The Ulster Way was the brainchild of Wilfrid Capper MBE who in 1946 had the inspiration to create a circular walking route taking in the six counties of Northern Ireland.
The Ulster Way was originally planned to be walking link between the ring of Youth Hostels which used to encircle Northern Ireland. There were about 15 hostels in total, sited in the most scenic areas, and the idea was that walkers could plan to tour the country sleeping in a different place each night.
The Ulster Way became one of the longest waymarked trails in Britain and Ireland measuring 665 miles (1,070 kilometres) and was enjoyed by many.
The original Ulster Way route included a lot of road walking and some sections eventually began to suffer from increased traffic; there were also issues, in a few areas, about permission to cross private land. These factors resulted in a group being established in 2003 to examine how the Ulster Way might be best redefined.
The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) was identified as the most appropriate body to take over the co-ordination of the route and independent advice was supplied by an Ulster Way Advisory Committee which included members from walking groups and other agencies.
Many partners worked together from 2004-2009 to bring the new route and website to fruition and many thanks goes to each and every one.
A new Ulster Way route was agreed in early 2009 and is designed to provide a high quality walking experience.
In order to deliver this quality experience, the route is divided into Quality and Link sections. The Quality sections are mainly on the already established Waymarked Ways which are predominantly off road and passing through Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Walkers will be encouraged to use public transport along the Link sections as they are mainly on public roads. However really keen walkers will be able to include these sections as well and complete the circular route of Northern Ireland which totals 625 miles (1,000 kilometres)
A walk along all of the Ulster Way Quality sections, and using public transport to link them, will provide a truly memorable experience for any long distance walker.
Although the revised Ulster Way was launched in 2009 the vision is to constantly evolve the route in order to increase the mileage of Quality sections. For example it is hoped that a significant section of the Belfast Hills including Divis and Black Mountain – the famous backdrop to the city of Belfast will eventually be incorporated into the route. The majority of this area was secured and reopened by the National Trust in 2005.
Wilfrid Capper MBE was born in Belfast in 1905. He grew up to become a leading campaigner for the protection of the countryside; and continued to fight for his beliefs until his death in 1998.
In Northern Ireland, Wilfrid was involved in the establishment of:
But he was perhaps best known for raising funds to purchase White Park Bay and the creation of the original Ulster Way.
Wilfrid walked the Pennine Way in 1946 and this gave him the idea for a similar long distance trail in Northern Ireland.
He eventually realised his dream by being appointed as Footpaths Officer with the Sports Council; this led to him spending many happy years travelling the countryside to negotiate access with hundreds of landowners. He took his time, often travelled by public transport and was served countless cups of tea in farmyards. Eventually, almost 30 years later, the magnificent new Ulster Way was fully opened for walkers.
Wilfrid never tired of his creation and he certainly was a fine ambassador for the health benefits of walking - amazingly, at the age of 88, he hiked the entire 665 mile route in just 32 days.