Sunday, 20 April 2014

12 miles Colinglen trails to Divis and Blacks Mountains out and back

 The lower Colinglen forest trails and the bridge at the glen road end

This I guess would be my regular run as it is about a 2 minute walk from where I live. When I say regular, I mean when I plan to run the mountains. Otherwise on a regular basis I will head over to Shaws Bridge to run the trails there.

When I first started running this route I never got beyond the bottom forest, about a mile into the run. I just wasn't fit enough to make it up the first climbs and i'd dream of a day I could run the whole lot. At that time the whole lot was the 1.5 miles of the lower forest. I'd no plans to be running to the top of the mountain. Back then that seemed like a crazy man's plan.

So the run start's at a fairly insignificant spot, at the Stewartstown Rd entrance to Colinglen Forest Park.  Here you can park your car and there's also a small cafe you can grab a coffee and something to eat. You can also book tickets here for the climbing wall they built here last year. It's just to the right as you go through the entrance gate and it's pretty cool. About £8 for an hours climbing with experienced instructors.

The Entrance Gate to the Lower Forest trails at Colinglen Forest Park, Stewartstown Road

Anyway back to the run. Once you go through the entrance gates you are on the lower forest trails. These are good quality trails, mainly tarmac paths.  As a lot of money has been spent regenerating the lower forest after years of neglect, you will notice a significant difference between the paths run here and the paths you'll run further ahead in the upper forest. They have built new bridges and also installed seating areas. All in all it's a very nice route to run.
Colinglen Lower Forest and the Newly Built Bridge Crossings 

Colinglen Forest Park Lower Forest Trails

On my runs I do see a few people just running the lower trails as you can run a loop here. It's still a pretty challenging run following the trail signs installed around the park. I also see people running up and down those steps in the top picture and i've ran up those a few times myself when coming back down from the mountain...they are pretty tough.

So once on the lower trails you run about a half mile until you veer off to the right and over the bridge i've shown in the top picture. There's a slight downhill to the bridge and enjoy that as a wee rest bite. Once over the bridge your now running to the right of the river and you stay to the right all the way to the top. You're following the red trail signs. It's about a 1.5 mile climb until you see a small bridge in front of you. You run under that and that spells the end of the lower trails and tarmac paths.
The Bridge at Glen road and the End of the Lower Forest

 When you get under the bridge you see a dirt track climbing up to your right. You run to the top of this and you'll be confronted with some serious steps to climb. These steps lead you to the upper forest trails and the start of some fun. If you like muck.

The Steps to the Upper Forest

I always but always take a short rest break when I get to the top of these steps. It's just a wee reward for making it this far and reflect on the times I never made it half as far as this.
Remember to Have a Wee Rest at the Top of the Steps

Once you're done with your rest and you're feeling refreshed it's time to start into the upper forest trails. You'll suddenly notice you're alone. Up here it's just you and the forest and all the creatures in it. Enjoy. So at the top of the steps you take a left, it is the only way you can run. You start to run along, fairly muddy at times, trails. Depending upon whether you are running winter or summer the mud pits vary. But in winter you can expect to be cleaning yourself up in the river afterwards. The mud pits will just eat you up at times...but it is fun. There's no danger. Just go easy and always only concentrate a couple of feet in front of you. You'll be running across some pretty tricky trails at times, which includes lots of tree roots. To your left as you run there is about a 150 feet steep drop into the river. So you'll not want to be falling down there if at all possible.

The Upper Forest Trails

You continue along the upper forest trails with the river down to you left until the trails bring you to a river crossing. There are some wooden steps down to it and I do believe there used to be a small wooden bridge here. But now it's gone and all that's left are a few nicely placed stones to help you cross. In summertime it's no big deal. But during winter there with all the floods the river was a bit mad to cross...but as long as you don't go all chicken you'll make it no matter what the water is doing.

 Colinglen Upper Forest

The Steps down the the River Crossing in the Upper Forest

Once you've made it across the river just run up the trails in front of you which lead you further into the forest. You'll eventually see the river reappear on your left and you'll be looking out for mother natures tree arm directing to the right. Just shortly after passing this you'll see 2 trees and a metal pole. That's your right exit out of the forest and into the Glenside nature reserve. The Glenside is a disused quarry and I always treat myself to sitting on the cliff edge and enjoying the view before carrying on.

The Upper Forest Tree Directing you Right

Shortly after you see 2 trees and a metal pole. Take a right out of the Forest

Once you leave the forest you follow a short grass trail along a small stream into Glenside Park. You'll cross a small flat metal walkway and sometimes you may need to go through a bit of water to reach the trails climbing up in front of you towards the top of the old quarry. There are some spectacular views to be had here. Sometimes you'll find the horses running about here and you'll always see plenty of rabbits. One warning is that during summer be careful as it's a place to be bitten by horse flies. Wear plenty of insect repellent. I got a bite last year which grew to the size of a golf ball.

