Unpeel the layers and you’ll find a compelling history that reaches back thousands of years to the very first humans on the island of Ireland. And it was the Lower Bann that brought them here.
Around 20 minutes’ walk from the town centre, you’ll find Mountsandel Wood overlooking the gushing waters of the river. Here, 9,000 years ago, the earliest settlers in Ireland stalked the forest hunting wild boar, communed around fires and fished the abundant waters. Stroll through the woods, climb the grassy Anglo-Norman fort and you can look out at the very river that shaped Ireland’s history.
This deep connection with the past echoes all along the Lower Bann, a wilderness of unspoiled beauty that carries the freshwaters of Lough Neagh out to the Atlantic Ocean at Portstewart. Stretching to over 60km, the river snakes through the basalt plateaus of the countryside and has become one of the premier destinations in Ireland for watersports – a weekend here brings thrills aplenty. Kayakers will enjoy trailing the 58km Lower Bann Canoe Trail, stopping off at villages and campsites along the way, while if you’re a keen walker there are a multitude of short loops and trails in forest, wood and along the riverbanks.
This sense of getting away from it all, of uncovering an area basking in rural charm and natural beauty is what the Lower Bann is all about. It’s a place of tranquil grassy riverbanks, a destination filled with peaceful moments all undercut with a history that takes in everything from Mesolithic sites to stark reminders of the Second World War. Learn all about Lough Neagh eels and their astonishing journey from the Sargasso Sea, 6,000km away; take in a Game of Thrones filming location at Toome Canal; and enjoy a summertime lunch as the light bounces off the water at a scenic riverside café such as The Boatyard.
From the quietly compelling to the downright breathtaking, the Lower Bann offers a bounty of incredible things to see and do....
1. Toome Waterways Heritage Centre, Toome
Set within an atmospheric lock-keepers cottage overlooking the reflective waters of the Toome Canal, this enjoyable little heritage centre covers the history of the waterway. Before walking along the canal, drop in and see the diver's suit from the early 1900s, which was worn by workers attending to the locks along the River Shannon. The location is also right by where the HBO series Game of Thrones® was filmed, so keep an eye out for a plaque in front of the canal that tells you all about it.
2. The Seamus Heaney HomePlace, Bellaghy
Enter the critically acclaimed new visitor centre in Bellaghy and you'll be swept up in an intimate exhibition detailing the life and work of Nobel Prizewinning poet, Seamus Heaney. Photographs, artifacts, audio and video bring you from Heaney's childhood right through to his working life when he became known as one of the world's greatest poets. Tender, memorable and compelling, the exhibition roots Heaney in the landscape where he grew up and which inspired some of his best work.