The festive season is upon us and it’s a time for indulgence but also a great time of the year for getting the kids outside and taking in the beauty of nature…

In winter, woods take on a whole new character – spectacular, frosty landscapes. Perfect for enjoying nature’s sights and sounds while burning off some of those extra calories!

Crunch through frosty leaves, discover ancient hidden history or spot some elusive wildlife – a woodland walk could spring up surprises you’ll never forget. Of course a visit is free and you’ll feel great after too. More here: woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods

Here are some great woods across Northern Ireland to visit during the festive season:

Drumnaph Wood, Maghera, Co Derry,  Londonderry

Drumnaph occupies a ridge above the meandering Grillagh River, which allows you to enjoy the views west to Carntogher Mountain and the beautiful Sperrin Mountains. With over 30,000 trees planted in recent years, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was relatively young woodland, but actually, around 50% of the site is ancient woodland, making it a rare remnant of the great forest that once covered much of mid-Ulster. Winter provides a good chance to spot Irish hare as they are often seen around the edges of the woodland and in the surrounding fields in the colder months of the year.

Carmoney Hill – Newtownabbey, Co Antrim

With awe-inspiring views of the city, Belfast Lough and the coast, Carnmoney Hill is a must visit. Steeped in history and folklore with a mix of ancient woodland, floral grassland and wetland, it is home to a wealth of wildlife and has a wide range of walks to suit all abilities. With easy access from Belfast, and plenty of interest for keen flower and wildlife spotters as well as history buffs, Carnmoney Hill is a great destination for a day out. Stalked by ghosts of the Vikings, witches and highwaymen, a walk on Carnmoney Hill offers balcony views of Belfast. It can be pretty chilly though so wrap up warm. There’s a great walk of 8.5 miles.

Corrog Wood, Portaferry

Corrog Wood lies in a particularly scenic part of County Down. Enjoy a walk through the young woodland and keep an eye out for buzzards and Irish hares as well as a sculpture of a tree spirit known locally as The Frump. Since our native red squirrels have been sighted at Corrog Wood recently, and as red squirrels don’t hibernate for winter, keep an eye out for chewed pinecones and nibbled nuts, sure signs that reds are nearby.

Glasswater Wood, Crossgar

Glas means green in Gaelic and the Glasswater River runs near to this site which was once part of the Great Wood of the Dufferin that ran from Downpatrick to Bangor. The three fields that make up this wood were planted up in 2000 with much help from the local community. A pond was created incorporating two wet areas in 2002 to encourage a greater biodiversity within the site. A small car park exists at the north-west corner leading off the Glasswater Road.

Prehen Wood, Derry~Londonderry

This rare and irreplaceable ancient woodland has a magical feel, with carpets of bluebell, celandine and wood anemone in the spring. It is home to the red squirrel, sparrowhawk and long-eared owl and offers terrific views overlooking Derry/Londonderry city, as well as the River Foyle.
Look out for the wooden sculptures created by Michael Rodgers that watch over the woods. There’s a squirrel, fox, hedgehog and butterfly to spot as you wander through the woodland.

Cabin Wood, Cookstown

Located just outside Cookstown, Cabin Wood has the perfect setting, bordered by Ballinderry and Killymoon Rivers, with beautiful Killymoon Castle and its mature woodland as neighbours. Over 12,000 young trees including oak, willow, alder and birch have been planted. Although still in its infancy, Cabin Wood glows with peace and tranquillity. Keep an eye out for otters, kingfishers, kestrels and Daubenton’s bats. Red and fallow deer sometimes visit by swimming across the river from Killymoon Estate.

Canal Wood, Poyntzpass

On first approach you will encounter young woodland, planted as part of the community’s project Woodlands on your doorstep, walk through a natural wetland setting which leads you into a wooded area with a veteran ask. From here you can enjoy a walk along the board walk back through the wetland and this is the perfect time of year to spot nesting swans. Access to Canal Wood is through the canal towpath over the ditch crossing a wooden bridge at the beginning of the wetland and a stone bridge at the middle east of the site. The towpath is well used by local people already with regular users frequenting the site as volunteers.

Mill Race Wood, Maguire’s Bridge, Fermanagh

This is one of The Woodland Trust’s ‘Woods On Your Doorstep’ woodlands created to commemorate the Millennium. Located near the town of Knocks it was planted with the help of the local community.The paths here have been recently upgraded and you can follow the boardwalk to a spectacular viewpoint out across Lough Lea, spotting little greebs, More Hens and long tail tits along the way.

Top 10 tips for walking in woods:

  1. Check the weather the day before you visit. It’s always advisable to pack a rain mac, just in case.
  2. Bring walking boots or wellies. The woodland floor can get muddy all year round.
  3. Check access restrictions and car parking before you leave. Take a map, too, particularly if you’re planning a long walk –don’t rely on 4G as many woods are out of signal range. Be sure to stay on the paths to avoid damaging wildlife habitats. Also, some woods might be privately owned, so make sure there is public access.
  4. If you’re bringing your dog along, make sure you read our dog walkers’ code of conduct so you know what’s expected in our woods.
  5. Help us prevent the spread of tree pests and diseases by cleaning your footwear before and after your visit. Wash down your car and bicycle tyres to remove any mud, and ensure you don’t take plant material or cuttings from the countryside.
  6. Pack a first aid kit, including plasters, sun cream and antihistamines.
  7. Take a bottle of water and some snacks or pack a picnic. Remember to pick up after yourself – don’t leave litter behind.
  8. Be extra aware in areas with cattle and look out for horses on bridleway. Don’t get too close, and don’t shout or run as this will startle the animal. Ensure you close gates behind you.
  9. If your walk takes you onto a road with no pavement, and you’re in a small group, keep to the road’s right-hand side so you can see the oncoming traffic. Stay in single file and keep close to the side of the road.
  10. If you’re walking in the woods at night, ensure you wear reflective clothing and take a torch with you.

Article courtesy of The Woodland Trust. Image of Carmoney Hill by Michael Cooper. 

Nadia Duncan

Author: Nadia Duncan

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