You've now run about 2.2 miles once you leave the forest and Glenside is only a very short trail leading you to the Upper Springfield Road 

 Enjoying Glenside Park and the view of the old Quarry.

As you come out of Glenside you'll have a short run up the road until you come to the Divis Mountain signpost and Divis Road. You turn right here and climb up Divis Road for about a half a mile until you reach the paths leading to Divis Mountain on the right.

Follow the signpost for Divis and Black Mountain about a half mile up the road from Gelnside 

Once you reach the final trails to the mountain you'll see a carpark to your left. Many people come here for walking and normally would park here. When I first started to run the mountain this is where I ran from. It's a 4 mile run from the carpark to Divis Peak and back. So this is a good starting point before trying to run from the bottom forest. To be honest most people who run the mountain run from here. Very few run from the bottom and i've yet to see one other person running the upper forest trails.

Climbing Divis Road, the Carpark to your Left and the Entrance to the Mountain Trails just behind that Van

The Entrance to Divis and Black Mountain trails

Depending upon when you run the upper mountain there'll always be walkers about. People love coming here with there dogs. But you'll come across horses and cows from time to time. Also donkeys kept by the farmers will greet you as you run Divis Road. be careful though, as there's the odd wee dog who'll snap at your ankles....mostly harmless though. A dog barking and wagging it's tail at the same time is not a dog to be feared.

So now all's left to run is the mountain trails. It's 2 miles to the top of Divis Peak from here and then about another mile to climb Black Mountain as well. The first path is great. All tarmac and there's even a slight downhill for about the first 1/4 mile. You run up this path passing a small stone cottage on your right, which is actually a coffee house. Great eh, even a place up here to stop for a coffee but I have yet to have one. They do guides in here as well for all the various trails and routes you can explore up here. The place is full of history dating back thousands of years. 
Divis and Black Mountain Trail in Winter

Once past the stone cottage you come to a gate and you pass through this. Immediately to your left you see a dirt trail leading uphill to god knows where. You run that. This is the final trail to climb before you reach the stone path leading to the peak. It's a brave wee run up it an all. Maybe about a mile, maybe slightly less. But it's a fair climb as you're now climbing to the top in ernest. Last time I ran this part a few days ago I was chased by 4 horses. You just never know what you'll meet up here. That's part of the fun and adventure of running it.

The Penultimate Trail and being chased by a few horses

Once you've climbed this trail, and a word of advice, climb this easy otherwise you'll find yourself stopping half way up it, you come to a narrow stone path on your right. This is the final climb to the peak of Divis Mountain. It winds and twists away rightly up to the top and even this last path is pretty tough to run so again go easy. Plus there's a brave few rocks to break your leg on. Gently does a ballet dancer you run your way to the top. The day I took the picture below the people in it were trying to push a childs pram up this path. Not exactly a wise thing to be at. I think they eventually turned back.

The Rocky path to Divis Peak. 

The same Path in Winter

When you reach the top, well done. You've climbed about 1600 since you left Colinglen carpark and ran about 5 miles so far. I always place a rock when I get to the top. No reason. Suppose I used to make a wish when I first started running the mountain. These days it's just a habit. There's still quite a bit of running to be done at the stage as well. So don't hang about too long. Enjoy the view and get moving again.

The summit of Divis Mountain

On the summit you will have fantastic views in all directions and a fine view of Belfast Lough and the route the Titanic took before sinking the other side of the Atlantic. Turn around and there's great views of the Mournes. A place I plan to run soon.

So once you reach the summit just keep running straight ahead until you see the path winding you back down again. This is a much better path, tarmac as this is the one generally used by the public. There are great views to be had running down this path. It's pretty steep so best to go easy running down it. 

The path leading down from Divis Summit

Once you get to the bottom of this path you'll see Black Mountain in front of you as you run down it. Take a left at the bottom and a short run before taking a right unto a wooden walkway. This brings you to the trails leading up to the summit of Black Mountain. It's a fairly easy climb after what you've just climbed but it's a climb all the same. From the top of Divis Mountain to the top of Blacks Mountain is only just over a miles running, so it's not that far to run and you may as well run it. 

The Wooden Walkway Leading to Black Mountain Summit

Once the wooden walkway ends you take a right unto the final trail to the summit. There's a wee bit of a climb here but it's nothing too serious. 

