Oxford Island and Lough Neagh Discovery Centre

Oxford Island and the Lough Neagh Discovery Centre are two places of interest managed by the Craigavon Borough Council. Despite the name this Oxford is not an island. Both Oxford and the Discovery Centre are located on the shore in south Lough Neagh, the largest fresh water lake in the British Isles. They are also very close to the town of Lurgan. They are very easily accessible since the M1, one of the main motorways of Northern Ireland that leads from Belfast south and east to Lurgan, Portadown, Armagh and beyond, passes very close.

The Discovery Centre

The Discovery Centre is the main facility. It was opened in 1993. Built just meters away from the lake waters it has a small gift shop and a restaurant/café that offers a good selection of food. More importantly, the staff at the Centre have expertise in the wildlife of the area. They run programs and events for anyone interested including themed walks and talks about bird watching and conservation issues. Outside the Centre there is a park and children’s play are that among others includes a water feature which children love to explore, especially on warm days. There are many spots to fish from and there are miles of trails to explore that will take you to scenic places by the shores of the lake.

Just beyond the Discovery Centre is Oxford Island. It also has a play area and camping and caravanning facilities, places for fishing and trails for walking. In addition, it has a small marina. Many private boats are moored there and there is a club that offers training in boating/canoeing and water sports.

This place is very popular with locals and with people from further afield. On weekends and public holidays and even on a warm weekday the place can be quite busy. The reason is both the good facilities and the accessibility from main urban centers. As a family we visited many times and the children loved it. Of the camping site UK this is one you might want to explore.

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Mountains of Mourne Song lyrics: an old favourite

Mountains of Mourne Song:

Loved by many, and a signature song to the Mountains in County Down, Northern Ireland, the mountains of Mourne song is a classic. Here are the lyrics of French Perry’s song:

Oh, Mary, this London’s a wonderful sight,

With people all working by day and by night.

Sure they don’t sow potatoes, nor barley, nor wheat,

But there’s gangs of them digging for gold in the street.

At least when I asked them that’s what I was told,

So I just took a hand at this digging for gold,

But for all that I found there I might as well be

Where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea.

I believe that when writing a wish you expressed

As to know how the fine ladies in London were dressed,

Well if you’ll believe me, when asked to a ball,

They don’t wear no top to their dresses at all,

Oh I’ve seen them meself and you could not in truth,

Say that if they were bound for a ball or a bath.

Don’t be starting such fashions, now, Mary mo chroi,

Where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea.

I’ve seen England’s king from the top of a bus

And I’ve never known him, but he means to know us.

And tho’ by the Saxon we once were oppressed,

Still I cheered, God forgive me, I cheered with the rest.

And now that he’s visited Erin’s green shore

We’ll be much better friends than we’ve been heretofore

When we’ve got all we want, we’re as quiet as can be

Where the mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea.

You remember young Peter O’Loughlin, of course,

Well, now he is here at the head of the force.

I met him today, I was crossing the Strand,

And he stopped the whole street with a wave of his hand.

And there we stood talkin’ of days that are gone,

While the whole population of London looked on.

But for all these great powers he’s wishful like me,

To be back where the dark Mourne sweeps down to the sea.

There’s beautiful girls here, oh never you mind,

With beautiful shapes nature never designed,

And lovely complexions all roses and cream,

But let me remark with regard to the same:

That if of those roses you venture to sip,

The colours might all come away on your lip,

So I’ll wait for the wild rose that’s waiting for me

In the place where the dark Mourne sweeps down to the sea.

Read more about the places you can visit in the Mountains of Mourne!

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Bronte Homeland, Patrick Bronte’s beginnings in his native Northern Ireland


Northern Ireland travel presents:

Bronte Homeland – Wuthering Heights

“Now I know where they got the inspiration to write Wuthering Heights,” exclaimed my guest.

His family was visiting from England and we had decided to take them on a tour that included the Brontë Homeland. It was early January and a very cold day at that. There was a fierce north-easterly wind blowing accompanied by cold rain which lashed across our faces.

Which Bronte sister is your favourite?

