Cairngaver is a little known and relatively low, transmitter-topped hill in north County Down. Its 217m summit is the highest point in the Craigantlet Hills - a small range just northeast of Belfast City. Read Martin McAlinden's story of his second attempt to reach its summit.
I’m slightly embarrassed now that I was unable to reach the 217m summit of Cairngaver on my first attempt back in 2009. In my defence, this was before the age of widespread smartphones equipped with hiking apps, GPS and 4G. I’d arrived somewhat ill-prepared following an appointment nearby, without a map and with only the knowledge that the summit lay beyond the top of Cairn Wood, a pretty forest popular with walkers. I’d followed the maze of trails ever upwards without any luck, ultimately reaching a quarry and not finding an obvious route beyond it.
I decided to give Cairngaver another go recently, after visiting a friend living in Belfast. This time I was armed with the ViewRanger app which helpfully shows the main trails through the forest. Once again I started from the forest parking area on the B170, an inland route between Belfast and Bangor.
I followed the main perimeter trail up to the top of the forest and then, knowing I should be aiming southeast, picked up a minor trail which gave a glimpse of the transmitters and led towards them. The summit area was reached after passing through gaps in a couple of hedges. Having skirted the quarry edge again, I realised that my mistake last time was thinking the summit was to the right of it rather than the left.
Despite the various masts and service buildings, Cairngaver’s summit is quite a peaceful place, with a trig pillar topping an old cairn that’s shaded by trees. The views are surprisingly extensive, though you’ll have to walk around a bit to appreciate them. One thing that struck me was that this area of commuter towns is still very green and pretty when seen from above.
Sights included part of Belfast and its surrounding hills, the familiar, jagged line of the Mourne Mountains to the south, the mouth of Belfast Lough and the Antrim Coast to the northeast, and across the sea to Scotland and even the Isle of Man; the first time I’ve been sure I’ve seen it from Ireland. Closer to hand was the fairytale Scrabo Tower rising above Newtownards, with the Ards Peninsula beyond.
Having taken time to enjoy the various views, I headed back down the same way. This was a very enjoyable trip, not just because of the satisfaction in finally ‘conquering’ this obscure hill but because Cairngaver punches well above its modest height.
This is a short version of an article from Martin McAlinden's own Hike Cycle Ireland blog. For the full story and a larger selection of photographs from Martin's Cairngaver walk, please visit his original article.
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