Northern Ireland treated us gently, but also roughly. Sometimes both at the same time. It was such an amazing coincidence how the heavy rain falls always occurred during driving on our four-day February road trip. It also happened on the last full day of our trip which turned out to be one of the best days this year.
The reason was Cave Hill Walk, a beautiful trek with divine views over Belfast that was such a perfect way to finish the unforgettable adventure in Northern Ireland.
As usual, we had planned (read: I had planned) a bit of a tight schedule for our road trip. It’s always the inevitable outcome when there’s such little time and so much to see. Even so, we manage to fit in surprisingly many day treks along the way. Some of them I’ve already mentioned before when I listed the highlights of our Northern Ireland adventure.
The two-hour Cave Hill Walk winding above Belfast has deserved a dedicated post full of praises. Besides the stunning views, this short trek is easy to reach whether you’re spending a short city break in Belfast or only driving past.
The day of the hike was rainy, as usual. It was pouring down during the whole drive from Lough Neagh to Cave Hill Country Park in Belfast. Occasionally, the rain was so heavy I was afraid we need to skip the walk. We had still a long drive ahead of us, and it wouldn’t be nice to spend a day in a rental car with soaking clothes.
Believe it or not, as soon as we parked the car at the starting point of the hike, the dark clouds started breaking up, and we could even see rays of sunshine, just like the previous days.
It was like magic; The miracle of Northern Ireland.
A driver has four options for parking when heading to Cave Hill Walk: Belfast Castle, Belfast Zoo (Hazelwood), Upper Cavehill Road and Upper Hightown Road. Both, parking and the entrance to Cave Hill Country Park are free of charge.
We chose Belfast Castle. Mainly, because it was super easy to find, but also because we wanted to see one more castle. There are never too many castles, right?
Among the three route options, we took the longest and most challenging one. The circular 7-kilometre trek leads to the top of Cave Hill. Thanks to a clear trail and green markers, it’s practically impossible to get lost. You should reserve 2–3 hours for the trail depending on your speed, ardor to photograph and amount of snacks. Without snacks but with photography, the route took two hours for us to complete.
We started walking the route counter-clockwise. I think hiking the opposite direction would be easier, as the uphills seemed a lot steeper the way we chose. The rain had left the ground soggy and slippery which added a little challenge to our trek.
After the first viewing point, we came to ‘Giant’s Punch Bowl’, one of the old limestone quarries of Cave Hill. On the cliff above the punch bowl, we spotted the first reason for why the trail is called Cave Hill Walk; a black hole on the rock wall meant there was a cave. It was calling for us even if it meant getting off the main trail and climbing a bit extra.
Mud was splashing under our sneakers while we walked towards the cave, but the muddy soil wasn’t the only challenge caused by the rain. Reaching the mouth of the cave requires a small climb, but the wet rocks were way too slippery for climbing. Or, let’s say climbing up could have been somewhat doable, getting down had been a whole another thing.
A broken leg wouldn’t be an option right now. As annoying as it was, we had to skip the cave and move on.
I learned afterward that there are at least five caves along the trail. Unfortunately, this was the only one we spotted.
The higher the trail took us, the better the views got. On the top of Cave Hill, you’ll have a stunning panoramic view over Belfast. When you turn around, you can see the moorland framed by mountain tops touching the clouds. When looking up north, I could see over the Antrim Coast where we had just spent the past three days of our adventurous journey.
Even if it was cloudy, we managed to spot with our bare eyes Carrickfergus Castle and the nearby Sainsbury’s, the shop where we bought some snacks and wine for our first night in the most haunted castle hotel of Northern Ireland.
It was only three days ago, but it felt like a small eternity.
Next, we arrived at McArt’s Fort, an old defensive fort that has very little remains left to view. You can still see the old moat, though, and the shape of the fort that is part of the reason why Cave Hill is also known as Napoleon’s Nose.
On the top of Cave Hill, the trail stayed fairly flat for a while until it started descending smoothly. The sea views, the Antrim Coast and the center of Belfast were left behind our backs. In front of our eyes, the moorland was spreading glowing all the shades of green and yellow. The mountain tops were covered by the darkening clouds.
I could have stayed there forever. I could have just sat down, sit still and stare at the view that might have as well been a painting.
Shame that we had a long drive ahead of us. We had no option but to keep on walking.
The more we descended, the faster the surrounding nature changed. From moorlands to grass-covered quarries, from the wide sand trail to the narrow path paved with steps and bordered by bushy trees. At times it felt like walking in a wild jungle.
If you were taking Cave Hill Walk from Belfast Castle clockwise, this is how your trek would start.
Before returning to the car, we stopped at the garden of Belfast Castle. Today, the castle isn’t inhabited by the nobility. Instead, Belfast Castle houses a visitor’s center, a restaurant, and a souvenir shop. It’s also a popular venue for weddings and other events.
And it has a theme that is clearly distinguished in the garden. Cat paw prints engraved to the pavement, cat statues sleeping at the edge of the fountain, and a big, white stone cat guarding the premises next to the stairs.
The legend tells that the visitors of Belfast Castle will have good fortune as long as a cat resides the premises—preferably a white one.
More stories from Cave Hill Walk and Northern Ireland:
Belfast Telegraph: Napoleon Nose a thing or two about Cave Hill
Walk NI: Cave Hill Country Park
The Highest Highlights of the Northern Ireland Road Trip
More than Giant’s Causeway – Find the Hidden Gems of the Antrim Coast
Good Night, Ballygally Castle – The Most Haunted Castle Hotel in Northern Ireland