Urban Heights

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TYPEUrban looped walk mainly along quiet residential roads. Significant climb up to the higher suburbs of Holywood
DISTANCE2.9 miles / 4.7 km 
SURFACESAlmost all asphalt paths along roads. One short section down uneven steps on a unsurfaced path which may be muddy. 
HEIGHT GAIN / LOSS360 feet climb 
HAZARDSTwo road crossing points on moderately busy roads with limited visibility which require care (see map). One short section along an unsurfaced path with uneven steps.

What makes a good walk? I would go for green space, fresh air, great views, birdsong and a route with variety and interest along the way. We usually go to the countryside to find these things, but we can also get them in well designed urban environments and this butterfly shaped walk, through the high suburbs of Holywood, aims to prove the point.

You can start this walk at any point on the blue line above – I have chosen to start at the Twisel Bridge.

From here climb up the flight of steps to Victoria Road, crossing over with care and turning right. Follow around the corner past the entrance to Glenlyon House and continue to the junction with Ardmore Park.

The “bathing villas” of Ardmore Terrace built around 1840

Looking uphill you see a 3-storey house – the end terrace of a fine set of Victorian “Bathing Villas”. These were originally intended to be let as short-term seaside holiday homes, but longer term tenants were also welcomed.

 “Villas in Holywood at reduced rent. To let and immediate possession given, two houses in Ardmore Terrace. The houses have each a garden and the use of extensive grounds and contain Dining room, Drawing room and Seven Bedrooms with Hot and Cold Baths &c., and a never-failing supply of Water, without pumping. For a permanent tenant, very moderate terms would be made…An Omnibus plies from every Train, Fare 2d. Apply on the premises; or to James Greenfield, Post Office, Holywood.”

Quoted in The Griffith’s Valuation fieldbook for the period (1856-64)

Clearly the ability to commute easily to and from Belfast was as important then as now. However we are much more fortunate today in having ‘mains water’ and never having to worry about running dry!

The row would have originally looked out over a large open space (where the houses of Ardmore Park now cluster) to an uninterrupted view of Belfast Lough and the Antrim Hills behind.

The rest of the Terrace is two-storey

Head up the hill and turn left to follow the front of Ardmore Terrace. The road runs to the end of the row and turns right to join Ardmore Road.

You are now in a large area of mid twentieth century detached housing, primarily bungalows. There is much to admire here. Each house has generous gardens front and rear. There is a rich variety of garden trees, hedges and shrubs providing a shared space to enjoy for nature and walkers alike.

The big windows and broad pitched gables are very much of their time although the building materials and technology originally used left something to be desired in terms of energy efficiency. However, with modern insulation and solar roofs these homes have everything needed to be state of the art 21st century eco-houses!

Keep straight up Ardmore Road and a fine view of open country soon appears with a high tree-lined horizon. Turn right at the top T-junction with the appropriately named Ardmore Heights and continue up to the highest point of your walk (just under 300 feet above the sea visible below).

As you come to the top corner of Ardmore Heights there is a cul-de-sac ending in Woodland. This is the upper part of Glenlyon Park. Unfortunately there is currently no path to access the park from here – but this would seem to be a great option for future recreational development.

Continue along Ardmore Heights as it makes a full turn back towards Ardmore Road and Brown’s Brae beyond.

As you proceed here it is very obvious you are dropping into a valley. Valleys generally have streams in their midst and here is no exception – the Croft Burn runs hidden, but un-culverted, behind the houses lining Ardmore Road below.

Steep sided built-up areas like this are often a major cause of urban flooding when torrential rains cannot be accommodated by the limited capacity of the street drainage. However, here every garden, hedge, flower bed, lawn and shrubbery will act to absorb storm run-off and help spare other houses downstream the misery of flooding. This is in addition to cleaning the air, removing CO2, absorbing sound and providing essential habitat for birds and pollinating inserts. Neighbourhoods such as these are good neighbours indeed!

Re-joining Ardmore Road I suggest to then take the next left up Glenview Road and then into Glenmore Avenue.

Looking backward down Glenmore Avenue over Belfast Lough

At the end of Glenmore Avenue you come to a pedestrian link path which takes you through to Glenview Road.

