Walks walk off with top marks
The Belfast Hills Partnership was celebrating this week after five of its walks received seals of approval from the new Quality Walks scheme.
Tourists and locals will be able to track down Ulster's finest walking routes with the help of the scheme. Short, medium and long Quality Walks will be highlighted by the Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN) on its award-winning website WalkNI.com .
More than 220 routes across Northern Ireland have already undergone inspection by hikers.
The graded walks will soon feature a 'quality stamp' at their start and finish.
Each of the routes has been checked out for availability of facilities at the start, such as car parking, toilets and walk information.
They have also been assessed for signage, and both road and off-road walking.
"As part of the overall walk, assessment consideration is given as to whether the walk is through scenic landscapes and if the walk is suitable for the tourist market," a CAAN spokesman said. "By choosing one of these walks on the website, walkers can leave home with the knowledge that their selected route is one of the best Northern Ireland has to offer."
The walks at Cave Hill and Belfast Castle estate have made the grade, while Divis and Black Mountain, Colin Glen and Slievenacloy nature reserve were also successful. Belfast Hills Partnership manager Dr Jim Bradley said the initiative would bring new walkers into the hills.
"It's a great idea to have this quality scheme.
"People can be confident of where they want to walk and they will know that the paths and facilities are up to the mark," Dr Bradley added
Clare Wright of CAAN said the Belfast Hills had some of the most stunning landscapes anywhere in Northern Ireland.
"This is a great achievement for the Belfast Hills and we commend all those partners involved in getting the Belfast Hills to such a high standard of accreditation," she said.
Terry Eakin, of the Environment and Heritage Service, said: "Using one criterion to assess all quality walks in Northern Ireland allows walkers from near or far to identify the best easily, not only on the website but also when they are out there touring the countryside."