A small part of the Ulster Way

While Diamond Geezer is reporting his walk along the New River, I am going to tell you a bit about a very small section of the Ulster Way, from Belfast to Lisburn (or, officially, from Stranmillis to Union Locks). I walked this (and back) yesterday afternoon after the end of the Algebra, Combinatorics, Dynamics and Applications conference in Belfast.

The footpath was the towpath of the now-derelict Lagan Canal, which mostly followed the course of the river Lagan to Lisburn, and then connected to Lough Neagh, the largest inland lake in the British Isles. Queen’s University is close to the river at Stranmillis, so I walked down through the lovely Belfast Botanic Gardens to reach the river and followed the path. Along the way, I met mileposts which told me the distance to Union Locks, which I assue is the terminus of this part of the Ulster Way. There and back made a distance slightly longer than I had intended (approximately the length of a marathon), but I did it, and am reassured to find that I can just set out and walk this distance, keeping up a 10 minute per kilometre pace all the way, even though I am not very fit.

Belfast botanic gardens

The path first passed a fairly marshy nature reserve (Lagan Meadows) on one side, and a fine stand of trees (mostly beech, some oak and ash, and at one point a small aspen forest) on the other. It mostly ran beside the river, except where a cut had been built to cut off a loop of the river. The cuts had been abandoned, and were mostly stagnant and covered with moss, although the river itself was flowing quite strongly.

After some time, it ran through a park and out into the countryside; the trees gave way to grass-meadows full of cows, harvested cornfields, and large barns on a hill. It went beneath the motorway during a long diversion from the river, passed near to a small town, and finally approached Lisburn. Here the navigation has been restored, and the river and canal form an island on which stands a large arts centre. Unfortunately, the path is not well signposted, and I had to walk beside a busy road for a mile or so until I could rejoin the towpath just below Union Locks.

Union Locks

This flight of four locks was in its heyday the tallest flight on the island of Ireland. Now collapsed and until recently overgrown with trees, but the trees have recently been cleared away (whether this is part of a bigger restoration I am not sure). I turned around and went back from that point.

On the way back, black clouds came over. They produced no rain, but when the sun came back it highlighted the golden ash keys against the inky clouds.

Ash keys

On the way out I saw a kingfisher flying low over the river beneath the trees on the opposite bank. I also saw a jay, a swallow, magpies, crows, ducks old and new, and moorhens old and new. The banks were lined with lots of Himalayan balsam, still in flower but with pods ready to pop; at one point there were orchids in the grass. Several sorts of fungi grew on trees or on the ground.


About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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