Get outdoors for some fresh air this summer and discover some of the beauty that Ards and North Down has to offer through a selection of walking tours and experiences!
As lockdown restrictions begin to ease, Ards and North Down Borough Council is working with local providers to help you treat your mind, body and soul. There are 13 different walking tours on offer, including a brand new ‘Waggy Tail’ dog friendly tour of Scrabo Hill in July, plus nature trails for kids, and a host of experiences that include paddleboarding, yoga and much more!
The walking tours start with the Groomsport Evening Bird Watching and Nature Trail (14 June) with fascinating bird expert, Dot Blakely, who will teach you all about the natural habitat of the birds and animals while you enjoy a stroll along the coastline.
The Bangor Castle Walled Garden Tour (16 June & 7 July) is always a popular option, with tour guide Dylan Freeburn offering an insight into the beautiful garden’s history as well as the vast array of plants, fruits and vegetables which are grown there.
Those who want to learn more about our local history can select a variety of guided historical tours in Newtownards (4 July), Portaferry (25 July), Donaghadee (1 Aug), Kearney (15 Aug) or Bangor (24 Aug).
You can find out how some of history’s most notable civilisations shaped Newtownards, learn about Portaferry’s maritime heritage, celebrate Donaghadee Harbour’s 200th birthday with a visit to the harbour and lifeboat station, discover the fascinating historical fishing village of Kearney, and learn why Bangor was once known as the ‘Vale of Angels’.
Taking place throughout the summer months, there is a selection of nature trail tours for kids in Bangor, Groomsport and Portaferry, where they can learn about mini beasts, birds and other animals. (All children must be accompanied by an adult; no ticket necessary for adults.)
If you want to treat you pet pooch to something different, the new Waggy Tail Walk and Picnic (31 July) offers a dog friendly tour of Scrabo Hill. Every dog will receive a bandana, and owners can enjoy a delicious picnic box as they take in the scenic view at the top of Scrabo Hill.
A host of unique experiences are available from May through to September. There is something to suit everyone, from paddleboarding to yoga experiences, Viking adventures and wetland wellness, canoe and cake, and even an opportunity to join an expert gardening team in Castle Espie where you can learn how to ‘grow your own’ and take care of your garden in an environmentally friendly way.
Demand is high and a number of experiences are already sold out. However, limited tickets are still available for May’s Dawn SUP and Island Yoga Experience (30 May), where you will paddleboard across the waters of Strangford Lough to an island, enjoy a yoga experience, and treat yourself to a light breakfast before returning to shore.
In June, you can enjoy a kayaking experience on Strangford Lough with Paddle the Port (18 June), or Grow and Graze (24 June) at Castle Espie with an expert gardening team. If you like paddling and singing, then SUP-aoke (25 June) will provide a fun paddleboard session from Bangor Marina to a floating platform in Belfast Lough where you can climb aboard, sing a song and enjoy the craic!
All providers will operate the experiences with COVID-19 measures in line with current government guidance.
For more information, including the full list of experiences, ticket prices and booking, go to visitardsandnorthdown.com.
Visitor Pledge to Support Tourism Now Open
Economy Minister Diane Dodds has launched a new visitor pledge to encourage safe and responsible tourism across Northern Ireland while supporting local businesses.
Hosted on the Discover Northern Ireland website, visitors are asked to show their support by signing up to the pledge and committing to the three core guidelines: Take Care of Each Other, Take Care of the Land, and Take Care of Local Businesses.
By taking the pledge, visitors are promising to take small steps that will make a giant difference to how we all enjoy and benefit from the many tourism experiences, local businesses and great outdoors across Northern Ireland.
Visitors are being asked to look out for each other by acting safely, to take care of the beautiful landscape by leaving no trace, and to show support for local businesses and the safety procedures they have in place.
The pledge also provides industry with assets to promote both in their business premises and online to encourage visitors to follow the guidelines.
Commenting on the visitor pledge Economy Minister Diane Dodds said: “These are challenging times for businesses so we welcome initiatives like the visitor pledge that encourages people to safely enjoy all that Northern Ireland has to offer. With the visitor pledge, we can all play a vital role in promoting safe and responsible tourism by committing to take care of each other, our beautiful outdoors and local businesses.”
Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots, added: “Northern Ireland has wonderful landscapes for all to enjoy, from our mountains to our seas and from our forests to our beaches. Our landscapes support local foods and local businesses and play a vital role in our tourism and for our communities health and wellbeing. We all must play our part in looking after these assets. Taking part in the visitor pledge will help to support local businesses and will help ensure that our environment remains clean, safe and vibrant for all users.”
