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Slope off to enjoy this glorious glen’s views

By Linda Stewart

An easily overlooked wooded glen in east Belfast, Cregagh Glen was once owned by the Robb family who kept a large department store in the city.

This shady gorge in the Castlereagh Hills was handed over to the National Trust in the 1930s and is now a peaceful haven harbouring all sorts of birds and woodland flowers.

Once you emerge from the dim dampness at the top of the glen, you can head onwards and upwards through the grounds of Lisnabreeny House to locate an old fairy rath at the summit of the hill — and enjoy spectacular views over Belfast. This route follows surfaced and unsurfaced paths with superb views from the top.


The entrance is on Upper Knockbreda Road A55, north of the Cregagh Road junction, with parking in adjacent streets and is served by Metro Services 6, 30, 30A 31 (Ormeau). This is a linear route, which returns by way of the same path.

Beginning at the entrance on the Upper Knockbreda Road, follow the path uphill through Cregagh Glen. The first part of this walk is through a picturesque wooded glen. At the top of the glen, cross under the Manse Road via a wooden walkway and into the grounds of Lisnabreeny House.

Follow the lane along past the house and school, crossing the stile into the open field. Continue along the grass tracks climbing up to the left. This path may be wet and muddy in places throughout the year.

Climb over a stile among the gorse into another field. From here you will see a stand of mature trees marking the site of a former rath. Cross the field to explore the rath.

Retrace your steps to the Manse Road, and down through the glen to the starting point. Care should be taken if crossing the Upper Knockbreda Road — this is a busy dual carriageway.

The Backdrop

In 1937 Lisnabreeny House and 164 acres of land including part of the Cregagh Glen were donated to the National Trust by Nesca Robb of the well known Robb family who had a large department store at Castle junction in Belfast.

Nesca was a renowned historian, writer and poet. Her poem, The Glen in January, is almost certainly about Cregagh Glen.

The house became the first youth hostel in an Irish city when it was loaned to the Youth Hostel Association of Northern Ireland in 1938, but its hostelling days were short-lived. When the US Army arrived in Northern Ireland, Lisnabreeny House became an army headquarters until 1946.

After the war, the house, like many of the great houses, fell into disrepair. It was reconstructed by Lagan College from 1986 and opened in 1991 as Belfast’s first religiously integrated school.

Cregagh Glen is mainly owned by the National Trust but Castlereagh Borough Council owns a section connecting to the entrance.

There are several waterfalls on the river and the glen itself contains some mature mixed woodland that includes hazel, beech, Scots pine and ash trees. One of the steeper slopes possibly contains remnants of ancient woodland, dating back to before 1600.

Field woodrush and bluebell are the dominant ground plants but here and there are other species such as dog violet and opposite leaved golden saxifrage. In spring the bluebell display is magnificent.

The well preserved Lisnabreeny Rath gives the townland its name — ‘Lis’ means fort and ‘breeny’ means fairy in old Irish.

Raths, or hillforts, are very common throughout the Irish countryside. They served as homesteads, providing protection for family and livestock from wild animals and warring neighbours.

This fort dates from the early Christian period, some time between 500 and 1,000AD. It would probably have had a simple clay dwelling within the protected area which would have had a palisade fence around the surrounding earth bank.

Further information

For further information on walking or any other outdoor activity, please contact Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN), tel: 028 9030 3930 or

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: Cregagh Glen/Lisnabreeny.

Area: Co Down.

Nearest big town to start point: Cregagh, Castlereagh, Belfast.

Distance: 1.5 miles / 2.4 km.

Terrain: Surfaced and unsurfaced paths.

Publications: A Walk in the Park, Belfast City Council. Available from Belfast City Council, tel: 028 9066 2260, and Castlereagh Borough Council, tel 028 9049 4637.

Walk Developed By: The National Trust.

Map: Sheet 15 of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discoverer Series, available from Land & Property Services Map Shop, Lincoln Buildings 27-45 Great Victoria Street Belfast BT2 7SL (

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