The area was designed with houses with garages to accommodate the motor car, but it also provides good pavements and link paths for the use of walking humans. They are a balance and human focus missing in more recent developer ‘exclusive’ housing!

As you arrive in Glenview Road a fine view over the lough and Antrim Hills opens up ahead. Glenlyon Park is just to your left but again there is no access possible here.

Just before the interesting cluster of new houses at the end of Glenview Road turn right downhill into another pedestrian linkway.

This takes you out onto Ardmore Avenue and then back down to Ardmore Road where you turn left and retrace to the far end of Ardmore Terrace.

Look back now to admire the bold symmetry of the row. The houses are Victorian, but the simple geometries, balance and clean lines hark back to the Georgian style.

Now don’t return down Ardmore Park but continue past the the terrace through a pedestrian link path bearing right onto Claremont Avenue.

This is a much older roadway which takes its name from the large Victorian villa, Claremont House, which now sits on your left.

As you descend pay attention to the electric power poles on your right. I imagine the old houses of Holywood were among the early adopters of electric home lighting and many of the old metal poles from that time have survived – still fit for purpose.

Now cross Victoria Road, turn left and returning to the Twisel Bridge. Take particular care in crossing here as visibility is limited and traffic can be fast.

Follow the Twisel path keeping an eye out for white chested dippers which sometimes can be seen bobbing in the burn below. You now emerge on Church Avenue which you follow out onto Church Road. turning right and continuing uphill to pass Glenlyon Park (you will have to cross the road as the left side pavement stops short).

Further uphill, past the Glenlyon Car Park you turn into Plas Merdyn. This road is blessed with some of the finest views in Holywood.

Near the road end you will see a set of old uneven steps with a rusty handrail dropping onto a narrow pedestrian path.

Descend with care and follow the path, which can be muddy at times, down onto Demesne Grove, turning left out onto Demesne Avenue.

Now turn uphill and to the road end where a path between high hedges takes you up to Demesne Park.

There is a nice mixture of detailing in the houses here, reflecting in a small scale the fashions and thinking of their times. Open porches with decorative brickwork, high-pitched roofs, small oriel windows, stained glass and a low crisp white house with a curved metal window (which would not look out of place in a Poirot mystery).

Turn right and follow Demesne Park around the corner and downhill.

There are mercifully un-gobbled bungalows here, sitting on a height behind mature gardens. sporting bay windows with stained-glass top lights. Further down a respectful new-build sits nicely between its neighbours.

Demesne Park now joins Demesne Road. Time for a little history.

demesne (/dɪˈmeɪn/ di-MAYN) or domain was all the land retained and managed by a lord of the manor under the feudal system for his own use, occupation, or support.

Wikipedia Demesne / Domain

You might be forgiven for thinking that you are walking in the grounds of the original Holywood Demesne. However you would be wrong – at the closest point here you are over 200m from the once boundary wall.

Holywood Demesne was the largest by far of the estates which encircled old Holywood Town. Inside its long gone boundary walls is now the Abbey Ring Estate, Sullivan Upper School, most of the Holywood Golf Course and Nun’s Wood – the North East section of the modern Redburn Country Park. Burns Community Pharmacy and Post Office now sit (approximately) on the site of Holywood House.

So as you can see – it is not just artists who take licence with geography and history!

Turn left along Demesne Road and then right into My Lady’s Mile (just opposite a nicely updated bungalow).

Gaps in the big hedges of My Lady’s Mile reveal comfortable houses in generous gardens. However, the gap you are particularly interested in, is the entrance to a small pedestrian link path on your right which leads through to Lemonfield Avenue.

This quiet cul-de-sac with an intriguing name joins through to the junction of Demesne and Downshire Road.

To complete the looped walk now follow Demesne Road straight ahead, turn right onto Church Road and then almost immediately left back down Church Avenue to the Twisel Bridge.

Route Map to Download and Print (PDF)

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By Charlie Reid

Walker, Orienteer and general outdoors person. Interested in practical green technology, map making, history and the future.

Holywood blow-in and editor of walking blog "Grand Day Out (NI)"