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Northern Ireland Blazes a Trail!


Hundreds of people from across Northern Ireland basked in the extraordinary autumnal weather and got outdoors on local walking, cycling, canoeing and horse-riding trails last Sunday to celebrate Ireland’s 3rd National Trails Day. This cross border initiative boasted 180 free activity events nationwide with everything from ‘Have a Go’ canoeing sessions at Shaw’s Bridge in Belfast to an interactive Bat Walk through Mount Stewart Estate in County Down. With the National Trust and Forest Service waiving their entrance fees at key parks and estates, there were 58 events in Northern Ireland, all completely free of charge to members of the public.

The Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN) led the coordination and promotion of all National Trails Day events in Northern Ireland and by all accounts, Sunday 3rd October turned out to be a great success. “It was fantastic to see so many people out using trails in their local areas. Obviously the aim of the day was to raise awareness of just how accessible these local trails are to members of the public; however we also wanted the events to educate existing trail users on some of the history and traditions of the landscapes they explore,” explained Chris Armstrong from CAAN.

Guided walks throughout Northern Ireland included an archeology and heritage trek up Divis and Black Mountain, an industrial legacy walk through the Lagan valley and autumn wildlife walk around Crom Estate in Fermanagh. There was a ‘Through the Years’ event in County Armagh where walkers learnt about the heritage of the Ring of Gullion Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a ‘Leave No Trace’ walk along the Sallagh Braes in the Antrim Hills. The Forest Service also hosted a Red Squirrel awareness day at Gortin Glen Forest Park with loads of fun activities for all the family, including interactive quizzes and craft workshops.

“Another objective of National Trails Day was to encourage people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to try their hand at a variety of different activities on offer in their area. Canoeing seemed to be a really popular choice with organisers telling us that they were literally inundated with people wanting to come along to their events on the River Blackwater, Lough Erne and Strangford Lough,” continued Chris. “Now, just because National Trails Day is over for another year, this doesn’t mean that the opportunity to get outdoors and take part in these activities has passed.”

The Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN) was set up in 1999 to promote outdoor recreation in Northern Ireland. Over the past 10 years, they have developed 5 unique canoe trails (the first of their kind in Europe) and numerous off-road cycling and walking trails throughout the country. “Basically at CAAN we have two roles; the first is to develop recreational opportunities throughout the country with the second being to provide all the information people need to make use of these walking, cycling, canoeing or horse riding trails. To do this we have developed WalkNI.com, CanoeNI.com, CycleNI.com and OutdoorNI.com. We hope that these websites will be used as an online resource for anyone interested in discovering how to better enjoy Northern Ireland’s outdoors.”

So, whether you got out on trails last Sunday or not, the message from CAAN is that these trails are not going anywhere and they are out there specifically for us all to use, so let’s make the most of them and start enjoying our outdoor environment.

National Trails Day was organised with the support of CAAN’s financial partners Inland Waterways of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Waterways Ireland and Sport Northern Ireland. The National Trust and Forest Service were CAAN’s support partners for all the day’s events.