Nestled on the side of Knocklayde mountain, Ballycastle forest is one of those magical places off the map that is well worth visiting. The forest is huge and has two entrances, the first is at the end of Fairhill Street (directly off the Diamond) and the second is up on the high Glenshesk Road. The second one is also the only one signposted on the road, and to find it is not exactly easy: the sign marking the entrance to the parking can be seen only coming from Ballycastle, and yet cannot be easily spotted. Coming from the Dark Hedges, we missed it the first time and we had to run around in a circle to get back there. While the scenery along the road offers breath-taking views over the coast, the parking at the entrance of the forest is not up to what it offers, so much so it almost looks uninviting. However, once left the car, if you follow the yellow arrows through the gates, after a few minutes walk you will start to see why this forest well deserves a visit.
The first part of the path leads through a thick forest of pine trees. While walking peacefully there, a cute doggie came to say hello to us, and soon after we met his humans. We chatted a bit and they told us there are two main paths, both circular. The shortest is about 2.5 miles long, while the hilltop path is about 4.5 miles. We chose the second one, turning left just after the pine trees faded. At the beginning we weren’t impressed: we expected to walk inside the forest, while we had the feeling of keep walking at its edges. Then, all of a sudden, we found ourselves at one end of a clearing from where we could see the cliffs. From there, the path led us on top of the hill, where we could enjoy a fantastic view over the coast, its cliffs, the city of Ballycastle and Rathlin island – the northernmost point of Northern Ireland. From here, the path leads back to the initial pine tree forest.
You will definitively bring back positive feelings from this walk: choose a sunny day and enjoy the magnificent view!
If you also feel hungry, afterwards, it might be a good idea to head to Ballycastle for a hot meal at the beach. That’s exactly what we did…