For those who are not English literature buffs the Brontës were three sisters, Charlotte (1816-1855), Emily (1818-1848) and Anne (1820-1849) who all became writers of renown. Their most famous work was Charlotte Brontë governess novel, Jane Eyre. Jane is a governess in Thornfield manor house who falls in love with Rochester, the manor’s owner, who is, however, married. Jane stays faithful to her principles, reflecting probably Charlotte’s own, as she grew up in her father’s strongly religious home. Also world famous is Emily’s, Wuthering Heights. Their novels caused a sensation and the they became part of the great works of English literature.

To be fair the sisters were born in West Yorkshire, England where you can still visit Brontë Country. However, their family originated in beautiful county Down in Northern Ireland, the Bronte Homeland. Their father Patrick Brontë had been a preacher and a teacher at the tiny village of Drumballyroney and you can still visit the Bronte Home.

patrick-bronte What’s in a Name? The Bronte name

Patrick Brontë was born Patrick Brunty in 1777. He later moved to England and changed his name to Brontë.

No one knows for sure why. Some suggest that he might have wanted to hide his humble origins while others point out that, being a man of letters, he might have chosen the name because of classical Greek influence, since in Greek mythology Brontes means “thunder” and was the name of one of the cyclops.

Patrick spelled his name with a dieresis over the “e” (Brontë) to stress that two syllables are pronounced (and highlight the second syllable as the one accented as in the Greek?).


Brontë Homeland Tour – Drumballyroney

A tour of the Brontë Homeland best begins at the tiny village of Drumballyroney a mere 10 miles from Banbridge. The road leading to the Brontë Homeland is well signposted is usually very quiet. The school where Patrick taught still stands and has been restored and functions as a little museum. Next to it the old Church of Ireland church where his family attended and where he later preached. From the church grounds you have a beautiful view over the surrounding green rolling hills of Co Down, though on in winter it can be very cold and windy up there.


Knockiveagh and the Bronte

You can continue your Bronte homeland tour by driving from Drumballyroney to Knockiveagh, a hilltop and excellent picnic area. From there you get spectacular views of the area where Patrick Brontë grew up. In the picnic area there once stood a shebeen, an illicit drinking house.

Alice McClory’s Cottage – Bronte family

The cottage is situated on Brontë Road. It was the family home of Patrick’s mother, Alice. Alice and Hugh (eventually Patrick’s father) courted in secret and, according to some accounts, eloped to marry at Magherally church near Banbridge.

Glascar School – and the connection with Patrick Bronte

You could also visit what is called the Birthplace Cottage, a little two-storey home on Brontë road very little of which remains today. Then go to Glascar School on Glascar road where Patrick taught in the 1790’s. It is said that he was a good teacher who could encourage learning by using creative teaching methods.


Meet the Brontës

The Brontë Homeland Trust responsible for the upkeep of these sites is run in part by descendants of the Brontë family. We had a chance to meet and chat with one of them and there was a certain fascination in the knowledge that we were speaking to living relatives of the famous Brontë sisters.

Contact Info

Brontë Homeland Interpretative Centre

Church Hill Road, Drumballyroney, Rathfriland, Co. Down BT32 5LX T: 028 4062 3322


Brontë Homeland Living Tour – Banbridge District Council

For us literature and history geeks, Banbridge District Council is an exemplary one. With much love and attention to detail, they have put together with the Northern Period Productions, a living history Tour. “The Brontë Homeland – Visit It, Live It, Love It!”.

A fully guided bus tour took the literary enthusiasts through the main landmarks as they followed Charlotte Bronte in tracing her father’s Patrick life journey from Northern Ireland to Yorkshire. Visitors met Patrick Bronte, his father Hugh Brunty and mother Alice, all in period costumes.


The highlights were Charlotte’s replica wedding dress and ring, and props like classical books that belonged to Revered Bronte himself. Add to that the stunning landscape framed by the Mourne Mountains and you have a clear winner.

Much as we love the Bronte country in Yorkshire, this was a much needed initiative to bring to attention the Bronte Homeland; the birthplace of the man who influenced the literary genius of his three daughters.

Bronte Homeland in Northern Ireland has a rightful place in history and deserves a place in the touring plans of the Bronte fans. I am sure it will captivate their hearts.
Living History: Bronte Homeland

Are you a Bronte Fan?

If you are a Bronte Fan, check out the Bronte Blog. Just don’t start reading late in the evening. You will still be reading when the sun comes up… Tons of information!

