Come on Down for fun
It’s time for some exercise to see in the new year after all the feasting
After all the Christmas partying is over, the movie marathons are complete and the festive food finished off, the best way to start the new year is with some fresh air and exercise. Northern Ireland offers many opportunities to get away together in the great outdoors, with many Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty waiting to be explored.
Among these are the picturesque Mourne Mountains, the highest and most dramatic mountain range in Northern Ireland. Rivers, lakes and reservoirs lie amid the peaks, and the mountains are a haven for walkers, hikers, climbers and adventurers at any time of year. Pack up your gear and prepare for a bit of leg-stretching in the most scenic of surroundings you can imagine.
Depending on age and fitness levels, you can opt for the challenge of scaling Slieve Donard, the Mournes’ highest peak, or for taking a more leisurely walk through beautiful Tollymore Forest Park.
It’s a three-mile hike to the top of Slieve Donard, but the effort is rewarded with awesome views from the summit. On a clear day, you can see as far as the Isle of Man to the east, Co Wicklow to the south, Co Donegal to the west and Scotland to the north.
The ascent passes through forest, open mountainside, past waterfalls and finally reaches the famous drystone Mourne Wall, which leads to the peak. It’s tough, but think of all the Christmas calories you’ll burn off.
At the foot of the mountains, Tollymore Forest Park, stretching over 1,600 acres, is a delight with its scenic trails and garden follies. Here you can wander by the sparkling Shimna River, explore the verdant forests and discover the many film locations for Game of Thrones, including the place where the Starks discovered the direwolves.
After a day on your feet, why not indulge with an overnight stay in the opulent Slieve Donard Resort and Spa in Newcastle? Ease away the walking and climbing aches with a sumptuous spa treatment followed by fine dining in the hotel’s sophisticated Oak Restaurant. Then relax with a drink and enjoy some of the best views in the country.
Murlough National Nature Reserve is another must-visit beauty spot in the area. The 6,000-year-old sand dune system, on the edge of Dundrum Bay, is criss-crossed with boardwalks, making it an excellent area for walking and bird watching. It is home to more than 600 species of butterflies and moths, one of which, the Marsh Fritillary butterfly, is of European importance.
Take the self-guided nature trail and discover the complex biology of the region while enjoying the views of the expansive beach and the breathtaking backdrop of the Mourne Mountains.
The sea air is said to build up an appetite, and nearby Dundrum village is the perfect place to refuel after an afternoon at the re- serve. Among the eateries to choose from is the renowned Mourne Seafood Bar, a must for seafood lovers. The restaurant sources all its shellfish from its own beds, and its catch of the day is fresh off the fishing boats at Kilkeel and Annalong. It’s a rare combination of top-quality food and affordable prices.
If time allows, mosey home along the Mourne Coastal Route from Dundrum via Strangford to Portaferry, on up the peninsula towards Belfast. You’ ll be treated to splendid views, made even more magical with the setting sun. No better start to a new year.
COUNTY DELIGHTS: scenic Dundrum Bay, the opulent Slieve Donard Resort and Spa in Newcastle (below right), and the Mourne Seafood Bar in Dundrum village