Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Walk of the Week: Ness Country Park

Ness Country Park lies in the steep, wooded glen of the Burntollet Valley, an oasis of woodland southeast of Londonderry.

It’s made up of 55 hectares of mixed woodland, including Ness Wood, Ervey Wood and Tannymore Woods, as well as more open parkland, and these have now been linked by Donaghy’s Farm, which provides access to 7km of woodland and riverside walk and affords splendid views across the valley.

Extensive development work has recently been completed by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), and the park now extends along both sides of the Burntollet River, joining Ness and Ervey Woods.

This walk takes you from the new visitor centre, past the wildflower meadows and along the banks of the Burntollet River into Ness Wood where the highest waterfall in Northern Ireland can be found, and back to the visitor centre, with the option of a further walk through Ervey Wood.

Directions

Ness Country Park is located approximately 7 miles from the city of Londonderry. There are three car parks at the country park — the main entrance is signposted from the A6, via Oughtagh Road. There is also car parking at Ervey Wood and further along the Oughtagh Road at Ness Wood.

From the main car park at the visitor centre, take the path leading straight down to Brown’s Bridge. Follow the path to the right before it crosses the bridge. This easy path will take you past the wildflower meadow to Hone’s Bridge.

Cross Hone’s Bridge and follow the path alongside the Burntollet River. When the path splits, take the steps to follow the upper path and continue along this uphill path for approximately one mile.

You will see the waterfall viewing point on this path — take a moment to catch your breath and admire the view. Continue along the path until you come to a junction where you will take the path leading to the right.

Follow this path until you reach Shane’s Bridge. Cross the bridge and continue along the path until it reaches a T-junction. At this point take the path leading right and cross back over the river.

Once you have crossed the river, follow the path alongside the river until you reach Hone’s Bridge. At this point take the path to the left which will take you past the wildflower meadows and ponds and back to the Visitor Centre car park.

The backdrop

The earliest evidence of local human settlements are the Bronze age remains at Slaughtmanus, Ballygroll and Mullaboy. During the Early Christian period, it is believed that St Patrick founded the church of Commyr (now Cumber), afterwards burned by the Norse in the ninth century. Later, the area became part of the O'Cahan's territory in North Derry, until the 1641 rebellion, after which the last O'Cahan forfeited his lands.

With the plantation of Ulster in the seventeenth century, the wood was allotted to the Grocer's Company, one of the London Guilds charged with planting Co Derry, and subsequently to the Stevenson Estate.

The main feature of the 20 hectare Ness Wood is a spectacular waterfall, the highest in Northern Ireland, from which the Park derives its name. “Ness” is an anglicised form of the Irish “an las”, which means “The Waterfall”.

The wood formed after the last Ice Age around ten thousand years ago because the old Burntollet River course was choked by glacial boulder clay deposits. In eroding a new channel through the underlying metamorphic schist rocks, the river created the waterfall, with gorges, potholes and rapids which are a feature of Ness Wood today.

In spring, bluebell, wood sorrel and primrose provide a spectacular woodland carpet. In autumn, it is the fungi that put on an attractive display including the Wood Woolly Foot, the Red Sickener and Yellow Winter Fungus.

Look out for circling buzzards, jays, treecreepers and chaffinches singing in the trees. The presence of dippers along the river tells us that the water here is clean.

As you walk along the riverside paths, look out for otters. These animals depend on the pristine waters of the Burntollet River for their food and water supply. Although shy, they are much more common than you might think.

Further information

For further information on walking or any other outdoor activity, please contact Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN) at, tel: 028 9030 3930 or www.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: Ness Country Park — Waterfall Trail.

Area: Ness Country Park, Co Londonderry.

Nearest big town to start point: Londonderry/Claudy/Eglinton.

Distance: 3 miles.

Time: Walkers should leave over an hour to fully appreciate the sights and sounds on this walk.

Terrain: Sections of this walk are on woodland and riverside paths with small short sections of wooden boardwalk.

Suitability: There are some sections of wooden steps, with three pedestrian footbridges crossing the Burntollet River which can be steep in places. This walk is not suitable for wheelchairs or prams.

Access Restrictions: Please ensure that dogs are kept under control and please clean up after your dog. There are no litter bins, so please take all your litter home.

Refreshments: Ness Garden Centre, at the Ervey Road junction off the A6, has a coffee shop which is very popular with visitors to the country park.

Walk Developed By: Northern Ireland Environment Agency

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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