It struck me, as I was cycling from Belfast Health and Social Care Trust’s Knockbracken Healthcare Park towards home that the minor roads I was travelling down were just asking to be explored on foot. The landscape is scenic, forested, fields bounded by hedgerows, clattering streams. Except there is nowhere to walk or get away from car traffic.
The river to the left is the Carryduff River which wells up in the countryside above the village of the same name and flows rapidly down towards the Lagan at Shaw’s Bridge.
Around Shaw’s Bridge there is an extensive and popular network of tracks maintained by the National Trust.
I asked myself why could we not develop a track to run along the river from Knockbracken down Shaw’s Bridge? Like so:
Obviously the red line is for illustration purposes only.
There are existing tracks that could be knitted together to form the path. (@KenDeBiker posted the link on Twitter.) The land is owned both privately and by a number of government departments.
Someone, possibly the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) or the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD), could take up this idea, do a feasibility study and make it happen in partnership with the local communities, the Rivers Agency, National Trust, Belfast City Council and Lisburn and Castlereagh Council.
The potential for a Carryduff Riverside path is enormous.
Firstly, it provides a traffic-free link from the A24 Saintfield Road, within easy reach of Cairnshill Park and Ride to Shaw’s Bridge and the Lagan Valley Regional Park. Also, this path would give the community of Purdysburn Village a safe walking and cycling route to the main road and amenities. Local traders and retailers along the route will see opportunities to bring their goods and services to the passing tourists.
The Carryduff River is a wildlife corridor, frequented by badgers, kingfishers, otters, bats, etc. In developing a path the interests of wildlife and the natural environment must be paramount. Rather than running cables to lighting and signs, these should be solar powered, and hooded so artificial light does not disturb the river valley.
On Twitter Steven Patterson of Sustrans mentioned the existing path behind Lough Moss Leisure Centre in Carryduff going towards Purdysburn. My initial idea was not ambitious to include Carryduff, but why not? Link it all up and have a complete off-road path from Carryduff into Belfast. This would encourage commuters and school children from Carryduff to get on their bikes rather than join the very inaptly named rush hour on the A24.
The main obstacle along the route will be crossing the Hospital Road. To start off with a signalled crossing will be needed, similar to the Comber Greenway crossing of the A55 at Knock. A much more elegant solution would be a short tunnel beside the river.
The Belfast Metropolitan 2015 plan mentions a greenway in the area running beside main roads from Cairnshill towards Shaw’s Bridge (link by Geoff Caves). These are useful in encouraging more local active travel, but have little of the tourism potential that a Carryduff Riverside path offers.
Having recognised the need for paths in the area, the Metropolitan Plan can perhaps be modified?
In the meantime go and explore the countryside and lanes in this overlooked corner of Greater Belfast.
You won’t be disappointed.