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Walk of the Week: The Waterworks walk

By Linda Stewart

Located in the heart of north Belfast, the Waterworks used to supply the city with vital water supplies.

Now better known as a haven for wildfowl, the area is an oasis of peace and tranquillity in the centre of an urban landscape and a popular spot with local people, who come to enjoy the park’s beautiful backdrop of the Cavehill.


The Waterworks walk can be accessed via Cavehill and Antrim Roads. By bus: Metro Services 1A–H, 61 Cavehill Road. By car: There is no car parking in the park, but the main pedestrian access is from Cavehill and Antrim Roads.

This is a circular route which may be started from any of the entrances to the Waterworks. This description begins at the Queen Mary’s Gardens entrance on the corner of Cavehill Road and the Antrim Road.

At the round flower bed, keep to your left alongside the stream and over the bridge. Climb both sets of steps, then turn right; notice the former gate keeper’s house (now private). Continue along the tree-lined avenue and alongside the lower pond, pausing to enjoy the birdlife and views of Cavehill.

You can climb to the upper-level pond via the steps straight ahead or the ramp to the left. The islands and green edges of this pond are home to a variety of wildlife.

Soon you will pass a small playground before passing over another bridge. The path winds its way around the upper pond. After circling the upper pond, a path off to the left returns you to the lower level.

On the north bank of the lower lake you will find another playground and seating. From here it is a short walk back to the starting point.

The backdrop

The two ponds were constructed in the 1840s by engineer William Dargan to provide water for Belfast. The ponds were fed by the Milewater Stream from Carr’s Glen. The reservoirs, however, only served as a water supply for about 20 years. After that the site, then owned by the Water Commissioners, was used for recreation.

On May 1, 1956, the property was transferred to Belfast Corporation for the sum of £4,000. The Waterworks was officially opened as a public park by Belfast Corporation in 1956.

When the Corporation took over ownership of the Waterworks, it was decided that the upper reservoir was too deep to be safe — in parts it was almost 40 feet deep. The lake was drained in August 1958 and opened to allow infilling with hardcore material.

Despite not being opened as a public park until 1956, from the 19th century the site was a popular venue for outdoor entertainments. These included firework displays, band performances and an exhibition of a horseless carriage. Rowing boats were launched onto the water in June 1900 and a diving board was positioned towards the Cliftonville end of the upper pond to encourage swimming and diving. These former reservoirs were ideal for large-scale swimming galas, and for diving demonstrations.

During the Second World War the worst raid to hit Belfast happened on the night of Easter Monday and Easter Tuesday morning 1941, and north Belfast was devastated by the Luffwaffe. It is possible that during a previous reconnaissance flight on October 18, 1940, the Waterworks site was photographed and mistaken for the main dockland. Certainly the park and the surrounding area were recorded in fine detail on Luffwaffe target files recovered after the war.

The results were devastating. On that night countless incendiaries and bombs fell on north Belfast, doing very little damage to the Waterworks but had a catastrophic effect on the surrounding streets. An estimated 750 people died that evening. The National Fire Service used water from the Waterworks and ponds at Alexandra and Woodvale Parks to help tackle the blazes.

These days many people come to feed the swans and ducks in the lower pond. In contrast, the upper lake is larger and ‘wilder’. Many waterfowl overwinter on the lake — it is not unusual to see several hundred coot, pochard and tufted ducks. Other visitors include great-crested grebe, goldeneye and cormorant. In summer months dabchicks breed where the lakeside reeds give some protection, ducks nest on the central islands, and swifts and martins skim over the water searching for flies.

Further information

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

CAAN and Belfast City Council 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: Waterworks.

Area: Antrim Road, Belfast.

Nearest big town to start: Belfast.

Distance: 1.5 miles or 2.4km.

Time: This walk should take approximately 30 minutes to complete.

Suitability: This walk is on surfaced tarmac paths with a few steps and some hills, which are steep in places.

Refreshments: There are numerous amenities and coffee shops along the Antrim Road.

Publications: A Walk in the Park, available from Belfast City Council, Parks Section or via the website A Breath of Fresh Air — The Story of Belfast’s Parks by Robert Scott, available from Belfast City Council.

Walk Developed By: Belfast City Council.

Map: Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discovery Series sheet 15, available from LPSNI Map Shop (

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