Ards Forest Park Donegal – Located along the main road between Creeslough and Dunfanaghy, Ards Forest Park is arguably the most beautiful and certainly the most diverse of Ireland’s Forest Parks. The park is situated on the shores of Sheephaven Bay on the rugged North Donegal coastline. Its diverse range of habitats include sandy beaches and sections of rocky shoreline.
T: +353 (0)74 9121139
Ards Forest Park covers some 480 hectares (1200 acres). In addition to coniferous and deciduous woodlands the park has marshes, salt water lakes, sand dunes, beaches and rock outcrops within its boundaries . Designated Natural and Heritage Areas and a Special Area of Conservation further add to its special ecological and wildlife value.
There are a large number of signposted trails incorporating the main features of the park. These include the Ards Heritage Trail which is 3.5km long, the Nature Trail and the Green trail which are both 3km long and the Red Trail which is 13km long. The sea is one of the real treasures of this forest park and there are several trails, the Binngorm trail, the Salt Marsh Trail and the Sand Dune Trail, which offer the hiker an opportunity to experience this facet of the park.By “stitching together” a number of trails, it is possible to hike for 5/6 hours on forest tracks and trails, taking in the full circuit of the park. The opportunities are endless. A booklet on all of these walks is available at Coillte offices in Donegal
The broadleaved woodlands within Ards Forest Park give the visitor the feel of primeval woodlands in Ireland. They consists of sessile oak, birch, ash and rowan with occasional yew, hawthorn and elm – all native trees. Spanish chestnut, sycamore and beech are common introductions. The coniferous woodlands include Sitka spruce, noble fir, lodgepole pine, Western hemlock, silver fir, Scots pine, European larch (the remnants of old plantings) and Corsican pine.
Ards Forest Park is also home to a wide selection of animals and birds. The rabbit, red squirrel, field mouse,hare and hedgehog can all be found in the park. Foxes, badgers, stoats and otters can also be observed . The Park provides a unique opportunity for observing many of Ireland’s birds within the confines of a relatively small area and in such diverse habitats. A special hide at the end of the salt marsh trail allows the visitor to watch winter visitors feed on the salt marsh.
There is a wide range of flora in the park ranging from blackberry and bramble in the oak forest to water lilies which thrive in a fen area near Lough Lilly to orchids on the sand dunes. Hazel, rhododendron, holly, are common at the shrub layer, while the herb layer is rich in many species, flowering plants and especially ferns. The main lakeshore species include various grasses, sedges and ferns.
History and Archaeology
In the plantation of Ulster which followed the Flight of the Earls in 1607, Turloug Og O’Boyle was granted Ards and the surrounding territory by the British, on condition of his loyalty to the crown. Following that family’s part on the Irish side in the 1641 Insurrection, the O Boyles lost their lands, which by 1700 had passed to the Wray family. The latter remained in possession until 1782 when the lands were sold to Alexander Stewart, brother of the then Marquis of Londonderry. The Stewart family held Ards until 1926, and the Irish Land Commission finally broke the great estate up following its acquisition of the land. The nothern half of the Estate was held by the Land Commission for afforestation and the rest was divided among tenants.
Ards Forest Park also has many features of archaeological interest. The remnants of four ringforts are to be found in the park in addition to a number of megalithic tombs – local legend has it that these were the beds of Diarmuid and Grainne in their flight from Fionn Mac Cumhaill. A Holy Well – the Ague Well – which is reputed to have curative powers, can be seen on Ards Heritage Trail . On the same walk there is a Mass Rock where Mass was celebrated in defiance of the Penal Laws
At Ards Forest Park the visitor can enjoy many forest walks, a car park, toilets, children’s play area and a picnic site. There are numerous viewing points on the walks and trails with spectacular views of the surrounding countryside and coastline. Recently park management, Coillte, invested in a number of new facilities including the stunning coastal ‘board walk’ and the new ‘Beachwood cafe’.
A visit to Ards Forest Park will reward everyone at any time of the year. Hours can be spent here in complete relaxation, be it on the many nature walks or on its golden beaches. It is a place for everyone to get away for a while.
Visit Donegal Cottage Holidays for the best selection of holiday cottages in Ireland