Winding around wooded glens
GREAT DRIVES: THE SPERRINS and GORTIN GLEN FOREST PARK:THE SPERRINS ARE Northern Ireland’s largest mountain range, and it’s an area that we’ve only visited once before for this series.
The landscape around the village of Gortin is some of the most beautiful in Northern Ireland, with its many wooded glens and mountains providing unexpected views across Co Tyrone.
The entrance to the park is 10km from Omagh on the B48 road to Gortin, just past the Ulster History Park, with its 14 reconstructions of homes and monuments spread over 14-hectare site.
Gortin Glen Forest Park, at the western gateway to the Sperrin Mountains, is spread over both sides of the B48. The park, which first opened in 1967, contains 1,534 hectares of mostly wooded landscape. It has the distinction of being the first forest park in Northern Ireland to be established in purely coniferous woodland, which was originally planted for the sole purpose of timber production.
In the past I’ve written about two of Northern Ireland’s forest parks where it is possible to drive along tarmacadamed roads on clearly marked trails. In the case of Gortin Forest Park the key trail is the Forest Drive, an eight-kilometre track that offers some breathtaking views as the road winds over some quite high mountains as well as around some exquisite wooded glens.
There are plenty of places to pull over and admire the views, although there are a few places where the road is a little rough for a few metres. It costs just £3.50 to take a car and its occupants into the Forest Park – well worth it – but don’t forget to bring some sterling change, as entry is by way of an automated ticket machine.
As so often is the case this summer, my visit to Gortin Glen Forest Park was on a dark, overcast day with several heavy showers. These didn’t spoil the visit, but on a sunny day it must be a glorious place to spend a few hours. (The park is open every day of the year from 10am until sunset.)
Leaving the park, I turned north along the B48 to travel the six or seven short kilometres to Gortin along a most attractive section of the road. Turning right in the village, I travelled for just over a kilometre before turning right again at a sign for Gortin Lakes. This is a relatively short road that eventually delivers you back to the B48 south of Gortin. Its attraction lies in the fact that it climbs high above the village, giving views over Gortin and east towards the main bulk of the Sperrins.
Again, there are several good viewing points, and these give sight of the many unusual conical hills before the road drops down between two kettle-hole lakes formed by huge blocks of ice that were separated from the main glacier during the last Ice Age. There are several paths around these lakes, and these are well worth exploring for the differing views they provide of this unusual landscape.
This is an area well worth seeking out and will provide a very interesting drive, as well as views over a beautiful and at times unusual landscape.