Winter, eh? What’s it all about? Biting cold, eight jumpers on at once, only the thickest, fluffiest slippers will do.
Nope. For some people, winter means ‘Right, boots on, huge walk in frosty fantasy land and a hot whiskey as reward. Grab your mittens!’
These guys are on to something, and they’re in very good company.
A certain W.B Yeats mused:
Through winter-time we call on spring,
And through the spring on summer call,
And when abounding hedges ring
Declare that winter’s best of all;
Wouldn’t ya know, Northern Ireland has the loveliest winter walks and Chris Armstrong of Walks NI is only too happy to share them with us.
Now, imagine Yeats himself strolling the likes of these:
Crom Estate, County Fermanagh
4.2 miles (6.8km)
Handsome is as handsome does and in County Fermanagh does handsome very, very well. Arguably, the best time for a leg-stretch around this glamourpuss of an estate is early on a crisp winter’s morning as the mist hovers just above the lough. Mystical…
This short walk follows the main estate path through parkland towards the old castle, which was tragically destroyed in a fire in 1740. Continue along the shoreline to Crom’s beautiful boathouse for some corking Kodak views of the 19th Century Castle sitting to the right of the trail. The path then curves back in a loop to the White Bridge before leading through woods to the Summer House and back to the start.
Aren’t loop walks great? You never have to see the same thing twice.
Robbers Table, Co. Tyrone
9 miles (14.5km)
This is a little off-road gem that won’t require a 4×4. It all gets a bit Jane Austen with rolling hills and open moorland so don’t be shocked if Mr Darcy gallops over the crest in leather jodhpurs and a moistened brow asking for your hand in marriage. The highest point of this route opens up superb views of the Bluestack and Derryveagh Mountains in to the west and the High Sperrins to the north east.
The walk starts and finishes in Gortin Glen Forest Park – only a few miles from Gortin Village. As the route climbs out of the forest park over Ballynatubbrit Mountain it passes Robbers Table, the site where supposed local seventeenth century Highwaymen (Rapparees as they were known and long gone, thankfully) met up to divide their spoils after raiding the postal carriages that traversed this upland landscape.
A taste of riches can be found at the after your work. Cash, cards and booty still accepted.
Ballintoy to Bushmills, County Antrim
12.4 miles (20km)
The coastline between Ballintoy and Bushmills makes every other coastline in the world bubble with envy. Feast your eyes on it in winter and you’ll be full of beauty for the foreseeable future.
Include a frolic or two on . You can imagine it as a set of an album cover with members of the band looking wistfully out to the North Sea.
The cliff top path offers magnificent offshore views while also passing by a few interesting seasonal features such as traditional ice houses. No, don’t picture igloos; these are stone built, turf roofed houses where ice was stored in the winter in order to preserve salmon in the summer. For the brave/nutty souls who partake in the ritual of a winter swim there are plenty of spots for a ‘quick’ outdoor dip along the way.
As you get to Bushmills, is set to loom from the horizon. A swift nip will warm the bones after your walk, while the Bushmills Inn does an exceptional line in local food.
Slemish, County Antrim
1.2 miles (1.9km)
Winter created the perfect backdrop to bound up County Antrim’s highest peak and enjoy uninterrupted views over open, frosted moorland out to Scotland’s Mull of Kintyre in the distance.
Aside from being a majestic little mount, played a rather integral part in the life of a certain Saint Patrick. It was here that the snake-banishing genius spent 6 years herding livestock for Mulchi, the local chieftain in the area. Not exactly a plumb job.
Slemish also happens to be a snapshot of Ireland’s geological history, a volcanic plug that is unmistakable in the landscape. The walk itself follows a worn grass path up a gentle slope to where the rocky outcrop starts allowing walkers to then pick a line up its steep face. The terrain is steep, rocky and sometimes wet underfoot. But the views after 20 minutes of scaling the slope more than reward your efforts.
Located only 10 minutes drive from Slemish is the , a charming coaching Inn in the small fishing village of Glenarm. Poor old St Patrick didn’t have the option of a hot whiskey here but you sure do!
For route descriptions, maps and images for over 400 walks in Northern Ireland visit Walks NI – Your definitive guide to walking in Northern Ireland