Last week I took advantage of a rare sunny day to do some hiking in the hills around Belfast. I put on my hiking boots and backpack and drove up to Divis and the Black Mountain carpark (if you think the mountain looks daunting from central Belfast, you should know that the carpark is already quite a way up the mountain).
The area, having been in private hands for decades, is now cared for by The National Trust, and they have produced a simple map with various walking trails marked out. On the site, there are two sealed-off areas with radio and television masts. I guess that it is because these areas need occasional servicing, or the BBC’s vicious-looking guard dogs need occasional feeding, that the route that ascends to the summit of Divis (1562ft / 476m) is a proper road, with yield signs and speed limits, etc. (no public access). As a result, you may feel that you’re not really getting out into the wild – however, it does means that the summit is accessible (I passed a family with a son in a wheelchair). Also, there are alternative, more difficult, paths (especially if you get lost…) for those who want them. And lastly, the views from the top are so stunning that it really doesn’t matter!
I started with the Black Mountain. Much of this path is a wooden boardwalk which takes you across squelching bogland. The summit is marked by a stone pillar, and gives a taste of the views from the top of Divis. The view from there is even better, not only can you gaze right down the middle of Belfast Lough to Scotland beyond, but you can also see Lough Neagh from the other side. It’s pretty much a 360 degree view over Northern Ireland and, on a clear day, is just breathtaking.
After following the routes to both summits, I tried the so-called ‘Tipperary trail’ (no idea how it got this name, my guess being that it’s because it’s a long way?). At a certain point down this route you need to take a left turn – I missed it, retraced my steps, and then realised that the ‘path’, which, confusingly, is given the same priority on the map as the sealed road, was actually a series of thick posts, each spaced about 20 metres apart, stretching off over bogland and the sources of several rivers. This was fine, up until the point where the posts ended – seemingly in the middle of nowhere. At this stage I followed, what I later learned, was an old famine wall leading up the side of Divis – and this is where things got interesting again.
I came across a small patch of open ground with some industrial debris laying around, and next to this, buried in the heather, a large tupperware wrapped in camouflage. I opened it (my wife, who is from ‘the North’, later warned me that one probably shouldn’t open concealed, camouflaged boxes in Belfast) to find, what I soon learned, was a ‘Geocache’. Inside I found several plastic toys, leaflets about the National Trust and a log book. If you are not familiar with geocaching, think of a global, orienteering treasure hunt, or a party that’s been going on all around you that you never noticed, or a hidden world of hiding places, GPS devices and nerds (for me, the term is not pejorative) operating below ‘muggle’ radar. Find out more on www.geocaching.com. Oh yes, and from this site I discovered that my ‘industrial debris’ was in fact the remains of a military aircraft crash from some time in the 40s.
The rest of my walk is inconsequential – basically aiming for the carpark once it came into view, and avoiding the bulls.
Next step – the Mournes.