Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland have been working hard with local councils and communities to develop a series of community trails across the country. Although Northern Ireland offers many opportunities for outdoor recreation within its urban and rural environments, opportunities on people’s ‘doorstep’, close to where they live, are often limited. Community trails are therefore valuable in creating safe off-road greenspace for local residents to enjoy the outdoors.
This month we are highlighting Tobar Mhuire Heritage Trail a 1.6 mile trail in the heart of Crossgar, Co. Down, set within 55 acres of woodland. Visitors can enjoy a relaxing stroll through the grounds exploring some of the unique heritage including Mary’s Well (a holy well), Victorian walled garden and a spectacular view of the Mourne Mountains and Co Down landscape.
The long history of Tobar Mhuire begins as good histories begin, with the story of a legend.
It is the legend of the ‘holy wells’ that are found throughout Ireland. Many ‘holy wells’ were to be found and were believed to be places of special power and life. This strong belief in the ‘sacredness of wells’ was deeply ingrained into Irish Christian thought. As legend has it, the well located to the left of the main avenue was one of these ancient holy wells. If legend was reality, this well would have been art of an ancient Christian chapel dating back as far as 583AD. This well became affectionately known as “Mary’s Well,” which is translated in Irish as Tobar Mhuire.
The War Years
Between 1942-45, the British and then the American armies occupied the house and nissen huts were erected in the grounds.
Starting in the car park behind the walled garden the trail is travelled in an anticlockwise direction following the waymarkers. The trail begins through a wooded area to the rear of St Colmcilles high School. (At weekends car parking and trail access are available from the main car park, accessed off the Downpatrick Road)
Upon reaching the driveway, cross over and look out for a foundation which was the military outlook post when British and American troops occupied the grounds in WWII. Follow the path through an area of dense rhododendron with the option of taking the shorter route directly to ‘Mary’s Well’ (a holy well) translated into Irish means ‘Tobar Mhuire’. From here continue along the path, crossing the main driveway to either proceed up the hill or take a short detour left for a view of the original Crossgar House. Please note: this section of the trail is linear and visitors will need to retrace their steps to continue the trail up the hill.
The trail then winds its way up the hill to the seated viewpoint area affording visitors a spectacular view of the Mournes (on a clear day!). The trail then proceeds through the wooded area where there is plenty of opportunities to explore and play, after which the trail descends down the hill and back to the car park.
Visitors are also welcome to visit the Walled Garden to enjoy the newly restored pond and look upon the impressive glasshouse – permission via Retreat Centre.
Is there a car park?
Yes, Infact there are two! One car park is located at Tobar Mhuire Retreat Centre while the other is located off the Killyleagh Road.
What are the paths like?
The paths are compact gravel. The walk is suitable for those with prams however, please be aware that there are some steep climbs via a switchback path.
Are dogs allowed?
Dogs are allowed but must be kept under control on a lead at all times.
Are there toilet facilities onsite?
Toilets provided in Tobar Mhuire Retreat Centre.
Check out this walk for yourself on WalkNI: Tobar Mhuire Heritage Trail Walk