This mountain has an extra special place in my heart.
For those that may not know, Belfast was built in a valley. It’s surrounded by beautiful hills with Belfast Lough completing the circle. Divis & Black Mountain form part of these hills and have been an ever present companion to me. They were the focus of many daydreams when I gazed out my bedroom window as a child, growing up beneath their shadow. And every morning as the mist rolled across it, my mum with complete conviction and a mystical sixth sense, would look up at the summit and give us a weather report that Barra Best would be proud off.
Yet despite it being so close, Divis & Black Mountain may as well have been a million miles away to me. Leased by the MOD in 1953 and subsequently purchased in 1986, it was entirely out of reach to the general public, certainly for the first 32 years of my life. Total torture for a mountain lover like me.
Many’s a time I wondered what it must be like to be standing on the top of that mountain, free as a bird and free from the challenges of the city. Well, wonder no more avid hill walkers, a new day has dawned and Divis & Black Mountain is all ours! Surplus to requirements it was decommissioned and sold to the National Trust in November 2004 for £3m (bit of bargain if you ask me), opening up to the public in June 2005.
This mountain range is absolutely superb, boasting the highest elevation in Belfast at 476m (TP7403) with the finest uninterrupted panoramic views of Northern Ireland. On a clear day the views are simply spectacular, stretching all the way to Scotland, Cumbria, Isle of Man, Wales (apparently), the Mourne Mountains, Lough Neagh, the Sperrins and beyond. Take that Cavehill!
If you are coming from out of town and planning to get there via the motorway (M1 West Link) then be warned, don’t follow the motorway signs that say Divis. A common mistake. These are signs for the Divis area (lower Falls) near the city centre. They have nothing to do with the mountain and will take you entirely in the wrong direction.
The easiest and most direct route in my opinion is to exit the motorway at Stockman’s and drive uphill from there. Go straight up Kennedy Way (A55) and onto Monagh By Pass (still A55). Exit left onto the Upper Springfield Road (B38) for a few more miles, still driving up hill. Shortly after the Lámh Dhearg GAA club is Divis Road which takes you to the carpark for Divis & Black Mountain.
On busy days and public holidays, parking is a pain in the ass. There’s just not enough room so the overspill turns the road into single line traffic. That’s a whole other blog (don’t get me started!) but I understand plans are in place to build a new car park with work due to commence sometime in 2018 I hear. Until then be patient, be generous, give way and park responsibly. And for God’s sake don’t park in the gaps that others have left to let others pull in to get past! (Drives me nuts!!)
This mountain has 4 interlocking loop trails so it’s incredibly popular with people of all ages and abilities and well worth a visit. For most of the year livestock roam free on these hills, it’s a working farm so you’ll likely have to ramble past a few cattle or horses along the paths. Usual rules apply, treat with caution and don’t look them in the eye! The outlook is classic wind swept bog, fully exposed to the elements. This place has its own ever changing micro climate so don’t think if it’s warm in the city it’ll be warm up here, it won’t be. Those days are pretty rare so always bring something warm, wet and windproof.
My favourite route is the Lough Trail, to the Summit Trail, across the ‘very slippery when wet’ wooden boardwalk and then follow the Ridge Trail back to the carpark. Roughly 8 miles of mixed terrain. My favourite time of day is when the weather is on the turn, the sky has darkened, mists are rolling in, it’s a bit wet and merky and not too many people are on the trails. It’s eerily quiet and my senses are heightened. I feel safe. There’s a rugged mystique about the place and nature’s elements are right in my face. That’s my best thinking time. That’s when nothing else matters. That’s my mountain.