So once you get to the top of Black Mountain what next? Back down? Well not exactly. You now run about 2.5 miles of the most wonderful trails through the middle of the mountains. These are the new trails they built, as I used to run this route before the trails were here. However, I used to call this my bog run, as I had to run through 2 miles of bogland towards Blacks Hill. It wasn't easy. But this final 2.5 miles of trails is the icing on the cake for me. It makes the mountain run into pretty much a half marathon endurance test.

 The Final 2.5 miles of trails leading away from Black Mountain

 The wooden Bridge which leaves about another half mile of this trail before rejoining the main Divis Mt Trail

There's a wee bit of climbing along this trail but not a great deal. You'll eventually come to a small wooden bridge which you cross and this leads you gracefully back unto the main Divis Mountain path where you take a left. You're about 1 mile from the Divis Road Carpark and about another 4 miles to run back down through the Colin Glen Forests, back the way you came. A decent time is suppose about 2hours 20 mins but when I run this route I am not thinking about's building endurance and also to be enjoyed. The views are very fine indeed.

Cleaning up in the River

Once you run back down and you do need a bit of clean up before presenting yourself to the public this is the spot. Just after you come under the bridge again at Glen Rd you'll see this spot above leading down to the river on your right. Park yourself on a rock and start scrubbing. Good luck

Friday, 18 April 2014

Ballintoy Harbour To Portrush: Out and Back 38 Miles Coastal Run

The North Coast of Ireland

I headed up to Ballycastle last weekend with a view to running the causeway coast from Ballintoy to Portballintrae. I'd run it once before last year and it truely is a run you will never forget.

First thing you want to check before running this route is the tidal times as you run the beaches and if it's high tide you may find it hard to get across the rocks which link the beaches to the trails, as they'll be under water. With high tides at 6.30am and 6.30 pm I set off to start my run at 7.30am and starting to run about 8am. I figured no matter how bad things went I should make it back before the next high tide. 

So all geared up with a Nathan Hydration Vest and a small running waist bag I carry a map in, some money, car keys and my trusted inhaler, yip I am an asthmatic, I started my run...real real slow. The first 5 miles I don't think I ran quicker than 13 min mile pace. I was feeling rather tired and by the time the first 5 miles were gone I'd already gone through half my stash. Not good. I'd had porridge and toast before leaving...well fueled up but for some reason I just couldn't stop eating...I did finally stop around mile 6. 

Causeway Coast Looking towards Fair Head

Once you make your way out of Carrick a Rede Rope Bridge carpark you follow the trails for approximately 2 miles, which brings you to Harbour Road  leading down to Ballintoy Harbour.  You'll pass the Ballintoy church which dates back to the 17th century and also a most peculiar house called the Bendhu House. It was designed and built by a Cornish man, Newton Pengrase in 1936. He built it from materials he found around him on the coast and it is now a listed building. The church and Bendhu can be enjoyed and appreciated as you descend the long steep road down into the harbour. Enjoy this because the next time you see these buildings you'll not be in such an appreciative frame of mind.

Bendhu House: Harbour Road, Ballintoy Harbour.

Once you get down into the harbour you just continue to run along the coast until you eventually make your way unto WhitePark bay via the short outcrop of rocks which are easy enough to traverse as long as you don't go mad.You then hit the most beautiful beach for about 2 miles to continue your journey. The day I ran it, it was a beautiful sunny morning. At this stage your only 2 or 3 miles into your run so you can really enjoy the long sandy beaches. Once you get off the beach though things begin to start in earnest. This is all like a long beautiful warm up. If you find time, pick yourself a rock as a trophy. I always try find that special rock myself. Small though. You wouldn't want to be carrying a big rock 20 odd miles.

The rocks leading you unto WhitePark Bay in the distance.

As you come to the end of Whitepark bay there is another section of rocks to negotiate, slightly trickier than the ones at the other end of the bay. But don't be a fool and try to run them. If you do enjoy your time recovering from a broken leg.

Coming off Whitepark Bay you reach Portbraddan, an old fishing hamlet. Here you'll find a small cottage dating to the turn of the century offering bed and breakfast. So if your done by this stage you can check in here and rest your weary legs.

Portbraddan overlooking Whitepark Bay

So now things start to get a wee bit more complicated. We are about 4 miles in. Only 4 miles run but it's the start of this run that is more complicated and trickier than the main run itself. The main run follows the Ulster Way trails, that are as easy to follow as the nose in front of your face. Well easy to depends on your fitness levels as it's a bit of roller coaster run. But this next wee part, about 2 miles in length, can get you into a right muddle of you're not careful. It's mainly down to the fact the trails have been closed for repairs as the steps got destroyed in a storm. So if you prefer you can run up the Portbraddan Road unto the Whitepark Road, taking a right here and continuing on up that road until you take a right unto the Causeway Road. You continue on down this road about 1 mile until you reach a small carpark. At the back of this carpark you see a sign pointing you back unto the causeway trails.

