I wrote to the Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN) to highlight this blog. They are currently seeking responses to 9 Issue Papers which will feed into the development of a Northern Ireland Outdoor Recreation Action Plan 2012-21. I received a very encouraging response, and I would urge anyone with an interest to contribute to the debate. The issue papers can be viewed on the Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland website.
Completing the main line of the former Belfast and County Down Railway, there is potential to open a 10-mile dedicated cycle and walking path from Downpatrick to Newcastle. Opening access to the Mourne countryside can help to encourage active tourism and encourage healthier lifestyles in Northern Ireland.
Starting from the working heritage railway in Downpatrick, the track bed heads out following near the line of the Ballydugan Road towards Clough. As the proposed pathway crosses the A25, there is potential for linkages to Clough, Seaforde and its Gardens and Tropical Butterfly House. The line then turns South West towards Dundrum Bay, beginning one of the most spectacular walkways Northern Ireland could boast. The old line hugs the coast, extending into the bay at one point (see picture). Dundrum Bay lies at the edge of the Murlough Bay Nature reserve, lending some wonderful tourism potential to the route.
A new pedestrian and cycling greenway route through Downpatrick would link the historic town with Belfast, and provide a quality tourist trail from Northern Ireland’s captial city to the Mourne Mountains.
The best place to start detailing the vision for a network of Northern Ireland Greenways is with a town already benefiting from a traffic-free cycling and walking path, the 7 mile Comber Greenway. This popular route traces the old Belfast and County Down line with minor diversions to account for interim development. The Comber Greenway is heavily used for walking, leisure cycling and commuting, and includes a number of nodes such as the Billy Neill Soccer Centre of Excellence, the retail and business park at Dundonald, and a direct link into the heart of Belfast.