Director of Marketing at Tourism Northern Ireland Naomi Waite commented: “The launch of the visitor pledge will help to boost consumer confidence by setting out simple steps that we can all take together to make a difference. Whether it is social distancing, cleaning up litter after enjoying the outdoors or shopping local, I encourage all residents to take the pledge to support local businesses and our local environment.
“This has been a challenging time for the tourism industry in Northern Ireland, but our local businesses, our unique tourism and experience providers are ready to offer their giant welcome again. This is a fantastic way for people to show their support. It is important of all of us to play our part in protecting each other and embracing all that Northern Ireland has to offer in a safe way.”
The website asks visitors to sign their name online to take the pledge and share with friends and family via their social media channels.
To learn more about the visitor pledge and to sign up, or download assets visit https://discovernorthernireland.com/giantdifference
Marie Heaney Launches Seamus Heaney HomePlace ‘Open Ground’
Marie Heaney, together with the Chair of Mid Ulster District Council, Councillor Cathal Mallaghan, have officially launched a new outdoor visitor experience which for the first time brings Seamus Heaney’s literature into the landscape of South Derry which so inspired him.
Seamus Heaney HomePlace ‘Open Ground’ is a series of 5 locations, all of which held a significance for the poet, from the Strand at Lough Beg to the banks of the Moyola River.
Seamus Heaney’s poetry is not only visible in each place where interpretation panels explain the literary connections, but also audible with the poet’s own voice heard via listening posts on site, as well as via a dedicated Open Ground App, with elements of augmented reality adding a new dimension to the experience.
Open Ground has been developed by Mid Ulster District Council which manages Seamus Heaney HomePlace, with funding from DAERA, and represents an overall investment of £750K.
The Strand at Lough Beg, a place of ‘special memories’ for Seamus Heaney, has been made accessible to visitors for the first time.
A newly constructed boardwalk leads to a woodland pathway which gently opens out into a clearing with uninterrupted views across Lough Beg to ‘Church Island and its soft outline of yew’.
A riverside walk along the Moyola River, where Seamus Heaney walked, fished and thought, is now also more accessible to visitors who can meander alongside those same river banks, retracing the steps of the poet who was ‘at home on the water in all sorts of ways’.
Sculpture is at the heart of the remaining three locations, with a tall, steel structure at the Eelworks in Toome, symbolising the twists and turns of eels as they swim, and reflecting the poet’s fascination with both the lifecycle of eels and the fishermen who trapped them.
An alleyway in Magherafelt is now home to the sculpted silhouettes of people walking towards the town’s bus station which featured in Heaney’s poetry, with the ‘agitated rooks’ from ‘Route 110’, the poem which takes its title from the number of a local bus, flying just above their heads.
The existing Turfman sculpture in Bellaghy has benefited from an extended and freshly landscaped seating area, creating a new space for visitors to contemplate both the art piece and lines from ‘Digging’, one of Seamus Heaney’s most well-known poems.
Speaking at the launch, Chair of the Council, Councillor Cathal Mallaghan, said:
“This is a truly unique development which brings Seamus Heaney’s poetry alive in the places which were so much a part of his formative years and had such an influence on the body of work which brought him literature’s highest accolade – the Nobel Prize.
“If you read Seamus Heaney’s speech from the day on which he became a Nobel Laureate, you will be left in no doubt about his roots being in South Derry and their significance on his journey from his home in the ‘traditional thatched farmstead’ to the stage on Stockholm.
“I consider it an honour to be launching Open Ground and to celebrate further the man, his work and his deep connections to this area”.
Chris Heaney, speaking on behalf of the Heaney family, said:
“The names of the locations that make up this particular open ground – Bellaghy, Magherafelt, Toome, Moyola, Lough Beg – are familiar to people from this locale but they have also become familiar to readers of my father’s poetry throughout the world. The development of five sites linked to different poems was a great idea from the start and there is something special and genuinely powerful hearing the poems read in their own “home places”.
Director of Rural Affairs at DAERA, Paul Donnelly said:
“Tourism has the potential to create jobs and opportunities for our rural communities and economy and I am delighted that we have invested £471k from our Rural Tourism Scheme into the Heaney Open Ground Experience. This project will highlight the literacy significance of the sites in the life story of Seamus Heaney and in doing so will hopefully attract more people to visit the area and stay longer.”
This project was part funded under Priority 6 (LEADER) of the Northern Ireland Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs and the European Union, with contributions also via DAERA’s Environmental Challenge Fund, Department for Infrastructure and the Lough Neagh Partnership.
For further information visit www.seamusheaneyhome.com