Is this the best view of Belfast? Public can tower over city on new £500k mountain trail
Could this be the best view in Belfast?
The opening of a new £500,000 walking trail on the mountains looming over the city means hikers and sightseers will now be able to enjoy a spectacular panorama.
Twenty years ago, only the lucky few got to scale these heights – but the launch of a new £500,000 walking trail on Divis and Black Mountain means the public can now enjoy a bird's eye view of the cityscape.
The 4.2-mile Ridge Trail is the longest of the four trails developed on the National Trust-owned site and commands inspiring views over the city and as far away as the Mourne Mountains, Scotland and Cumbria.
The trail, developed by Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland, is expected to entice more than 50,000 visitors to Divis and Black Mountain and opens up previously inaccessible parts of the site.
It is the latest step in a long-term vision to create trails that will climb up from Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park through Colin Glen, loop over the mountains, meander across to Cavehill and continue back down to Belfast Lough.
The stunning site recently provided the backdrop to several films including Dracula and Academy Award-winning short film The Shore.
National Trust general manager for Belfast, Mike Dobson, said visitors won't need to buy specialist walking gear to use the path – a stout pair of shoes would be enough as the trail offers relatively flat paths on tarmac, boardwalk and gravel.
"We've followed the contours as much as possible so there's not a lot of up and down – it follows the lie of the land," he said.
"You should be able to do the Ridge Trail in a good, stout pair of boots. If you want a real rough walk, you can try the Heath Trail which runs round the back of the mountains. The Lough Trail is all abilities and is wheelchair-accessible."
Heather Thompson, National Trust's Director for Northern Ireland, said: "Since the National Trust started looking after Divis and the Black Mountain, it has been our objective to regenerate this once-inaccessible landscape into a destination for outdoor recreation and enjoyment.
"This is a very special place and we hope to welcome many visitors to take in these spectacular views of Northern Ireland and beyond."
Alan Clarke, Chief Executive of Northern Ireland Tourist Board, said: "Divis is one of Belfast's hidden gems, offering uninterrupted views over the city and beyond. Due to its history, Divis has remained less explored than other areas of the Belfast Hills and has great untapped potential for tourism.
"We anticipate a significant increase in the visitor numbers from the domestic and out-of-state city visitors as well as domestic tourists."
Dawson Stelfox MBE, the first Irishman to climb Everest and the chairman of Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland, said Belfast was unique in Ireland in having such a landscape so close to the city centre.
"It's fantastic to be able to walk along the Ridge Trail and look down into the city," he said.
The population of the Belfast Hills used to be more than that of the city itself – early settlers located in this once forested and fertile area while the city centre as we know it today resembled a peat bog. For 50 years, these mountains were forbidden territory because the Ministry of Defence used Divis for reconnaissance, but it has been opened up to the public since it was acquired by the National Trust in 2005.