Connswater Community Greenway: Walkers' delight at revamped riverside
£40m Connswater Community Greenway project celebrates links to Van Morrison
Walkers enjoying a riverside stroll in east Belfast have praised the remarkable transformation of the Connswater from a shabby backwater to scenic landmark.
For years, few people have considered the banks of the Connswater River an appealing place for a weekend stroll.
Gloomy and run-down, they had little appeal, despite including the 'Hollow' - a spot made famous by Belfast singing legend Van Morrison in his 1967 rock anthem, Brown Eyed Girl.
But today it's no longer derelict. And that was a matter for celebration at the weekend, as residents gathered to see the changes.
The event marked the completion of a major leg of the £40m Connswater Community Greenway project, which should eventually transform the river and its banks into an place of natural beauty.
Today, the area between Grand Parade and Beersbridge Road - which includes Sir Van's Hollow right beside his old primary school, Elmgrove - has been completely redesigned.
No more discarded rubbish and thorny overgrowth - instead there's now a neat footpath and a small car park to encourage visitors. Many took the opportunity to try the newly re-pointed Conn O'Neill bridge in the Hollow, or followed new signs that explain the history of the area and its connection with Van Morrison, who lived in nearby Hyndford Street.
For local couple George and Sandra Bowden, who live in Grand Parade, the revamp couldn't come soon enough.
"It's a great change," said George, who is in his 60s. "It used to be very derelict and overgrown here."
Sandra, also in her 60s, added: "Instead of going up and down the roads you can go this lovely way. Not only does it improve access for children going to school but also for older people going to Connswater Shopping Centre."
Bryan Burke (58), who has lived in the area for 25 years, said: "Many years ago it was nice but it's become a bit of a waste ground in recent times. So it's great to see the transformation. I've been looking forward to it for a while."
Mr Burke, who works as a GP, hopes it will encourage locals to be more active outdoors. "I hope it will get people out there, walking, and encourage them to exercise more," he said. "It's a lovely place for kids to come as well."
Local teacher, Simon Lemon (39), who lives in the Orby area of east Belfast, was out walking with his wife, Maria, and son, David. He commented: "Up until yesterday we could only walk up to the Grand Parade. This means we can walk right through. This is our first time down. They've done a really good job.
"When I was younger it wasn't developed at all. You could come down here and muck about, but it wasn't pedestrianised."
The revamp marks the third stage in the project.
Already completed are clean-ups of Orangefield Park and Victoria Park, and bridges named after east Belfast playwright Sam Thompson and a Van Morrison song called Avalon. Eventually, the renovation project will include the creation of a 9km linear park through east Belfast, following the course of the Connswater, Knock and Loop rivers.
Several of the rivers will be cleaned up.
In the end, the improvements will see 26 new or improved bridges and crossings, 16km of foot and cycle paths and a CS Lewis-themed civic square.