Although this weekend has been one of the coldest we’ve experienced in Belfast, it’s also been the sunniest. So what to do when it’s cold and sunny? Go for a walk in the park, of course.
And not just any park, but Cave Hill Country Park, steeped in history and steeped in, well, steep. The paths are generally unpaved muddy trails carved into the side of a mountain. While the views are spectacular, the footing was treacherous.
The park includes Belfast Castle, where we had lunch, as well as the Belfast Zoo. Declan and I visited the zoo on a previous trip, but you could see bears and deer of some sort from our vantage point high above Belfast Lough while walking along the Cave Hill path.
‘Citizens of Belfast, Unite!’
Our destination was McArt’s Fort, a promontory about halfway up the trail. We were interested because it was here where United Irishmen, including Wolfe Tone and Henry Joy McCracken, first pledged to fight for Irish Independence in 1795. It was also where McCracken was arrested in 1798 after a failed uprising. The evening of his capture forms the basis of the Stewart Parker play, “Northern Star.” Parker is the subject of Marilynn’s second book, so anything Parker-related is interesting to us.
However, we gave up a decent way into the climb. The footing wasn’t getting any better, and we knew that however far we went up, we would have to walk that far back down. It didn’t deter the locals, though. Despite the slippery conditions, we saw literally dozens of people—most with either kids or dogs—climbing all over the mountain. It’s heartening to see so many people out on such a fine day.
A walk back in time
Cave Hill Country Park also encompasses Belfast Castle, which serves as the focal point of the park. This is at least the third castle on the site, dating to the Normans in the 12th century. In 1611, the Baron of Belfast, Sir Arthur Chichester, built a new castle on the site, but it burned a century later.
The current castle was completed in 1870 by descendants of Chichester, now known as the Donegalls. A few generations of aristocrats later, it was donated to the city in 1934 and plays a prominent role in the city’s cultural life as an event space. Prospective brides even have their own toilet, although I didn’t open that door for a peek. Forgot to take a photo, too. Sorry.
Some aristocrat had a thing for cats, because there were two cat mosaics on the grounds to go with a cat topiary, a bronze statue on the base of the central fountain, a concrete cat to one side and an engraved marker featuring a TS Eliot saying that could have marked a feline grave.
Taking in the sun in such beautiful, but muddy, surroundings, made us feel like the locals—Southern accents, notwithstanding.