Photos 6,7, courtesy of Banbridge District Council.

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The Mountains Mourne are a jewel to Northern Ireland

When I first heard about the famous Mountains Mourne, I chuckled to myself “They call this a mountain?” Coming from mountainous and rugged Greece where you are closer to mountains than to the sea, I thought the Mournes to be plain hills.

Going up the Mournes however, humbled me. The environment is astonishing, the vicinity is declared an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the variety of peaks means that climbing the mountains Mourne can be challenging enough for the seasoned hiker and easy enough for the novice hill walker.

Slieve Donard is the crown of the Mournes, standing at 849 metres (2,786 ft) and availing magnificent views.

Read our tips and facts if you planning your climb. You can always read our Slieve Donard climbing story and even have a look at the hiking checklist we prepared for you.

We did climb Slieve Croob too, which is relatively easy to do.

If however, you would rather relax in a park, the heart of the Mourne Mountains instead of sweating hiking them, Silent Valley is the place for you.

Why should you visit mountains Mourne:

It would be a pity not to. Famous as they are from Percy French’s old song, popular with hill walkers and and nature lovers, they still remain wild and untamed, teeming with wildlife among the purple heather and the yellow gorge plants.

Going up the mountains Mourne will leave you refreshed in body and mind and you might be witness to nature dramas like the one described by Mourne mountain lover, John Lyons:

An Alfresco Lunch

On a bright summer day Walter and I were out walking in the mountains Mourne. We had chosen Ben Crom as our target that day, not the highest peak in the range, but surrounded by wild and lonely country. From the top there is a grand panorama of mountains around you and not much sign of civilisation except for the reservoir below which satisfies the needs of Belfast, thirty miles to the north.

About mid-day we stopped beside a small stream for a sandwich and a ‘cuppa’, in the warm sunshine. Scanning around to see what else was about, my eye caught sight of a flock of racing pigeons moving up the valley. Maybe released in Wales or even France, they were now heading towards their home lofts as fast as their wings could take them. There, anxious owners would be waiting to clock them in and see who had won this week’s prize.

Suddenly out of a clear blue sky a female Peregrine Falcon hurtled towards the little flock. Too late they saw her coming and scattered in panic. The chosen target never stood a chance as he was taken out by the finest hunter in the bird world. A puff of feathers signaled the successful strike, to be followed by a wild cry of triumph. No government or EC committee could legislate to prevent this kill. Eat or be eaten is the law of nature, and only the fittest survive.

But wait. There was more for the watchers to see, still unobserved by pigeon or falcon occupied with the business of survival. The Peregrine had her offspring in attendance, still reliant on mother to provide. In a mid-air pass worthy of a French rugby forward, she handed the prize to junior. He, or maybe it was she, was not yet strong enough to carry something over half his weight. Doing his best and flapping wildly he lost height until he grounded in the heather of the valley floor. No encouragement from mother in the sky above could help, and she had judged that a safer lunch spot was required. So down she came to recover the carcass, and together they flew to a ledge on the mountain above.

Now with good visibility all around she commenced to pluck the feathers and tear off morsels of pigeon for them both to eat. Junior watched carefully and ate what he was given. No need for plastic toys, soggy baps or even golden arches up here, just good food in a setting few restaurants could equal.

Our own tea had gone cold while we watched something we had only seen before on a David Attenborough TV programme. How much more satisfying to observe it in the wild.

For a while the two birds rested on their ledge while lunch was digested, and we did the same far below. Then with another wild cry, typical of their species, echoing round the mountains, off they flew. Quietly we packed our rucksacks and continued our climb, feeling humble and privileged as we moved towards the peak.

Photo credits: photo no.1: courtesy of John Lyons

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The Irish Potato Famine – Ireland’s great 19th century disaster

The Irish Potato Famine is one of the great sad events of the 19th century. It lasted from 1845-48 though its effects were felt for much longer. During that time of the potato famine Ireland lost more than a quarter of its population. Out of about 8 million inhabitants one million died and another emigrated. Here we will tell you the story briefly and pay tribute to those who died.


