Ancient woodlands are usually out of bounds to the city dweller but not a lot of people realise there is one right on Belfast’s doorstep.
The Woodland Trust cares for some 70 hectares (173 acres) of land on Carnmoney Hill at Newtownabbey, which form a green oasis of grassland, wetland and woodland in an otherwise urban landscape — thanks to a lease arrangement with Newtownabbey Borough Council and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.
Walkers can choose a lower woodland walk or a hilltop walk as they explore the site. There could be some steep inclines but in return you are rewarded with breathtaking views over Belfast Lough and the surrounding countryside.
From the M2, proceed onto the M5. At the end of the M5 you will see a roundabout — follow the sign for Carrickfergus. At the next roundabout take the first left, signed to Glengormley.
Proceed straight ahead to the mini roundabout. Go straight ahead at this roundabout onto the O'Neill Road. Travel uphill and take the first right turn into Knockenagh Avenue. A short distance ahead you will see the entrance to Carnmoney Hill on the left. Park at the lay-by.
Walkers can choose between three walking routes — each clearly signed with red, yellow and blue waymarkers. The red route is the shortest and offers a 15 minute saunter around the foot of this ancient green monument. Eight hundred metres of pathway, suitable for pushchairs and wheelchairs, will lead you on your gentle stroll.
The yellow route will lead you on a lower woodland walk, which lasts up to 45 minutes and includes some steep inclines.
And for the more energetic walker, there's the blue route — the hilltop walk. Lasting up to two hours, this route will lead you up to and along the very top of the hill. The hilltop walk includes very steep inclines, but you will be rewarded with stunning scenery and views.
A welcome board is in place at the entrance and highlights the choice of walking routes. The routes are also detailed on a leaflet that is available from the Woodland Trust.
The wood at Carnmoney Hill is rich in history and is a honeypot for wildlife. It is one of the Borough's ancient, natural monuments and forms part of a chain of hills — the Belfast Hills — which provide a striking backdrop to the city.
Archaeological gems include two souterrains (man-made underground tunnels) that were probably used as escape routes from Vikings and other raiders.
A prehistoric rath or fortified settlement, known as Dunanney, provides evidence of human habitation on the Hill some 1,200 years ago. In ancient times, fairs and festivals were held at Dunanney, with its wonderful views over Belfast Lough. Also, keep a look out for the restored Victorian well.
The woodland includes fragments of rare ancient woodland — that's land which has been continuously wooded since at least 1600. The Woodland Trust has planted more than 57,000 young native trees that link and buffer the fragments of ancient woodland, providing an extended haunt for Carnmoney's precious wildlife.
The best viewpoint is from the top of the hill, where you can stop and stare at views over Belfast Lough, the Harland & Wolff cranes, south to the Mournes and north to the Antrim Coast. You'll also get an excellent view of Cave Hill — Carnmoney's impressive neighbour.
Extensive walking and cycling routes are in place to help you explore the beauty of Newtownabbey and its neighbouring areas. You can find more information at|newtownabbey.gov.uk/pursuits/cycling.asp.
Nearby attractions include Sentry Hill, a fascinating 19th century farmhouse located on the Ballycraigy Road, Newtownabbey. The house and its contents provide a unique insight into life in rural Ulster during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
For further information on walking or any other outdoor activity, please contact Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN) at 028 9030 3930 or walkni.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.
Walk Name: Carnmoney Hill.
Area: Carnmoney Hill in Newtownabbey is a Local Nature Reserve.
Nearest big town to start point: Carnmoney village in Newtownabbey, on the outskirts of Belfast.
Distance: 3 miles.
Terrain: Hill walk.
Access Restrictions: Carnmoney Hill is freely open to visitors all year round.
Publications: The Woodland Trust’s leaflet ‘Carnmoney Hill — a natural wonder of Newtownabbey’ is available from the Bangor office on 9127 5787 or from the Trust's website treeforall.org.uk/northernireland. Belfast Hills Walking Map and Guide is available from the Belfast Hills Partnership website belfasthills.org/downloads.php
Walk Developed By: The Woodland Trust. The project has been made possible thanks to Newtownabbey Borough Council, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Big Lottery Fund, Forest Service, Millennium Commission, Northern Ireland Housing Executive, Biffaward, Better Belfast and Belfast Hills Partnership.
Map: Sheet 15 of Ordnance Survey Northern Ireland Discoverer Series. Grid reference J342 829