Lockdown Reflections and Looking Forward to Seeing the Bluebells on the Sallagh Braes.
The past year has turned all our lives upside down as we have struggled to adapt and adjust to the ‘new normal’, a result of the devastating impact of the global pandemic. Undoubtedly one of the most challenging aspects of this new order is not being able to physically be with family and friends. New IT skills have been hastily acquired to take advantage of the fantastic communication technologies such as Facetime and Zoom. Our daughter and son live and work far from Northern Ireland and being able to see and chat to them online has been great consolation for Dee and myself.
Keeping active and as busy as possible has been another key strategy in helping us to cope. In the winter months when confined indoors, we have spent many hours in our office, ruthlessly sorting the bulging folders and obsolete files of paperwork accumulated over several decades. This activity often generated quite nostalgic conversations during coffee breaks, about our life journey which were a welcome change to the upsetting daily news anytime the TV or radio was switched on.
Where would we have been without television on the long winter evenings? A popular topic during family zoom sessions was who was watching what. How interesting to compare what each family household was watching and the insightful critiques and exchanges we shared, often as good as any professional review. How Dee and I dreaded the ending of the Australian drama series, ‘A Place to Call Home’. Here we must confess we binged our way through 67 episodes in a few short weeks! Thankfully, our daughter steered us to another winner, ‘This Is us’, another generational family drama (set in America) which enthralled us almost as well.
On the many mild, fair-weather days through the winter, Dee and I took the opportunity to get out in the fresh air and explore the beautiful landscapes all around us; along the country roads, traversing the Antrim Hills behind us and the Causeway Coastal Route just 1 km from the house. Dee’s posts of these rambles on Instagram are a great hit and eagerly anticipated by guests who have stayed with us, friends and family from near and far.
Now as the days lengthen, the temperature begins to warm up and restrictions are relaxed - our thoughts at BallyCairn turn to revisiting our favourite hill, forest and woodland walks in and around the Glens of Antrim, the Ulster Way, the Causeway Coast and beyond. In a few weeks’ time, from mid-April onwards, we look forward to rambling along the top of Knockdhu Hill onto the Sallagh Braes to marvel at the spectacle of the bluebells in bloom. This walk is part of 'The Ulster Way', a series of walking routes around Northern Ireland (for further information visit: http://www.walkni.com/ulsterway/).In recent years this walk has become one of our favourite spring adventures. We love to encourage guests staying with us in the bed and breakfast and self-catering accommodations at BallyCairn to make a point of seeing this spectacle.
We recommend you take a rucksack of the usual hillwalking essentials and a packed lunch. At the end of the lane, turn right on the road to the hamlet of Cairncastle. Then almost immediately turn left onto the Ballymullock Road and travel to the small car park at Linford, about 3.5km from here. On route, you can admire the amazing Viking village at the foot of Knockdhu Hill (translated from the Irish 'Cnoc Dubh' meaning 'Black Hill'). This set was built in 2019 for the upcoming film ‘The Northman’ which has been filmed in several locations in Northern Ireland over the past two years (The Northman Updates: Release Date & Story Info | Screen Rant).
Arriving at Linford carpark, take time to enjoy the view down the valley to Ballygally village and read the information board on this location as the setting of the ‘Lands North of Winterfell’ in the global sensation, Game of Thrones© series. Climbing over the style at the far side of the car park, follow the Ulster Way signposts to ascend the slope a short distance onto the plateau of Knockdhu. Continue along the route and less than 1km along you will see the Sallagh Braes swooping down from the edge of the hill. Pick a safe place among the gorse and heather to have a picnic and feast on the spectacular views below. The scent of the bluebells is intoxicating and the views from the Braes, overlooking Ballygally village and over the Irish Sea towards Scotland are breath-taking! If you are fortunate you might see some of the native wild inhabitants on these hills, including Irish hares and buzzards. This hillside is also a Bronze Age fort which was excavated for the first time in 2008 for an episode of the TV series 'Time Team' (first broadcast on the 18th of January 2009).
Continue to follow the signposts which take you right along the top of the Braes to the Mullaghsandal Road. Linford carpark to this road is about 2km. If you have time and do not wish to return to the carpark the same way, take the longer route back by road. Turn right onto the Mullaghsandall Road and walk until you come to the Loughdoo Road on the right. This rural area is beautiful moorland leading towards the district of Feystown, a cluster of farms nestled in the hillsides leading to the first of the nine Glens of Antrim, Glenarm.
At the end of Loughdoo Road, turn right onto the Feystown Road to return to Linford carpark and Cairncastle village. Arriving back in Cairncastle village make sure you stop for a well earned pint of Guinness and maybe an early dinner, in the beautiful traditional pub, The Meeting House, also known as ‘Matties’ (Matties – Traditional Pub Larne). Dee’s favourite meal is the steak sandwich and mine is the ‘Boxer Jim’ Guinness pie (see the folder in your accommodation for information on the legendary local man, Jim Magill).
Return to your accommodation at BallyCairn to relax and rest in comfort, reinvigorated by a day of adventure and excitement in the fresh air on this stunning section of the Ulster Way. The following day, continue the adventure by exploring the equally beautiful section of the Ulster Way over Scawt Hill, starting from the other side of the road from Linford carpark (see Scawt Hill blog) walking over the hills towards Glenarm.