Before the Famine

Before the Famine Ireland had a population of about 8 million. This was the population of the whole island since back then there was no Northern Ireland and southern Ireland. The majority of the arable land belonged to English or Anglo-Irish landlords, many of whom lived in England. They in turn parceled out their land to Irish tenants. Most Irish tenants held small plots of land for which they paid rent. Some landless laborers would seek work among the tenants. In return they would get a small garden to plant potatoes for their own needs and a small place to live. These living spaces were often nothing more than a one room mud hovels where the family lived together with whatever livestock it may have had.

potato-famine-ireland Potatoes for Every Meal

The potato was the main food of the poor. The potato was introduced for cultivation in Europe from America in the 16th century. It made its way into Ireland and became the principal food of the poor. Other crops were also grown but were usually too expensive for the landless laborers of the small farmers. Expensive crops were usually exported.

Before the coming of the Famine Ireland was among the poorest countries in Europe. Yet the people enjoyed fairly good health. The potato is a very nutritious vegetable that provides many of the essential nutrients and in some way the small Irish farmer, though very poor, often had a better health and nutrition that many of his counterparts in other countries in Europe.

Regional Crop Failures

Ireland had experienced potato crop failures on a number of occasions before 1845. But they were regional and limited to one season. A good harvest in one county meant that even if there was a crop failure in another there were still enough potatoes to go around and famines were avoided. All this changed beginning in 1845.

Click here to read what happened.

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Northern Ireland Coastline Photos

We have collected some Northern Ireland coastline photos which we hope you will like. Northern Ireland has some dramatic coastal landascapes, especially in County Antrim. We traveled the Antrim coastal route many times and every time we were still amazed by the beauty and drama of it. Our lenses have captured some of it on camera, but ensure you visit to see it first hand.

This photo was taken on a cold but sunny spring day going down towards Ballintoy Harbour.

This is a photo of the Mourne Mountains taken from St. John’s Point. Photo Credits: Steven Jamison.

Magnificent Coney Island in County Down, Northern Ireland. Photo Credits: Steven Jamison.

A quiet bay on the rugged Country Antrim coast. Photo Credits:

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is one of Northern Ireland’s popular attractions. Apart from the rope bridge, the path towards it that follows the coastline is scenic and affords some beautiful vistas. Photo Credits:

This photo was taken by our friend and artist, Steven. It is taken from Portmuck Beach. When the sun is hot, this is our favourite Beach in Islandmagee.
Steven took this photo and next too. Isn’t the sunset lovely!
You can see the Black Arch at the distance, that marks the beginning of the Scenic Antrim Coast Road, north of Larne.

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Silent Valley National Park, Mourne Mountains, Northern Ireland

Silent Valley

Silent valley is one of the lovely UK country parks and one of Northern Ireland’s best. Located on the south-east corner of the country, it is worth visiting if you want a day out in the park with the family. When the days get warmer and longer in April/May the park becomes very popular with the locals, but there is so much space that you will not feel crowded.

Getting There

We visited once on a glorious May day. If you are coming from the Belfast area, your best option probably is to go down the A1 to Banbridge and then take the Road to Rathfriland, Hiltown and then Kilkeel. This is definitely the route we like to take. The last stretch of the road will take your through part of the Mourne Mountains and is a very scenic drive, especially in the spring.

As with many other parks in Northern Ireland, there is a small charge for entry, but it won’t break your bank account. Once in, park your car and enjoy. There are picnic tables and plenty of green. Since it is nearly lunch time, we decide to have our picnic first and explore later.

To Ben Crom

The highlight of a visit to Silent Valley is without doubt Ben Crom. Ben Crom is a dam on the Bann river that collects water for Belfast and surrounding towns. To get there from the car par of Silent Valley you have two options. First, you can take the park bus. For a small fee it will take you there in less than 10 minutes. Second and more preferable, you can walk. The dam is about two miles from the car park and the road is paved throughout. The road has a slight incline so coming back will be a bit easier than getting there. The road follows the flow of the river so the view is lovely. Since we have little children we decide on a combination. We take the bus there and walk part of the way back.

Once there we climb to the top of the dam. At 200 feet high you can see quite a way back down the valley towards the park. On the opposite side is the artificial lake formed by the dam. We spent at least 45 minutes on the dam, enjoying the view, enjoying the sunshine, enjoying the pure and utter serenity of the place. Yes, serenity. Even though there are many people in the part, few bother to come to Ben Crom.

