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Walk of the Week: Downhill Forest

By Linda Stewart

There cannot be a more wild and dramatic place in Northern Ireland than the landscape park of Downhill. The mansion uniquely reflects the personality of its flamboyant creator, Earl Bishop Hervey.

As Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry, he created an elegant mansion at Downhill, which now lies in ruins. On the nearby clifftop, the Earl Bishop built the circular Mussenden Temple as his library, modelled on the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli.

Directions

From Coleraine, take the A2 through Articlave — Downhill Forest is on the left after approximately 1½ miles. From Limavady, take the A2 towards Castlerock — Downhill Forest is on the right approximately 3½ miles after Benone.

When parking, please do not block the gates as lorries, emergency vehicles and other official vehicles may need access to this entrance at any time.

There are two waymarked paths through Downhill Forest: one is just over a kilometre long while the other is two kilometres in length, and allows walkers to view one of Northern Ireland’s fattest Sitka spruce trees — in 1962 the girth was approximately 6m. You can also view an Early Christian Promontory Fort and an old water-powered sawmill with its lathe running round the small pond in the middle of this woodland.

Both waymarked routes pass by this elongated pond at Downhill, which was originally designed as a fishpond. A number of Mallard ducks have taken up residence here.

Both walks are situated in a working forest environment and may be subject to diversion and closure from time to time.

The backdrop

Over the years the erosion of the cliff face at Downhill has brought Mussenden Temple ever closer to the edge, and in 1997 the National Trust carried out cliff stabilisation work to prevent the loss of the building.

Now part of the National Trust, the property of Downhill Estate and Mussenden Temple, the grounds encompassing Mussenden Temple and its manor house (Downhill Castle) are open to the public.

The Temple offers magnificent views over Downhill Strand and Benone Strand beaches.

Portstewart Strand nearby, one of Northern Ireland’s Blue Flag beaches, is another great area to visit. With a long, sandy beach and a large dune system, it’s a great spot for a day out with the kids.

The Barmouth is a sanctuary for waders, wildfowl and nesting birds. You can view this spectacle from a purpose-built hide on the west side of the River Bann.

Nearby Dunluce Castle is a spectacular castle-crowned crag on the famous north Antrim coast, shaped when the sea cut deep into the rock. The castle, originally occupied by the MacQuillan family and later the MacDonnells, was besieged by the British in the 16th century. An accord was eventually signed with the English monarch in the name of peace.

Part of the castle broke off and the kitchen plunged into the sea during a storm one night, killing all the cooks and kitchen-hands. There remains a dark hollow. Dunluce Castle is thought by many to be the most picturesque and romantic of Irish castles.

Further information

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

Walk Name: Downhill Forest.

Area: Binevenagh.

Nearest big town to start point: Castlerock.

Distance: 1 to 2 miles.

Time: Walkers should leave approximately one hour to enjoy this forest walk.

Suitability: This walk is on gravel paths through Downhill Forest and is not suitable for wheelchair users.

Facilities: Refreshments and toilets available in Castlerock.

Ordnance Survey Map: Sheet 4 of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discoverer Series, available from Land & Property Services Map Shop (lpsni.gov.uk).

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