Ahead of International Dog Day (Wednesday 26 August), the National Trust is encouraging all canine lovers to treat their four-legged friends to a walk at one of their dog-friendly places.
What better way to reward your dog for being your best friend than by letting them sniff, bound and bounce their way across fields, beaches, woodlands and countryside this International Dog Day?
The National Trust have compiled a list of their top dog-friendly walks in Northern Ireland. For added brownie points, many places offer doggy facilities including exercise areas where they can run off lead, water drinking bowls, hitching posts and spare leads and dog mess bags in case you forget yours. Facilities will differ from place to place, so do check the National Trust website before visiting.
Many of these places are home to local wildlife including red squirrels, Irish hare, badgers and ground nesting birds. Some spots like Divis and the Black Mountain, Castle Ward and Murlough National Nature Reserve also use cattle and horses for conservation grazing to reduce scrub so native wildflowers can thrive. In order to keep all these animals and your own dog safe, please keep your dog on a lead.
Top dog-friendly walks:
Portstewart Strand – miles of sand backed by ancient dunes make this a magical spot for a doggy dip in the sea and dig in the sand. Portstewart Strand is the start point for the 33-mile long Causeway Coast Way to Ballycastle. If you fancy a shorter walk you can choose between walks along the strand or a two-mile long circular route in the dunes.
Murlough National Nature Reserve – explore the beauty of Murlough with the three-mile North Point trail to discover the history, biology and conservation of this special place. Please keep your dog on a lead to avoid disturbing wildlife or damaging the reserve.
Divis and the Black Mountain Summit Trail – if your pouch has boundless energy to burn off, then challenge yourself to the Summit Trail. Covering three miles, the trail takes you through open heath and blanket bog following a way marked trail to the highest peak in the Belfast Hills. Overlooking the city below and with magnificent views of Lough Neagh, the Mourne Mountains and Strangford Lough there is no better vantage point to take in the magnificent scenery that Northern Ireland has to offer.
Giant’s Ring Trail, Minnowburn – starting and ending at Minnowburn car park, the Giant’s Ring Trail is a wonderful place to reconnect your dog with nature on the edge of Belfast. It is an energising walk for dogs and humans alike, along riverbanks, over stiles and through meadows to discover the impressive ancient earth henge of the famous Giant’s Ring. The trail will lead you to Sandpit Field, a marvellous natural amphitheatre that was carved by retreating glaciers during the last Ice Age.
Castle Ward Boundary Trail – This eight-mile trail takes in some stunning sights around Castle Ward. Start at the shore of Strangford Lough and follow the trail up to Audley’s Castle, from here you’ll cross mature woodland and farmland, though the historic grounds of Windmill Plantation and across the deer park before finishing in the old farmyard. Head up to the courtyard afterwards for refreshments and doggy treats in the tea-room.
Castle Coole Lake Trail – take a pleasant, gentle walk around tranquil Lough Coole, spotting wildlife and glimpses of the mansion house on the way. Take your time to enjoy the sights and sniff out the scents along the way as you pass through the site of the original Queen Anne House before reaching the shore of the Lough.
Dog exercise parks – If your dog likes nothing better than a good run off the lead, then head to Rowallane Garden, Castle Ward or Mount Stewart which offer designated dog exercise areas where your canine companion can run safely in secure space.
Top dog etiquette
- Keep your dogs on a lead: please respect other visitors and the local wildlife and keep your dog on a lead.
- Be mindful of machinery: rangers are often carrying out essential conservation work, so please respect signs and instructions of machinery which could hurt your dog or yourself.
- Don’t leave your dog pooh behind: come prepared to clean up after your pooch. Some places will have dog waste bins on site but if not, please bag it and bring it home to safely dispose of.
- Keep them cool: dogs are at risk of overheating if left in cars, so never leave them unattended with the windows closed. There are dog water bowls located at most National Trust places so make sure your dog is well hydrated, so they don’t overheat.