Walk of the Week: Colin Glen Forest Park
Colin Glen Forest Park is Belfast's ‘green lung' with trails following the Colin River through the beautiful wooded glen on surfaced paths.
The forest park consists of 200 acres of native broadleaf woodland through which the Colin River flows. Regeneration has transformed the glen from the brink of destruction and built it into an area of natural woodland beauty.
The woodland follows the line of the Colin River on the slopes of Black Mountain and provides an area of high-density population with an oasis of tranquillity. This walk offers the opportunity to experience great views of the glen, the Belfast Hills and Belfast City.
The Forest Park Centre car park and entrance is at 163, Stewartstown Road, Belfast. Visitors travelling from Belfast city centre should take the M1, leaving the motorway at Junction 3 and follow the brown and white tourist signs for the Colin Glen Forest Park from the end of the slip road (Blacks Road). Visitors from Lisburn direction should follow the brown-and-white tourist signs from the Queensway roundabout.
The walk begins at the car park at the Colin Glen Forest Park Centre, entering through the pedestrian gates and into the park. Follow the main path past the red suspension bridge, keeping the Colin River on your right and you will come to the Hannahstown trail, which is marked with red arrows.
Climbing uphill through the woodland, keep left at the next two junctions and views across the glen will open up in front of you as well as the hills above and city below.
Turning right at the next junction will lead you down 39 steps to a wildlife pond, where you might see moorhens, coots or even a heron feeding on fish or small mammals. Following the path to the left will bring you to the Tri-bridge.
From here, if you turn right the path will lead you to the Cantilever Bridge under the Glen Road and up into the Upper Colin Glen, which is a National Trust property. If you cross the Tri-bridge, this will take you back down the glen, passing the Weir and Gamekeeper’s Bridge on your way back to the car park.
Before this century, Colin Glen was a game reserve, used by local landowners for sport, while they also used the Colin River to power a linen mill. The weir and mill race, used to direct the river to the holding pond at Glenville Dam (now the Half Moon Lake), are easily found, while areas of the forest predominant in laurel shrubs are evidence of the work of the gamekeeper who planted them to shelter the young game birds.
The gamekeeper is also remembered in the Gamekeeper's Bridge across the river, on the site of the original stone bridge where he charged a toll to cross — the foundations of which can still be seen below the modern metal bridge.
Between the wars, McGladdery's Brick Manufacturers scarred the southwest banks of the river in the open cast quarrying of the local outcrop of red brick clay (Keuper Marl) and later were to set up a factory to produce bricks on site. The pits they were to create were later to be used as a landfill site and it was the combination of the landfilling and brick manufacturing debris that led to the deterioration of the Glen and the Colin River, along with the associated fly tipping, vandalism and neglect.
The Colin Glen Trust, a community-based environmental organisation, was formed in 1989 and has restored the glen to its former glory with the capping of the landfill site, the removal of thousands of tonnes of debris from the river and the glen and the creation of the infrastructure of paths and bridges. The planting of thousands of native trees and shrubs and the establishment of ponds have allowed the return of local wildlife to their natural habitats.
Native woodland trees and woody shrubs include oak, ash, silver birch, alder, hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel, holly, elm and willow. Colin Glen Forest Park is home to several pairs of sparrowhawks, whilst kestrels are regularly seen feeding in the open ground of the reclaimed rubbish dump.
The woodland is also home for many small bird species including finches, tits, wrens, blackbird, wood pigeons, swallows, hooded crows and tree creepers, dippers and grey wagtails.
There are also dragonflies, damselflies and many other flying, swimming and ground-living invertebrates. Investigation of ponds, the forest floor or in the trees themselves can uncover thousands of these tiny creatures. Nets can be hired from the Forest Park Centre or insect ‘safaris' arranged with the education officer staff at the Forest Park Centre.
For further information on walking or any other outdoor activity, please contact Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland, tel: 028 9030 3930 or walkni.com.
Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland (formerly CAAN) in association with Belfast Telegraph has provided this information. Every care has been taken to ensure accuracy of the information. Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland 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: Colin Glen Forest Park.
Area: Stewartstown Road, Belfast.
Nearest town to start point: Belfast.
Distance: 4 miles, circular.
Time: You should allow approximately one hour and 30 minutes to complete this walk.
Terrain: Parkland and riverside surfaced paths with some steep hills.
Refreshments & Facilities: Mona’s café located within the Forest Park Centre is one of the most popular cafés on the Stewartstown Road. Opening hours: Mon–Fri 9am–3pm, Sat 9am–4pm,
Walk Developed By: The Colin Glen Trust.
Map: Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discovery Series sheet 15, available from LPSNI Map Shop (lpsni.gov.uk).