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Walk of the Week: Cave Hill

By Linda Stewart

Cave Hill dominates the Belfast skyline, with its familiar outline stretching for miles. The hill abounds in natural and historical features and a country park was established in 1992, including land on top of Cave Hill and at Hazelwood, Bellevue, Belfast Castle and Carr’s Glen.

This is a challenging route, over unsurfaced paths, past the caves to McArt’s Fort, and crossing moorland, heath and meadows.


Cave Hill Country Park is located off the Antrim Road, Belfast. By bus: Belfast Castle & Hazelwood entrance, Metro Line 1 (1A–1H) Carr’s Glen 12, 61.

By car: Car parking at Belfast Castle, Belfast Zoo (Hazelwood), Upper Cavehill Road, and Upper Hightown Road.

This is a challenging circular route beginning at Belfast Castle and following the green waymarked arrows. It can, 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 up the path on your left until you reach the first junction. 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 on to 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, pausing to take in the surroundings and views on the way.

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. Pause again to take in the magnificent views before joining 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 means of the footpath up the main driveway.


Cave Hill gets its name from the caves on the cliffs, which were possibly early iron mines. There are five caves in total — you should be able to see at least three.

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

Early man settled on Cave Hill, where the steep terrain helped in defence against rival tribes and wild animals. 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 within the zoo), and several raths or ringforts (from early Christian times: 400–1200AD). The best known of these, McArt’s Fort, was a fortification on the highest rocky outcrop.

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. This was burned down almost 100 years later, leaving only street names, such as Castle Place, to mark the location.

Belfast Castle, as it stands now, was built by the Donegall family in the 1870s.


For further information on walking or any other outdoor activity, please contact Countryside Access and Activities Network at, tel: 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: Belfast.

Distance: 4.5 miles/7.2km.

Time: Approximately 2 to 3 hours.

Suitability: This walk is on mainly unsurfaced paths with some steep ascents and so is not suitable for those with limited mobility.

Refreshments: Belfast Castle is open to the public and the Cellar Restaurant is open Tuesday to Saturday.

Publications: A Walk in the Park, available from Belfast City Council, Parks Section or via the website Cave Hill Country Park & Belfast Castle leaflets from Belfast City Council, Parks Section.

Walk Developed By: Belfast City Council.

Map: Belfast Street Finder and Sheet 15 of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discovery Series, available from LPSNI Map Shop (

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