Heavy cloud hung over Belfast. After a couple of days sightseeing in the city we were itching to get up high and cram some hilltop air into our lungs.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
To the west of Belfast the cloud had cut the city’s heights off at the knees, but when we set off from the National Trust’s visit centre on Divis Mountain, the murk was already drifting clear of the tops.
NT Warden Dermot McCann filled us in on the network of walks the Trust has established up here, where all Belfast comes when it wants a good blow-through. ‘From Divis on a good day you can see, well … Cumbria and the Scottish coast across the sea, Belfast Lough, the Mourne Mountains, Donegal – and of course the whole of Belfast city laid out below.’
Divis is a wild place, amazingly so when you consider how close to the city it is. Moorland and blanket bog, bright with flowers in season, stretch off in all directions. The shoulder of Black Mountain shut Belfast away as we made our way up the hillside towards the summit masts on Divis Mountain. Meadow pipits flitted, crying chee-chee-chippit! Skylarks sprang up from sedgy clumps to climb their aerial staircases, tiny shapes fluttering frantically in a grey sky filled with their sweet continuous song.
From the summit of Divis the view was still a green-grey blur, but down at the trig pillar on the crown of Black Mountain we sat and took in the clearing prospect – Belfast Lough narrowing to push inland past the docks towards the crowded maze of the city centre, Cave Hill a dark ominous bulk hanging over the northern sector; a faint hint of the Ards Peninsula hills out west; and twenty miles away in the south the hunched back of Slieve Croob with the dramatic cones of the Mourne Mountains looking over its shoulder, palest grey against a white horizon. Of all the features in the city below us, the great yellow shipbuilding cranes Samson and Goliath and the silver ships’-prow shape of the Titanic Belfast museum stood clearest, picked out together in one concentrated beam of intense sunlight.
We followed the Ridge Trail southwest with Belfast on our left shoulder; then the whole city vanished like a dream once more as we turned for home across the boggy mountain under celestial lark song that had never let up the whole walk through.
Start: National Trust visitor centre, Divis Lodge, near Hannahstown, BT17 0NG (OS ref J273744)
Getting there: M1 south from Belfast, Jct 2. A55 past Andersonstown; in 1½ miles, left on B38 (‘Upper Springfield Road’). Just past Hannahstown, right (‘Divis & Black Mountain’); in ½ a mile, right opposite Long Barn car park (free parking) to NT visitor centre car park (moderate charge – coins).
Walk (6 miles, moderate, OSNI Discoverer 15; walk maps downloadable at nationaltrust.org.uk or walkni.com. NB: online map, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk): Right along road through gate; left (‘Summit & Heath Trails’) up track. In ½ a mile at fork, follow ‘Summit Trail’. Just before circular butt (276755) right up rock-studded trail to Divis summit trig pillar (281755). Follow access road down to road (285749). Left; before masts, right (‘Ridge Trail’) up boardwalk, then gravel path to Black Mountain summit trig pillar (294748). On south-west along Ridge Trail (gravel, boardwalk, flagstones) for 2½ miles back to road (275745); left to NT centre.
Lunch: Picnic, or snacks at NT centre café.