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New Trail Network at Castle Ward!


Construction work has now started on a new network of sustainable off-road trails through one of Northern Ireland’s most scenic landscapes. The new trail system, due to be officially launched in June 2011, will provide up to 21 miles of trails leading through the picturesque Castle Ward Demesne in County Down. Incorporated in the design will be Northern Ireland’s first long-distance, cross-country mountain biking trail as well as sustainable tracks for horse riders, walkers and runners alike. There will also be an all-ability path constructed along the shores of Strangford Lough, suitable for buggies and prams as well as wheelchair users and those with limited mobility.

The Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN) has been working in partnership with the National Trust and British Horse Society since 2003 to deliver this project which has now been made possible with funding from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Down District Council and the Rural Development Programme. National Trust Property Manager Barbara Muhly explains “There are currently a range of trails throughout Castle Ward which are well used by walkers and horse riders. In recent years, we have also seen a substantial rise in the numbers of cyclists around the demesne. This new network of multi-use trails has been designed to cater for the increasing number of visitors as well as to address our rural management issues. The result will be sustainable trails, catering for a number of outdoor activities, requiring minimal maintenance on the ground.”

Set in picturesque parkland, forest and farmland on the shores of Strangford Lough, the Castle Ward Demesne has been attracting visitors for many years. The estate boasts an 18th Century mansion house, exotic gardens, stunning mixed woodland, children’s adventure play area and access to Strangford Lough.

“Naturally we are thrilled to have been able to enhance our trails with ongoing support from CAAN and funding from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, the Rural Development Programme and Down District Council. This has really enabled us to bring the outdoors to life here at Castle Ward. We are really lucky that these enhanced trails will provide the opportunity for our visitors and local community to enjoy so much more access at Castle Ward,” continues Barbara.

Clare Wright, CAAN Product Development Manager, adds “Castle Ward is already an ideal destination for family days out and we hope that these new trails will add to the great facilities already available here and be perfect for visitors of all ages and abilities who want to enjoy more outdoor activities. We are delighted to have been able to secure the necessary funding required to enable trail construction to begin. Once completed, this project will ensure that Castle Ward is one of the best outdoor recreation venues in Northern Ireland.”

Construction work, which began on Monday 17th January 2011, is expected to take up to five months after which Castle Ward will have up to 21 miles of short, medium and long distance off-road trails. This extensive new network of trails has been meticulously designed by freelance trail developer Dafydd Davis MBE who has designed sustainable off-road trails all over the world.

“With a real mix of rural farmland and forests set with the stunning backdrop of Strangford Lough, Castle Ward is unquestionably rich in natural beauty. We have designed these trails to allow visitors to enjoy the demesne’s highlights as well as visiting areas where there was previously no or limited access,” explains Dafydd.

“The trails themselves will be constructed using specialist trail building techniques with three teams each working on separate sections of the trails at any one time. We will be using non-obtrusive methods to create sustainable trails which are in keeping with this unique landscape.”

The design and construction of these trails have been funded through the Northern Ireland Tourist Board’s Tourism Development Scheme, Down District Council, The National Trust and The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in rural areas programme. The redevelopment project also includes the construction of a new car parking area and the refurbishment of the Strangford Lough Wildlife Centre building which will act as a trail information point.

Speaking at the announcement of the funding package, Siobhan McCauley, NITB Director of Product Development said “The creation of dedicated walking, cycling and equestrian trails within the majestic surroundings of Castle Ward will greatly enhance the activities available to visitors within the region.  It is envisaged the development of these trails will attract many domestic and international tourists into the area.  It will encourage our visitors to experience the beautiful surroundings of Castle Ward and County Down and will provide the incentive for them to go on and explore more of the world-class visitor experiences that are waiting to be uncovered in this part of Northern Ireland.  I am pleased that NITB is providing £356,000 of funding support to this project through the Tourism Development Scheme.” 

Cllr Jim Fletcher, Chair of the Down Rural Area Partnership’s Joint Council Committee, said “Tourism remains a mainstay of the economy in the Strangford Lough region and the development of attractions for visitors is vital if we are to grow our tourism product and bring direct benefits to local, rural communities. I'm delighted that the Partnership is funding these new trails at the Castle Ward Demesne and I look forward to seeing them developed and in use".

All work on the new trail system at Castle Ward is due to be completed by early summer 2011. The trails will be fully signposted and there will be also be a bike wash on site. Café facilities and bike hire will also be available from Castle Ward. Route descriptions, images and maps for the Castle Ward trails will be available on both www.walkni.com and www.cycleni.com.

There will also be information on the new horse riding trails on www.outdoorni.com and www.bhsireland.com.

For those who wish to seek more information on these new trails and/or indeed other projects currently taken undertaken by CAAN visit www.countrysiderecreation.com or contact the CAAN office on 028 9030 3930.