Rolling Down Green Slopes

Back in the park proper there is another artificial lake and a small dam, only a fraction the size of the mighty Ben Crom. A gentle, grass covered slope leads from this dam to the level of the park. Families sit at the top and children lie on the grass and roll down the slope. Adults try it as well usually donning hilarious expressions in the process making everyone laugh. It is already getting late afternoon and it is time for an ice cream from one of the coffee shops. It sure tastes lovely on a hot day.

Perfect Place for A Relaxing Day

Before we know it time has come to go. Time flies when you are having fun and this has certainly been the case with Silent Valley. A combination of plenty of green, good picnic areas, toilet facilities, places to buy food and, above all, Ben Crom, has made this a truly enjoyable day.

Silent Valley is not the foremost tourist destination but is a place locals love to go to on a nice day, a place which if you get the chance to visit you will surely enjoy.

Fast Facts about Silent Valley

  • The park is open all year round
  • November- March from 10am-4pm April to October 10am- 6.30pm

  • The shuttle bus operates at weekends during the months of May, June and September and daily in July and August only.
  • The cafe has impressive views over the mountain-park and is open from 10.00am to 4 pm all year round.
  • There is a conference centre available if you would like to have your corporate meeting there. For further Information Contact: Northern Ireland Water, Customer Service Department on 08457440088.
  • Photo Credits: Jule_Berlin at Flickr

    Note: a certain two year old I know very well, stepped on the external hard drive and broke off the USB connection. All my personal photos are in there, years and years worth of photos. If I won’t be able to retrieve them, she won’t have any photos of herself from newborn to two years old. Is that enough punishment? Toddlers, don’t you love them…

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    Ballycastle – queen of the Antrim coast

    Ballycastle is a small and lovely town pf less than 10,000 people, set on the beautiful Antrim coastal road, in County Antrim. There is another town by the same name in County Mayo in the Republic of Ireland and the two should not be confused. The town is built next to the river Tow and lies on the A2 road that goes from Belfast through Larne and on towards Giants Causeway and Portrush. It is famous for Lammas Fair, only of the well know annual markets of Northern Ireland.


    Before the present town was built the area was known as Claricashan and what today is the Quay as Portbrittes. In some earlier correspondence there is mention of a Marketon that possible refers to the same area. There had been a castle there for some time and it was called Dunananie which means “the fort of the fair games”. In 1612 it was deeded to Hugh McNeill. In 1625 a new castle was constructed but later suffered damage in the numerous wars and fell into disrepair. The last remains of the castle were removed in the 1850’s as they were deemed to be a dangerous condition. The castle was located at about the place where the main church stands.

    Industrial Center

    Until AD 1700 the town was underdeveloped. The area was considered poor and a wild and lawless country. However, during the later half of the 18th century the town developed into an important industrial center thanks mainly to the investments of Hugh Boyd, a colonel and of a local vicar. The town boasted a glass factory which was reputed to be one of the best in Europe. Hugh also requested permission and grants from the local authorities to build a harbor. Permission and funds were granted and Hugh oversaw both its construction and operations. Other businesses also flourished and the town became a small industrial center. Ballycastle church also dates from this era. However, soon after Hugh Boyd died the glass factory and most of the other industrial developments soon closed, and even the harbor fell into disuse and was silted up despite arrangements for its maintenance that Hugh had made before his death.

    A Popular Seaside Town

    Despite the decline of industry the town was able to find its footing as a popular small town on the coast. A new harbor was eventually built and it came to serve not only the transport of good but also people with a regular ferry to Scotland that lasted until 2002. It also has a regular service to Rathlin Island.

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    Armagh Observatory and Planetarium

    The Armagh Observatory is a modern facility for astronomical research. Now, I can hear you thinking, “what does an observatory have to do with Northern Ireland tourism”. Maybe not much if it weren’t for the Armagh Planetarium located on the same premises which does an excellent job in bringing astronomy to the level understandable by the uninitiated. The two establishments together make up the Armagh Observatory and Planetarium.

    The Observatory

    The Observatory was established in 1790 by Archbishop Richard Robinson who had not only a religious but also a physical and scientific interest in heaven. Currently it is the workplace of about 25 astronomers and is arguably one of the UK’s foremost scientific institutions.

