With the holiday season now upon us and many families looking for inexpensive family days out, we thought we would share some of our favourite free attractions from the home of Wholesome-NI, Randalstown.
These are suitable for individuals, couples and families, walkers, dog walkers, runners, and cyclists and there is free parking available at them all.
Randalstown, a small town in County Antrim was originally known as An Dún Mór (the great fort), Dunmore. In the 1650’s the town was known as "Iron Mills" (Muilinn Iarainn in Irish, anglicised "Mullynieren").
In 1667, the town was created a free borough and was officially re-named Randalstown. It was re-named to mark the marriage of Randal MacDonnell, 1st Marquess of Antrim to Rose O'Neill of Shane's Castle.
The town had strong links to the linen and iron industries. A memorial to this history is in the middle of the town (Moore’s Lane) and made from the original turbine used to generate mains electricity for the town and items salvaged from the Old Bleach Linen Company. The old linen mill chimney from the Old Bleach factory can be seen from most parts of the town.
When you arrive in the town from the Castle Road / Shane’s Street end you will cross the river Maine via the lower bridge and to your left is the viaduct. This viaduct was designed by Charles Lanyon and built in 1856 with the purpose of extending the railway from Randalstown to Cookstown, the station closed to passengers in 1950.
In the 1990’s the top of the viaduct and part of the railway track were converted into a walkway and cycle path leading from Station Road to New Street. From the top of the viaduct, you get fantastic views of the town, and the river Maine as well as the parkland of Shane’s castle. Part of the highway to health the Viaduct Walkway follows the scenic River Maine pathway. It gives easy access to the town and the ample free parking available.
Randalstown forest, situated about 1 mile outside of the town, off the Staffordstown road.
The forest is a 430-acre mixed conifer forest that has several different walking trails, all flat terrain. These trails are all highlighted on the information board as you enter the forest from the car park. The most popular being the red trail (longest) approximately 4km. Make a note or take a picture of the map and you will be able to find the deer enclosure and bird hide.
As you enter the forest through the gate and take a left you will come across the deer enclosure. Within the enclosure, 20 to 25 fallow deer are kept, giving an excellent opportunity to quietly observe them from a raised wooden platform overlooking the enclosure.
The further you go into the forest you will also be able to spot more deer roaming freely. Following the red trail, you will eventually have to veer off the trail slightly to find the bird hide. The bird hide sits on Farr’s Bay on the shore of Lough Neagh. This sheltered lagoon offers brilliant views across Lough Neagh and is the perfect place to see the wetland birds of the Lough. A brilliant place for anyone, walking or running, totally safe and the ideal place to go to relax and be surrounded by nature.
Further on out the Staffordstown road, and well signposted is Cranfield church and holy well.
Churchtown Point on the shores of Lough Neagh is where the ruins of the 13th century church and the shrine of St Olcan are. Here there is a well with fine spring water and amber coloured crystals. These pebbles are believed to have great healing powers bestowed by St Olcan, and are said to protect women during childbirth, men from drowning, and homes from burglary and fire. It was also believed by emigrants sailing to America that if they swallowed a pebble, they would sail safely across the ocean.
To this day there is a healing tradition continued, of tying rags to the overhanging trees at the well. You should bathe the infected part of your body in a rag dipped in the well, pray, and then tie the rag to the overhanging tree. As the rag decays, the affliction should also.
A lovely place to relax by the shores of Lough Neagh, with plenty of room for parking and having a family picnic.
Back to the town and right in the middle of Randalstown is the Randalstown Heritage Tales Project.
There are 15 bronze plaques situated at points around the town giving a brief introduction to local stories of historical interest, while QR codes positioned next to the plaques take people to the more detailed information contained on the Heritage Tales web pages.
The plaques complement and add to the existing Heritage Trail, represented by the numerous large interpretive signs that can be seen around the town, affording visitors, schoolchildren, and residents yet more opportunities to appreciate the town’s history and heritage and learn about some of the people, famous and infamous, who have lived here.
These are just a few of the things to do when on a visit to Randalstown, but make sure and give Wholesome-NI a shout before your visit for local Artisan produce. Although we are only on-line at the minute, who knows we’ll maybe have a shop in town for you to call into….So watch this space.....
Randalstown is full of local independent traders, so if you do visit call in and support them.
You will notice the sense of pride in Randalstown. This is led by a local group of volunteers ‘Tidy Randalstown’. They lead the efforts to enhance the town and are committed to keeping the area clean and safe, they are involved in everything from planting and maintaining trees and flowers, to litter picking, maintenance, and everything in between, be sure to say Hello if you see this group out and about.
Until next time...