Cavehill Country Park (more correctly Cave Hill Country Park) is a part just outside Belfast that is popular with locals and visitors. On its slopes is built the majestic Belfast Castle. But whereas the castle lies at a height of 400 feet (120 meters) the hill reaches a whopping 1200 feet (365 meters) and as such affords much better views not only of Belfast, but of the whole surrounding area. The park is easily accessible by both car and local transportation so there is no excuse for you not to visit.
Cavehill has eight walking trails both for novices and for the more demanding ramblers. Perhaps the better known is the circuitous path that begins at Belfast Castle and returns to the same spot (though being circuitous route it can, of course, be joined at a number of other places, some of which offer good car parking facilities).
It covers 4.5 miles (7.2 km) mostly over broken or uneven terrain. It takes in most of the places of interest on the hill and offers spectacular views but will test your feet and endurance if you are not used to hiking. it will take between two and a half and three hours. If you prefer something less taxing, you may opt for one of the shorter paths that will still keep you happy and healthy.
A Sense of History
While walking and admiring nature are the main preoccupations of those who visit, Cavehill is not without its history. It was originally called Ben Madigan from a local chieftain who died in AD 855.
On the top of the hill is McArt’s Fort an ancient ráth type of fortification. It consists of flat ground protected on one side by a steep drop and on the other by a ditch 10 feet deep (3 meters). Ráth or Ringforts were used from possibly the Iron Age until early medieval times and several thousand have been found throughout the island. They were very basic constructions, mostly dirt, rock and wood. Some ringforts were simply large farms with basic defensive features while others had bigger functions. There are other ráths on the grounds of the Country Park but not as spectacular or well known as McArt’s Fort. There is also a crannog (an dwelling place in a lake) at Hazelwood.
Cavehill takes its name from five caves that dot the slopes. The caves are man made and some speculate that they are ancient mines.
The high point where McArt’s Fort lies is also known as Napoleon’s Nose. If you are standing there you will not know why. But as you are driving towards the Country Park or leaving it, take a careful look and the rock outcrop looks like a human nose which some suggest inspired Jonathan Swift in his work Gulliver’s Travels.
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