If you fancy cranking up the miles for a longer bike ride, the 35-mile Craigavon Cycle Trail could be the one for you.
This circular route explores the Borough of Craigavon, linking its renowned inland waterways with the shores of Lough Neagh and some picturesque villages.
The level traffic-free sections through City Park and the Portadown to Newry canal are suited to family or novice cyclists, while the undulating countryside of Co Armagh offers magnificent vistas of Slieve Croob and the distant Mourne Mountains for those wishing to explore farther afield.
Translink provide regular bus services from Belfast to Portadown. By car, take the M1 from Belfast and join the M12 signposted Portadown. The motorway will then join the A3, which leads to the Bann Bridge and Portadown town centre.
Push off from the Bann Bridge in Portadown, and head south along the towpath along the River Bann to the Point of Whitecoat bridge, where the Newry Canal Towpath begins.
Shortly after crossing the footbridge you will pass Moneypenny's Lock and Lightermen's Bothy before reaching Knock Bridge, where you leave the towpath. Heading north, you pass the ancient Lisamintry Rath and into Waringstown, with a chance to experience great views of Slieve Croob and the Mournes.
Oxford Island Nature Reserve on the shore of Lough Neagh lies farther along the route. The view from here is one of the best across Europe's fifth largest lake.
From here, join Routes 9 & 94 towards Craigavon and the City Park. Craigavon is served by an extensive network of cycle paths, taking you back to Portadown.
The Point of Whitecoat Bridge is at the end of the canal and the confluence of the Bann and Cusher rivers.
The Newry Canal towpath follows the first major inland waterway in the British Isles. The canal opened to traffic in March 1742 and provided an important transportation link within Northern Ireland and beyond.
Moneypenny's Lock lies on the Newry Canal south of Portadown and is administered jointly by the Museum Services and the Lough Neagh Discovery Centre on Oxford Island. The Newry Canal is the oldest ‘summit level’ canal in the British Isles and was a major feat of 18th-century engineering and ingenuity.
Moneypenny's Lock consists of the old lock chamber; the early 19th-century lockkeepers house itself (named after the Moneypenny family who were lockkeepers there for 80 years) and the stables and bothy.
These buildings contain displays illustrating life on the canal, from the ‘canal folk’ and the various types of boats that would have been seen on it to the flora and fauna that lived in the surrounding area. In addition to the permanent displays, there is a moving model designed specially for schools that will show how the lock gates at Moneypenny's were operated.
The route takes in the villages of Waringstown and Bleary. Waringstown was founded in the 17th century by Samuel Waring, one of the pioneers of Irish commercial linen production, and features a manor house and church. Bleary is home to Bloomvale House. This historic thatched house was built in 1785 and was home to a substantial linen business. The house and its outbuildings are home to Ballydougan pottery, where pottery is handcrafted using traditional techniques.
Oxford Island Nature Reserve features four miles of footpaths, five birdwatching hides, woodland, ponds, wildflower meadows, picnic and play areas. The centre is fully accessible and has a craft and gift shop. There is also a loughside café with panoramic views of Lough Neagh.
The city section of the trail runs through 180 hectares of parkland alongside the Craigavon City Parks’ two man-made lakes. From the park you can easily access Tannaghmore Gardens, which has a rare breeds farm that is home to many species of animal. It also boasts a large children’s adventure playground, themed garden sculpture trails and the barn museum.
For further information on cycling or any other outdoor activity, please contact Countryside Access and Activities Network at 028 9030 3930 or www.cycleni.com.
Countryside Access and Activities Network (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: Craigavon Cycle Trail.
Nearest town to start point: Portadown.
Distance: 35 miles circular route.
Terrain: Grade 1-2 (easy gradient mainly on traffic-free paths and minor roads).
Access Restrictions: Twelve miles of this trail is on traffic-free paths, with the remainder on minor roads with light traffic. There are parts where the trail crosses main roads.
Refreshments: Refreshment and toilet facilities are available at Portadown town centre. Disabled car parking is available at Oxford Island, Portadown Boat Club and Craigavon Lakes. There are bike stands at each of these facilities too.
Publications: Walking and cycling in Craigavon, Craigavon Cycle Trail.
Cycle Developed By: Government departments, local councils, community groups and coordinated by the charity Sustrans.
Map: Sheet 20 of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discoverer Series, available from Land & Property Services Map Shop (lpsni.gov.uk).