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Walk of the Week: Cregagh Glen

By Linda Stewart

This Cregagh Glen route explores a shady glen up into the Castlereagh hills on surfaced and unsurfaced paths. There are some steep climbs, but you will be rewarded at the summit with magnificent views over Belfast from a fascinating fairy rath — a far cry from the dual carriageway where you set off.


Entrance to the glen is on Upper Knockbreda Road A55, north of the Cregagh Road junction, with parking in adjacent streets. You can use 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, prose writer and poet. Her poem The Glen in January is almost certainly about Cregagh Glen:

Here, by the singing waters,

Moist ferns and mosses deep,

Though winter make the woods all bare,

Spring’s greenness keep;

And frost-clear moonlight, falling

Over cascade and lin,

Still by that cool, and secret verdure

Is folded in.

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. The US Army had a military graveyard in a field beside the Rocky Road — the bodies were later exhumed for burial elsewhere.

After the war, the property, 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. This wooded 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.

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 a magnificent sight to see.

This damp, shady gorge also supports mosses and liverworts and the rocky pools are a great breeding ground for aquatic invertebrates.

Birdlife includes grey wagtail, bullfinch, dunnock, blue tit, goldcrest, jay and wood pigeon.

The glen doesn’t support many mammals — however, foxes have been spotted and also red and grey squirrel in recent years.

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.

further information

For further information on walking or any other outdoor activity, contact Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN) at, 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.

Area: Co Down.

Nearest town to start point: Belfast.

Distance: 1.5 miles/2.4km (linear).

Time: 45 minutes.

Terrain: A mix of surfaced and unsurfaced paths with some steep steps.

Refreshments: Available locally.

Publications: A Walk in the Park, Belfast City Council. Available from Belfast City Council, tel: 028 9066 2260, 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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