    The Planetarium

    While I do take a casual interest in astronomy I have to confess that the Armagh Planetarium is what appeals most to me. It was opened in 1968. Not only does it present astronomical information in easy to understand ways, but it is also a great place to take children in the knowledge that they will not only enjoy good recreation but also have an educational experience. My children certainly enjoyed our Armagh planetarium trip.

    Highlights in the Planetarium

    A key attraction in the planetarium is the digital theater that presents a number of shows appropriate to different ages. Another favorite is the rocket launching where children are shown how to build and launch small rockets powered by water and compressed air. This is an outdoor activity carried out on certain days and depends on the weather which in Northern Ireland can be undependable! Beyond these there is a host of other exhibits and activities that will keep children and you occupied and enthused. And not to be overlooked, the Planetarium also offers courses on basic astronomy to interested individuals. That sounds like a good hobby to pick up.

    All in all the Observatory and Planetarium is one of the UK’s foremost observatories/planetariums and is well worth a visit.

    Contact Information

    Armagh Planetarium, College Hill, Armagh BT61 9DB

    Tel. +44 28 3752 3689



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    Slieve Croob, gentle hillwalking in Northern Ireland


    Slieve Croob

    What in the world is it? Well “slieve” means “hill” or “mountain” and Croob is the name so Slieve Croob could be rendered as Mount Croob. It is one of the peaks of the Mourne Mountains. At 546 meters high it is not the greatest of challenges but is a favored destination for amateur hikers and people who enjoy a nice 2.4 miles long walk. It affords some of the best views in Northern Ireland.

    Getting There

    The peak is lost in the maze of small country roads between Banbridge, Castlewellan and Dromara. It is not a most popular tourist destination, not very well signposted so to get there you will probably get lost two or three times on the way, even if you have a good map. But don’t lose heart. The local farmers will be more than happy to direct you and once you get there it will be worth the while. And while you are trying to get there, you will criss-cross the beautiful Down countryside and see what real Ireland is all about and why it is called the Emerald Isle.

    Park and Walk

    At the start of the hike there is a small car park that is rarely full. There are picnic tables there if you wish to stop for a bite afterwards. You will not need special shoes or hiking gear. On the top of the mountain there was a military communication tower during the Troubles which means there is paved road (nearly) all the way to the top. No private vehicles are allowed on it, but it does make for a smoother hike. But do have a camera with you and maybe a good pair of binoculars. On a clear day you can see all the way to Donegal.


    My Visit

    I walked to the top twice. Compared to other peaks, it is a piece of cake. The hike can take up to an hour depending on how fit you are and how quickly you want to walk. As with most peaks even on a good day there will likely be a cold wind on top. The walk to the communications station is easy but if you want to go to the very top you have to walk another 200 meters over dirt paths that more often than not are muddy. Sheep will roam around you freely. A dog wouldn’t be very welcome here!

    The View from Slieve Croob

    The first time I climbed the peak was a dreary October day, the other a cool spring day. Both times visibility was not optimum. So I did not see Donegal. However, even on an overcast day the view is fantastic. To the west you can see lake Lough Neagh. To the northwest you can see Belfast with the giant cranes in the harbor of Harland and Wolff where the Titanic was built. Further away the Sperrin Mountains with their own scenic climbs and mountain paths. South and east the green hills of County Down where we lived and which we grew to love. You can also see the Irish Sea and the Isle of Man clearly defined in the distance.

    Should you Go?

    If you like hiking yes. You can climb Slieve Croob in the morning and you will be done before noon. Have a picnic at the carpark and then stop by Legananny Dolmen five minutes away. And take the Bronte Homeland Tour in the afternoon and by the end of the day you will be ready to sit down to a nice hot meal having explored the heart of our beloved County Down.

    If you think you will enjoy climbing the peaks of Northern Ireland, you might as well do it right.

    Have you read our articles about:

    Hiking checklists, what to take hiking

    Hiking safety tips

    Hiking hazards

    What to wear when hiking

    and of course…. the history of hiking! (I know, it is becoming compulsive. I must know the history of everything! )

    Have you read our story of walking up Slieve Donard? That was hard!