In the first part of our Undiscovered Ulster series, we showed you the most under-rated spots of Nigel’s home town Belfast and this is one of them.
The famous profile of Belfast’s 370m high Cave Hill can be seen from almost anywhere in the city and even beyond. Its most famous feature, known as Napoleon’s Nose, is said to have inspired the giant in Jonathan Swift’s novel Gulliver’s Travels.
The Cave Hill Country Park contains a number of trails for all ages. Our favourite walk, the Cave Hill trail, starts in the beautiful grounds of Belfast Castle, which dates back to the19th Century. The complete trail is about 4 miles/ 7km long but there are other longer and shorter trail options. The guide books call it a challenging trail but we often see children doing it. There are a number of quite steep sections and steps but if you take your time it shouldn’t be a problem to most people.
Once out of the forest you arrive at a plateau from where you get your first views over Belfast and the Lough and you also get your first view of the caves that gave the hill its name. To get to the caves you have to scramble up a rocky slope so it may not be worth the effort! They are actually man made, cut from the basalt rock. They were thought to have provided a place of temporary refuge hundreds of years ago, as they were easily defended. The area below the largest cave is known as the Devil’s Punchbowl. Continue to follow the path around the hillside where it narrows to single file and once you reach the top, turn left and follow the trail. It will take you to what is known as McArts Fort – it’s believed a small fort once stood here.
From here, the views are impressive and on a clear day you can see much of County Down as far as the Mourne Mountains as well as Scotland and the Isle of Man. We’re told that Snowdonia in Wales may also be visible. We were lucky that we had almost perfect visibility during our recent climb and we stood at McArts Fort in the setting sun for quite some time taking photographs and videos taking in the views before we lost all feeling in our fingers in the chilly wind! Whilst at the summit we met Margreet and Sara from the Netherlands and Gran Canaria respectively. They are currently working in Belfast as interns and were making their first visit to the Cave Hill so we were able to take some photographs of them too!
With darkness falling and lack of feeling in our fingers we decided to head back down the way we had come up which took about 30-40 minutes. There is a shortcut path from McArts Fort, which cuts off quite a bit of the descent but it’s very steep with loose stones! Allow about 2 to 3 hours to visit the grounds of Belfast Castle and complete the trail.