bottom ponds. From here, there are pleasant views of the bottom pond, waterfall and the middle pond bridge. Continue to follow the waymarkers leading left after passing across the bridge. The Beech Hill Water Wheel can be seen from here.

The backdrop

The first house to stand on the richly wooded Ardmore site was built in 1622 and was known as Ballyshaskey. It was commissioned by an Englishman Alexander Skipton, who was shot dead in a land ownership dispute with a local family the day before his family was due to move into the mansion.

His son, Captain Thomas Skipton, took up residence there in 1638. But in a period of rebellion three years later, Thomas and his wife Charity were forced to flee and their home was burned to the ground.

Seemingly undeterred by these disasters, in 1661 Captain Skipton put up a new house called Skipton Hall. It stood on the opposite side of the brook. The family remained there until the siege of 1688, when a retreating army reduced Skipton Hall to ashes. Thomas’s son and heir, Captain Alex Skipton, continued to live on the estate in an out-house until his death in 1704. Captain Thomas Skipton was the man we have to thank for the present house. It was he who built it in 1739 and, because of the large number of surrounding trees, gave it the name of Beech Hill.

Two generations later Thomas Skipton added a wing stretching out towards the brook and made some significant changes to the gardens. When he died the estate passed on to his cousin George Crookshanks Kennedy. George continued a programme of improvements. He planted a substantial number of new trees and improved the layout and appearance of the grounds, which he believed would give people much pleasure.

A change in ownership came in 1878 when Beech Hill was bought by the wealthy Nicholsons of Newbuildings.

On February 5, 1942, the United States Marines occupied Beech Hill. They had been sent to protect Londonderry’s WWII military installations.

The present owners, Patsy O’Kane and her brother Seamus Donnelly, bought the house in 1989 and undertook two years of refurbishment with the Country House opening in 1991 for the first time. Former US President Bill Clinton came to stay in 1998.

Further information

For further information on walking or any other outdoor activity, please contact Outdoor Recreation NI (formerly CAAN) at, tel: 028 9030 3930 or walkni.com.

Outdoor Recreation NI (formerly CAAN) in association with Belfast Telegraph have provided this information. Every care has been taken to ensure accuracy of the information.

Outdoor Recreation NI 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: Beech Hill – Marine Trail.

Area: Derry.

Nearest big town to start point: Derry.

Distance: 1 mile.

Time:Approximately 20-30 minutes.

Terrain: This walk takes place on flat, wide paths.

Access restrictions: Dogs must be kept under close control.

Facilities/refreshments: Beech Hill has car parking for up to 80 cars. The restaurant serves lunch from 12.30–2.30pm, dinner from 5.30–9.30pm. Afternoon Tea and light snacks are served in the bar or outside weather permitting. Toilet facilities are also available in the hotel.

Walk developed by: This walk was developed by Outdoor Recreation NI and is maintained by Beech Hill Country House Hotel.

Map: Sheet 7 of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discoverer Series, available from Land & Property Services Map Shop (lpsni.gov.uk).

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