In hiking boots or just good walking shoes, there’s plenty to enjoy in Mid and East Antrim Borough

Tuesday 2 February 2016

The great outdoors is calling and Mid and East Antrim Borough has plenty to offer those keen to tread the scenic paths – and that doesn’t always mean being in the wilds.

Councillor Billy Ashe, Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough, said there’s a great deal for walkers to enjoy in Mid and East Antrim Borough, either in a rural setting or even within our towns and villages.

Speaking at Ballymena’s Ecos Nature Park, he said: “Close to Ballymena town itself, walkers here can feed the mallard ducks, geese and swans, or spot the many migrant ducks that dabble for food on the lake shore. Often you can hear the soft whistles of teal echoing across the water. Large flocks of chittering finches and linnets are a common sight busily feeding around the park,” he added.

Pictured here with the Mayor is Charles McDevitte, Chairperson of the Ballymena Walking for Health Group whose members enjoy the Ecos setting and many others like it. This group - formed in 2002 by Frank McFarland and Jo Higgins – now fields well over 100 members each Wednesday and has a busy schedule of both ‘home’ and ‘away’ walks in its programme.

Mr McDevitte said: “Ecos offers eight kilometres of mostly flat footpath that lead visitors around 220 acres of parkland that includes maturing woodland, peaceful lake and ponds, grazed meadows and hay meadows.

“It is just one of the many local venues our 100-plus membership continues to enjoy,” he said, adding that Ecos Nature Park is easy to find too, being situated between the town and the motorway and fully signposted.

There’s many more to choose from, with several other semi urban locations with great access in local towns and villages near Ballymena.

  • Buttermilk Bridge, Broughshane, where walkers are directed from Houston’s Mill car park along a scenic 2.4km riverside environment.
  • Lisnaffillan Walk starts at the car park beside the Galgorm/Gracehiill community centre and is 3.4km.
  • The Maine Riverside walk (3km) is a picturesque woodland and river walk which starts from either Cullybackey or Galgorm.
  • Tullaghgarley Bridge is from Galgorm Castle Golf Club car park (5.6km).
  • Pennybridge Walk (3.9km) is again easily accessed, from the Ballee roundabout site, Antrim Road and takes in the pretty Deerfin Burn.
  • The People’s Park close to Ballymena town centre has a lot to offer its many visitors throughout the year. The Pavilion at the centre of the site overlooks a large lake, home to a large range of wild ducks and geese. The Park is also the venue for the Teddy Toddle walk - this clearly marked walking route is available throughout the year providing young children the ideal safe location for a ‘walk in the park’.

Elsewhere in the Borough, there are many more rural, sometimes challenging routes, both inland around Ballymena and also towards the coast above Larne.

  • Slemish visitors are signposted from Borougshane to the designated car park and on to a 2km circular route that rises almost 1500ft to the iconic summit. That’s where St Patrick is said to have grazed his sheep. Excellent views of the Antrim and Scottish coasts.
  • Portglenone is an excellent starting point for a healthy walk in the great outdoors with two circular walks of 1.7 and 2.3kms taking in woodland, forest and riverscape.
  • The 4km Skerry Trail enjoys views of Glenravel Glen that runs from Ballymena to Cushendall and is accessed by the car park in rural Newtowncrommelin village. Walkers can enjoy such sights as glimpses of hen harriers, peregrine falcons, red grouse or the occasional fox.
  • Among the more challenging walks across the Borough is the 35km Antrim Hills Way, a two-day, (recommended) walk that features expansive panoramas and challenging climbs, featuring cliffs, moorland and country tracks. It starts from scenic Glenarm and ends at Slemish. has full details online or in a handy printed guidebook.
  • Smaller parts of the walk can be undertaken too and there is an amazing walk at Sallagh Braes and Scawt Hill which can be accessed from Linford Car Park which overlooks Ballygally.
  • There are also many walks in Glenarm which include the Glenarm Forest and Straidkilly Nature reserve which can be accessed via Batchelors Walk. Also in Carnlough there is a great walk up to Cranny Falls.
  • Further down the coast is the hugely popular Carnfunnock Park, outside Larne. It was voted Family Visitor Attraction of 2015 and mixes facilities such as extensive play attractions, a modern camping and caravan site with over 190 hectares of woodlands with bracing walks and even a walled garden and Maze to enjoy. There is an excellent café with fabulous views.

Towards Carrickfergus, walks abound too.

  • The Blackhead Path, Whitehead is lined by interesting wildlife habitats including grassland, woodland (known locally as the 'Magic Forest') and a rocky shoreline. Walkers can ascend steps to reach Blackhead Lighthouse which was designed by William Douglass, Engineer to the Commissioners of Irish Lights. Free car parking is available at Blackhead carpark.
  • Diamond Jubilee Wood, Whitehead is a living, lasting legacy to commemorate the 2012 Diamond Jubilee, marking Queen Elizabeth's 60th year as monarch. The woodland contains 60,000 trees including a fruit tree orchard, a 2km path network, a 1000sqm pond, wildflower meadows, outdoor gym, picnic area and a sculpture designed by local artist Kevin Killen. It is accessed via Bentra Golf Course. There is free car parking and the recently refurbished Clubhouse includes changing rooms and toilet facilities.
  • Bashfordsland Wood and Oakfield Glen sit side-by-side on the western edge of Carrickfergus, approximately 1 ½ miles from the historic town centre. Mid and East Antrim Borough Council and The Woodland Trust work in partnership on the two sites and a network of paths and access points link the two. The walk is mostly level and moderate with some gentle inclines. There is over 4km of pathways running through both sites.
  • Carrickfergus Mill Ponds is three hectares of land which is an urban oasis for wildlife. The main features of the site are the two former mill ponds which form part of the rich and varied industrial heritage of Carrickfergus. The site also includes wetlands, mature trees, species rich hedgerows and grassland, with a good range of species for the size of the area. The Sullatober River flows through the site forming an important wildlife corridor, linking the coast with Oakfield Glen, Bashfordsland Wood and the countryside beyond. Free car parking is available at the Amphitheatre Wellness Centre, Prince William Way, Carrickfergus.