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Take a quiet back road down through history

Nestled in the western foothills of The Sperrins, the Derg River follows an idyllic valley between Castlederg and Newtownstewart.

The Sperrins are one of the great secrets of Northern Ireland — an understated mountain range of high, rounded summits and lush pastoral valleys.

Not only are these mountains designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, but they also serve up bountiful cycling opportunities on quiet, single-lane country roads. As you cycle through this unique landscape, rich in natural and archaeological heritage, its true beauty will unfold before your eyes.

This route circles the lush, gentle slopes of the Derg Valley for 30 miles, exploring an area steeped in industrial and ancient history using quiet, well surfaced back roads.

Directions

Ulsterbus services run from Belfast to Omagh and Strabane. For timetables, visit translink.co.uk. By car from Belfast, follow signage for the M1 motorway and travel west to Ballygawley roundabout, turning north onto the A5 signed Omagh and Derry. From Omagh continue north following the A5 signs for Newtownstewart, Strabane and Londonderry.

Begin in Newtownstewart, a Plantation town with strong Scottish connections, where the Strule and Owenkillew Rivers meet. Follow Route 6 north on the Douglas Road for a short spell before turning right onto the quieter Bunderg Road. Begin cycling with the curves of the Strule River for a few miles.

After visiting Douglas Bridge village, branch off right where the Sperrins begin looming large. The road shies away towards the Swinging Bridge and Sion Mills. Sion Mills, an architectural jewel, was laid out as a model village when the linen industry boomed in Ireland and is in stark contrast to its more traditional neighbouring towns. Local groups and organisations have done an incredible job restoring its unique architecture.

Follow Route 6 carefully as it twists and turns out of Sion Mills and begins to climb Orchard Road. Out of the saddle, a steep climb takes you into Co Donegal briefly, before slacking off the pedals and gently freewheeling down into Castlederg. It's a great place to pull in for a break and a walk around the Diamond and Davies Bawn.

Refreshed and revitalised, it's time to hop on the bike and head back along the southern slopes of the Derg Valley. As you climb out of Castlederg, the Donegal Mountains recede to the west as you follow National Route 95 onto Castlebane Road. Head down Creevy Road and around Magheralough to the Deer Park at Baronscourt Estate.

The Backdrop

Newtownstewart lies near the confluence of the Strule and the Owenkillew rivers and is convenient to the magnificent Baronscourt Estate.

This is the home of the Duke of Abercorn’s family since 1612 and is among the handful of old family estates in the British Isles that combine great historical and architectural interest with a landscape of outstanding natural beauty.

The vibrant working farm, rural business, and estate spreads over the valley floor at Baronscourt and throughout its history each generation of the family has continued to ensure a programme of constant planting and landscaping of the park and gardens. There are a number of walking routes to enjoy around Baronscourt.

On the hills above Newtownstewart lie the majestic ruins of the Gaelic stronghold of Harry Avery O'Neill.

Thought to have been built around 1320 by a local chieftain of the O’Neill clan, but named after Harry Avery (Henry Aimbreidh) O’Neill, a local chief who died in 1392, this structure is considered unusual in that Irish chieftains of the time rarely built stone castles. This one is quite unique for its period.

Castlederg was traditionally a stage post for travellers. The most westerly town in Tyrone, it stands on the banks of the River Derg and is a busy market town.

Further information

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

Cycle Name: Derg Valley Cycle Route.

Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty: The Sperrins.

Nearest big town to start point: Newtownstewart.

Distance: 30 miles circular.

Terrain: 90% of this route is on quiet country roads with little traffic.

Refreshments and Facilities: Cafes, shops and public toilets are available in all of the towns and villages along the route.

Publications: Cycle Route available from sustransshop.co.uk and most Tourist Information Centres in County Tyrone. The Cycle Leaflet is also downloadable for free from CycleNI.com

Cycle Developed By: Sustrans and Sperrins Tourism.

Map: Sheet 12 of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discoverer Series, available from Land & Property Services Map Shop (lpsni.gov.uk).

Belfast Telegraph