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Summer at Helen’s Tower

Summer at Helen’s Tower

It took me a few wrong turns and nearly becoming a trespasser before I finally found this place. It was a Sunday afternoon and I had one of those mad impulses to take my camera out on my own and explore but not really having any particular destination in mind. I get like this sometimes; restless to explore a place I haven’t found yet with an impatience that’s hard to contain. I poured over the map on my phone while I sat in the front seat of my car, my foot on the pedal ready for adventure. I didn’t have to search for long until I saw a pin for Helen’s Tower, a Victorian piece of history only a few miles away that I’d amazingly not hunted down yet. It was perfect! So off I went, tripod in the backseat just in case I got lucky.

Google maps took me in the direction of Newtownards and then up a tiny country road that I knew instantly I didn’t belong on; the big red letters saying “Private Road” being enough of a warning. But oh my the views! I could see right over Strangford Lough and hills that rolled for miles, peppered with the bright yellow gorse bushes that take over this time of year. I even came across deer roaming between fields and rolled down the window holding my breath to get a better look.

Realising that I’d have to find an alternative route to the tower without having an angry farmer chasing me down the lane, I took a few random turns before finally noticing a tiny, completely missable entrance on Crawfordsburn Road with two or three cars parked beside it. Swinging the tripod over my shoulder like Huckleberry Finn I optimistically made my way up the windy path, hoping I was heading in the right direction (there was no real sign letting me know I was in the right place!).

A few minutes in to the walk I was smitten. The path shone gold ahead of me with the summer afternoon light speckling through the leaves above me. Every now and again the trees would give way to something new; a meadow full of wildflowers or a lake full of nosey swans with a path cutting across the middle. The further I walked the more lost I felt in this new Narnia land that I had all to myself.

Eventually the path turned in to a hill and I knew I was coming close to the tower. Panting and cursing the tripod that was now burrowing a hole in my shoulder, I climbed over root-covered paths that threatened to trip me if I wasn’t careful. Rhododendrons seemed to spring up out of nowhere and bluebells were out in full force. Sweating like pig I wasn’t exactly feeling princess-y but I could see the roof of the tower between the trees! It was beautiful and I gazed up at it while I splayed out on the grass recovering from the unexpected hike.

This place is a true gem and each time I’ve been it’s been practically deserted of people. An even bigger surprise was learning that you can actually rent this spot out via the Irish Landmark Trust – can you imagine?!! It would be the perfect romantic getaway for two with the rooftop providing the perfect spot to survey “your” land while sipping on a few glasses of wine. While I was forced to make do with being a lowly civilian I could still see why there were numerous poems written about this place (Tennyson himself penned one in honour of the tower); the woodlands surrounding it are full of magic and even today it feels like you’re a million miles away from anyone else.

I started to make my way back to the car when the sun started to fall low and I remembered with a panic that I was all by myself in a place devoid of people. I half-ran half-skipped back to the car and promised myself that this would be my secret space this summer (a secret that I definitely couldn’t not share it seems!) and that I would be back to explore more. But maybe with Andrew next time as my Tower bodyguard/photographer…

P.S. The Irish Landmark Trust have a tonne of properties you should have a look at if staying in a ridiculously romantic location is your thing! It’s not an ad but just a vital piece of information I’ve newly learned!

 

 

 

Where to Walk in Belfast

Where to Walk in Belfast

When I moved to Belfast just over a year ago, I was a complete newbie and had no idea how to make the city my home. I’m used to moving around (I think I’ve had about 10 addresses in the last 5 years!) so I know how important it is to discover places that I can make my own to help me feel more settled.

There are so many great places to walk in Belfast and because it’s such a small city, you can be amongst nature in no time at all. I am definitely an outdoors girl and I’ve discovered lots of places to go for a stroll or, if I’m feeling really adventurous, a jog! After a day in the office there is nothing better than surrounding yourself with nature and bringing yourself back down to earth again.

Here are a few ideas if any city folks are looking for inspiration…

Lagan Towpath

I lived in the south of Belfast when I first came here and my house was right across from the Lagan River. Soon after I moved, my friend Caoimhe introduced me to a walk that takes you up the Lagan towards the Lockkeeper Inn, a great dog-friendly pub that’s perfect for a summer pint. Within a mile of following the path, you can find yourself in a meadow and feel a million miles away from the city. Even though I’ve since moved, this is still one of my favourite walks.

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Divis Mountain

The mountain is located in the west of the city and a little out of the centre but it’s well worth getting in the car for. The views are incredible here – you can see both the Sperrin and Mourne mountains and since these ranges are found on opposite sides of Northern Ireland, it makes you realise just how small the country is. It also offers a great perspective of the city as well and on a clear day you can even see Scotland. There is a path you can follow all the way to Cave Hill which is great for cyclists otherwise there is a 3 mile loop walk for the those who want to dander.

Tip: if you ever hear of a meteor shower happening, this is the best spot to view them!

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Cave Hill 

The mountain is a landmark in Belfast with Belfast Castle and Belfast Zoo both found up here. You can park the car at the castle and make the climb up which can be a little tough (I took a fair few breaks pretending to take a photo but in actual fact I had a stitch so bad I could barely breathe!) and you need to be mindful of the stones when coming down again. The views are brilliant up here as well, especially of the port and you can even see Stormont in the distance as well.

Tip: bring a dog with you that can help pull you up on the lead towards the end!

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Cairn Wood

Andrew and I moved in together in March and he discovered this great wee walk not far from where we live. It’s located between Belfast and Newtownards and there are a few different routes to take depending on how fit you feel that day. The woodland is so pretty and through the trees you can spot the Irish Sea and Scrabo Tower in the distance.

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There are so many great walks in and around the city – all it takes is some bravery to face the Irish weather in the colder months but it is always well worth it!