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Cairn Wood and the Ballysallagh Reservoir

You know why they’re called the Craigantlet Hills? Me either. So today we’re out and about again exploring the back hills of Bangor with adventures in Cairn Wood (aka Ballysallagh Forest) found in the Ballysallagh area of the Craigantlet Hills.

Admittedly it was a hard sell this time with Fanfan “but there’s a new toilet facility!” who would prefer Crawfordburn Country Park or a stroll around Bangor’s Walled Garden. I only won her over with a joint visit to the Ballysallagh Reservoir directly opposite 🤞🏼

I have been to Cairn Wood before, I think. It’s always been there at least. We used to call it “The Quarries” due to the massive quarries next to the forest walks. I think I’ve been to the quarries before. I can’t really remember it.

Anyway, I was recently doing a bit of back-and-forth between Bangor and Dundonald when I noticed a fancy new car park at Cairn Wood, and “look, there’s a new toilet facility”. Meanwhile Fanfan was always looking out the opposite side with views over the Ballysallagh Lake.

The Cairn Wood Forest Trails

There are 5 different waymarked trails in Cairn Wood to choose from. Many overlapping and range from the easy 1.7km (The Red Ballysallagh Trail) and the moderate 4.5km (Yellow Boundary Trail). Being more adventurous than usual we go with the easy Red Trail which is a circular route nearer to the Ballysallagh Road. It was surprisingly more exciting and diverse than I expected. Very well maintained.

So the five new trails are suited to a range of abilities and include:

  1. Ballysallagh Trail (1.7km/1.1 miles): An easy grade, multi-use walking and family cycle trail.
  2. Cairngaver Trail (3km/19 miles): A moderate grade walking trail
  3. Woodland Trail (3km/1.9 miles): A moderate grade multi-use walking and family cycling trail.
  4. Quarry Trail (4km/2.5 miles): A moderate grade walking trail.
  5. Boundary Trail (4.5km/2.8 miles): A moderate grade walking trail.

The Ballysallagh Trail (Red Trail)

So the Ballysallagh Trail (Red Trail) is a mix of forest paths, towering pine trees, flowering meadows and meandering brooks. A bit like a mini Tollymore Forest Park only the babbles of the Shimna River are replaced with the seemingly endless drone of traffic from the busy Ballysallagh Road. You might want to try one of the further trails to escape this noise. I’ll probably go with the 4km Quarry Trail next time.

Dog Walking in Cairn Wood

There would always be branded vans in the car park of professional dog walkers and it seems to be the perfect place for dog walkers. Which is a bit divisive when it comes to these outdoor trails. You do get to meet some awesome pups, but, at the same time, there’s always the irresponsible few who ruin it for the rest of us.

I’m not sure what’s worse. A dog turd on the ground or a dog turd hanging at face height in a bag in a tree. I guess it depends if you stand on it. Unfortunately there are some filthy mofos around here and Cairn Wood is a shared recreational area between Bangor (4.5 miles), Dundonald (3.0 miles), and Newtownards (4.5 miles). So they’re obviously from Ards. But thankfully there were only a rare few considering the trails are otherwise surprisingly clean given the number of dogs.

The Ballysallagh Reservoir

There is no mention of the Ballysallagh Reservoir on any of the signs and postings which I kind of expected as they’re both managed by different agencies. Cairn Wood is managed by the Forestry Service while Ballysallagh Reservoir is managed by Northern Ireland Water. And of course it’s Northern Ireland… we’re not very good at working with others.

The Ballysallagh Upper Reservoir is pictured on the map at least as it’s hard to hide given it’s directly opposite Cairn Wood. But there is no indication on how to get there on foot so we drove the perimeter but found no entry anywhere. At least not one that was open to the public which seems like a missed opportunity.

I remember there was talk of selling the land in 2016 but this was rescinded with plans to keep it for recreation. But it would make sense to connect the two attractions to give the added incentive in visiting the area. Like Crawfordsburn Country Park has the coastal path, Glenariff has the waterfall, Tollymore has the Mournes and Shimna River. Cairn Wood has… not a lot.

Making a Day of it in the Craigantlet Hills?

So the Ballysallagh Upper Reservoir looks like a no-go (but we will keep looking into this). There is then Ballysalllagh Lower Reservoir which looks like it is used exclusively by local angling (fishing) clubs. Otherwise there isn’t a whole lot in this Craigantel Hills area. If I were to make a day of it (more like a half day) then maybe McKee’s Farm Shop and Restaurant which is just a short drive from Cairn Wood (4-minutes drive map here) and is a great spot for a breakfast fry-up. I guess you could go towards Ards to whack some balls at Bradshaws Brae Golf Driving Range Then in the opposite direction towards Belfast finds the Stormont Estate.

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