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Walk of the week: Treasured views on Cave Hill

By Linda McKee

Featuring the distinctive outline of Napoleon's Nose, Cave Hill is probably the most recognised of the Belfast Hills looming over the city.

It is also one of the earliest settled spots in the area, as its steep slopes provided a valuable defence for Stone Age people against rival tribes and wild animals.

More recently its caves have provided shelter for people seeking safety from the wartime bombing raids.

These days, the most dangerous animals one is likely to see are the magnificent peregrine falcons, ravens and kestrels hunting over the mountain top.

What to bring

As a general rule, it is best to be over prepared than under prepared. Waterproof and windproof clothing are essential and strong walking boots are also advised. Walkers should carry enough food and water for the walk and for emergencies, as well as taking a first aid kit. As a further precaution, you are advised to inform someone of your intended route before you leave.


Cave Hill Country Park is located off the Antrim Road, Belfast. By bus, travel to Belfast Castle & Hazelwood entrance on Metro Line 1 (1A - 1H) Carr's Glen 12, 61. Car parking is available at Belfast Castle, Belfast Zoo (Hazelwood), Upper Cavehill Road and Upper Hightown Road.

This circular route begins at Belfast Castle. Follow the green waymarked arrows. It can also, however, be joined from Bellevue car park, Upper Hightown Road or Upper Cavehill Road.

Begin at the interpretative panel in the car park just before the entrance to Belfast Castle. Climb the path on your left until you reach the first junction, then turn right. Follow this path through the woodland, keeping to the left of any of the junctions you come to. This path leads up through the trees, climbing onto a plateau. Stop here to admire the fabulous views over the city and Belfast Lough.

Take the next path on your left. This skirts the Devil's Punchbowl, passing below the largest cave before veering to the right. Follow this path as it climbs steadily up the hill. Continue climbing up the steps to a cattle grid and fence - at the top veer to the left and follow the grass path to the top of the hill and McArt's Fort.

Then join the main path on its gradual descent down the south facing slopes of Cave Hill. Continue downhill, taking the next lane on your left. This leads down past the top of Carr's Glen and carries on for some distance before reaching the Upper Cavehill Road.

Go down the footpath a short way and take the path to the left. Climb over the ridge and descend into Belfast Castle Estate. Return to the starting point by the footpath up the main driveway.

The backdrop

Cave Hill rises to 368 metres (1,207 feet) above sea level. A country park was established in 1992 in recognition of its outstanding natural and historical features including land on top of Cave Hill and at Hazelwood, Bellevue, Belfast Castle and Carr's Glen.

Cave Hill derives its name from the caves on the cliffs, which were possibly early iron mines. There are five in total and the walker should be able to see at least three. They served as a retreat in early times to watch for invaders coming up Belfast Lough and, more recently, during the Second World War where the lowest caves and gullies were used for shelter from the bombing raids.

The hill is also referred to as Napoleon's Nose. When seen in silhouette against the sky it resembles a gigantic profile staring upwards, with McArt's Fort forming the emperor's distinctive tricorn hat.

It is reported that, in 1795, Wolfe Tone and his fellow United Irishmen met on the summit of Cave Hill, where they took a solemn pledge of allegiance.

Remains of early settlements include a stone cairn on the summit dating back to the New Stone Age (4500-2500 BC), a crannog or lake dwelling now lying within the zoo and several raths or ringforts from early Christian times (400-1200AD).

McArt's Fort was once a defensive fort built on the promontory at the front of Cave Hill. Little remains today of the original fort, although the moat can still be distinguished.

Between 1840 and 1896, limestone was quarried from the southern slopes and transported to the docks by railway.

The first 'Belfast Castle' was built by the Normans in the late 12th century. In 1611 Sir Arthur Chichester, Baron of Belfast, built a stone and timber castle on the same site. It burned down 100 years later. Belfast Castle as it stands now was built by the Donegall family in the 1870s. Ownership later passed to the Shaftesbury family, who donated it to Belfast in 1934. In 1978, Belfast City Council instituted a major refurbishment programme; the building was re-opened to the public in November, 1988.

The hill is often ablaze with seasonal colour: carpets of spring flowers, purple heather in late summer and dramatic autumn foliage.

The Nature Reserve of Ballyaghagan features upland meadows, where the grazing regime allows a rich tapestry of wild plants to flourish.

Responsible Walking

CAAN endorses the principles of Leave No Trace, which mean recreational users can minimise their impact on the countryside whilst still enjoying activities with freedom. For more information, visit

Further information

For further information on walking or any other outdoor activity, please contact Countryside Access and Activities Network at 028 9030 3930 or .

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.


Walk Name: Cave Hill Trail

Area: Cave Hill Country Park

Nearest big town to start point: Belfast

Distance: 4.5 miles/7.2km

Terrain: Some steep ascents and unsurfaced paths

Refreshments: Belfast Castle is open to the public. The Cellar Restaurant offers a variety of menus.

Walk Developed By: This walk has been developed and is maintained by Belfast City Council

Ordnance Survey Map: Belfast Street Finder, Sheet 15Sheets 4 of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discovery Series, available from OSNI Map Shop, Colby House, Stranmillis, Belfast BT9 SBJ

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