However, if like myself you climb over the trail closed sign and continue on, be prepared for some further climbing. I guess this part you just use instinct. You look for trails that have been walked and you run them. Pick a point ahead of you and work out the best way to get there. You'll eventually find yourself climbing the steep bank where the steps were destroyed in a storm. Once you climb this though the hard work is done, as regards working out where you're going. You'll come to a small  pier and a narrow path climbing in front of you. You continue up this path until you reach the Causeway Road and continue up this road a short distance to rejoin the trail at the back of the carpark.

The Trail Closure Between Portbraddan and Dunserverick and the Bank to be Climbed

So you are now about 5 miles into your run and on the main Causeway coastal trails. It's then about another 5 miles until you reach the Giant's Causeway main attraction. The only real attraction for myself is the steps you run there. You can stop here at the Causeway Hotel for a coffee if you like. It's always nice to know on these long runs there are points along the way you can have a break.

Once on the main Ulster Way trails again the first sight you'll come to is Port Moon. A small cottage is visible in the bay far below you, which is used these days by scientists. It was once an important fishery for salmon, cod and plaice fishing. As well as crabs and lobsters, seaweed in the form of kelp was gathered from the shore, dried along the stone walls and then hoisted up the cliff and used for winches and later as fertilizer and processes ranging from photography, glass manufacture and even ice cream. Port Moon having originally been used by the vikings back in the 8th century ground to a halt in 2002 and for the adventurous there is a small trail that will bring you down from the cliff tops to the bay below. I may just head down it next time.
Port Moon Fishery: Causeway Coastal Trails

As you continue on around the coast you come to the location of the Spanish shipwreck of  La Girona, Lacada Point. Back in 1588 only 5 men survived out of 1,300 on board as the Spanish fleet of 130 ships retreated from a battle with the English. Many ships came to their end along this part of the Irish coast. 

 Lacada Point and the Girona Shipwreck site.

 So besides all the history and coastal views, what are the trails like. Well they are as spectacular.

The coastal trails from Dunserverick to the Giant's Causeway

These trails will test the fitness of any runner. Very rarely level you're always either climbing or descending. It's maybe wise to go easy on the out and conserve as much energy for the return, although I have always found the return slightly less challenging. There's no reason really, bar the fact I know I am running towards the finish, instead of running away from it. As you run it's hard not to keep stopping to take pictures but maybe after running it a few times you can finally just concentrate solely on the running. As you continue around the coast you eventually come to the Giant's causeway. You take the red trail down the steep steps descending the Causeway face and then run up the road used by the public and also small bus run that's provided for tourists. I call this part of the run, the Americas, as it's full of American tourists.

The Steps and Trails along the Cliff Face of the Giant's Causeway..The Red Trail 

Once you have run the fairly, or should I say surprisingly steep climb of the road up towards the Causeway Hotel you keep to the back of the Hotel/Causeway side and follow the trails towards Portballintrae. 

The trails from the Gaint's Causeway to Portballintrae

So you are now about 11 miles in and running towards Portballintrae. This brings you past Runkerry House and eventually unto the beach at Portballintrae. At this point I decided to keep running on towards Portrush. The easiest route to take is to run the length of the beach and then head up unto the coastal road, Dunluce Road, to Portrush. You run along this road for about 3 miles past Dunluce Castle until you see the sign leading you to Portrush Beach. You then have about another 2 miles to run along the beach before you reach Portrush town centre.

 Runkerry House: Giant's Causeway to Portballintrae

 Dunluce Castle: Dunluce Road heading towards Portrush


Portrush Beach 19 miles completed 

Here, 19 miles in, I treated myself to a coffee and a nice pastry. I checked in on my Dailymile friends and visited the surfboard shop. Once I felt refreshed I started the journey back. I took it easy and to be honest it was only maybe the last couple of miles I was starting to be looking forward to it being done. It stayed dry the whole day and the sun shone for most of it. I must have ran about 10 miles of beaches but as long as you take it easy you can run for a long long time. Took me about 8 hours to complete 38 miles. A great way to spend the day. Oh and remember on the way back you have to head back down to the Giant's Causeway and run up the trails and steps along it's face. Don't be chickening out and just running straight'd only be fooling yourself...and believe me at about 28 miles already completed you are questioning your sanity as you run back down towards the Finn Mac Cool stepping stones..:)