Belfast Telegraph

Walk of the Week: A shore way to explore Lough Neagh’s history

By Linda Stewart

Rea’s Wood National Nature Reserve lies at the north-east corner of Lough Neagh.

The reserve forms one of the largest unspoilt areas of natural woodlands developing on land resulting from periodical lowerings of Lough Neagh during the past 50 years. There is a rich and varied ground flora, succeeded by sapling growth of willow and alder. Several very rare invertebrates have been recorded. The area has much to offer, from the natural beauty of its woods and forests, to its unique heritage sites.

Directions

To get there follow the signs to the Lough Shore Park off the Dublin Road in Antrim. On reaching the park, turn left and continue to the car park that looks out over Lough Neagh. Rea’s Wood now lies to your left as you look out over the Lough. From the car park follow the path into Rea’s Wood. Continue to walk through Rea’s Wood, ignoring all tracks off to the right and left.

After 750m you reach the National Nature Reserve. After a further kilometre, the path reaches an iron gate. This is the southern limit of the National Nature Reserve and there is no public access beyond this point. However, a path then veers off to the left, leading to the Dublin Road. You can then either take this route turning left onto the Dublin Road, then left again into Lough Road and back to your starting point, or alternatively, simply retrace your steps back to the Lough Shore Park.

The backdrop

At 383 sq-km, Lough Neagh is the largest freshwater lake in Ireland and Britain. A lake, of varying size, has existed here at different times over the geological past.

Some 60 million years ago, north-east Ireland was the scene of intense volcanic activity and large volumes of lava were erupting. Older fractures, or faults, that had already existed here began to give way under the weight of the newly erupted lava and the Earth’s crust began to sag. By 25 million years ago, large depressions had formed and they filled with water. Thick layers of clay accumulated on the floor of these ancient lakes, while around their shores, a warm, moist climate allowed forests to grow. As the trees of these forests died their rotting remains were compacted into peat and then into brown coal or lignite. Although rarely seen at the surface or around the Lough shore, Lough Neagh is underlain in places by clay over 340m thick and lignite some 100m thick.

Unlike the ancient lignite forest that once existed here, which was dominated by palms, conifers, cypress and ferns, Rea’s Wood today is a fine example of a wet woodland. Dominated by alder, birch and willow trees, the richly vegetated woodland floor is home for many plants as well as for rare invertebrates including snails, slugs, hoverflies and beetles. Some of these creatures are relics from the end of the Ice Age, some 13,000 years ago. They have survived due to the unbroken history of woodland cover here since trees recolonised the land after the retreat of the ice.

In the midst of some of the mossy alder trees, swampy areas on the woodland floor are filled with sedges, marsh marigold, tall yellow flag irises and the rare summer snowflake. In springtime, the floor is filled with wood anemone, wild garlic and the lesser celendine. Spring is also a time for birdsong and among the familiar songs of the blackbird, wren and robin, the calls of the blackcap, willow warbler and chiffchaff may be heard.

Between the path and the lough shore, several parallel sand bars can be seen with wet peaty hollows in between them. These hollows were once part of Lough Neagh itself but, following various schemes to control the level of the water in the Lough, they have been left isolated as the level of the Lough has fallen. Today, Lough Neagh is 3.6m lower than it was in 1847.

Once back at the entrance to Rea’s Wood, look to the right (i.e. westwards) to see the ruins of Shane’s Castle.

Further information

For further information on walking or any other outdoor activity, contact Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN), tel: 9030 3930 or visit walkni.com.

CAAN and Antrim Borough Council 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: Rea’s Wood.

Factfile

Area: Lough Neagh.

Nearest big town: Antrim Town.

Distance: 2.5 miles (4km) linear.

Time: Approximately 1 hour.

Terrain: Off road paths.

Suitability: This walk is on unsurfaced forest paths and so is unsuitable for those with limited mobility.

Access Restrictions: None however please note that in blending in with the nature of this local woodland, the path may on occasions have some loose stones or be slightly uneven. Therefore, care should be taken when walking or cycling along the path. Also, since the woodland has a rich diversity of wildlife to see, please keep dogs on leads.

Publications: Lough Neagh Partnership has produced the ‘Lough Neagh Walking Guide’, which includes the walk through Rea’s Wood. A copy of this publication can be downloaded from discoverloughneagh.com.

Walk Developed By: Antrim Borough Council.

Map: Sheets 14 of OS Northern Ireland Discovery Series available from OSNI Map Shop, Colby House, Stranmillis, Belfast BT9 SBJ osni.gov.uk.

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