Best campsites for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Northern Ireland (AONB)
Here is our pick of the Alan Rogers Assessors, expert-recommended campsites for the Northern Ireland's Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Antrim Coast and Glens AONB
The Antrim Coast and Glens Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty was created in 1988, and it occupies a coastal and hinterland area from Ballycastle in the north to Larne in the south. The coastline is defined by imposing headlands that jut out, notably Ballygally Head, Garron Point, Torr and Fair Head.
Back from the coast, the Antrim Plateau is an eerily bleak landscape with a unique rugged beauty with blanket bog and watery heathland, home to rare plants, including the insect-eating butterwort. There are three Special Areas of Conservation within the AONB: Rathlin Island, Garron Plateau and Breen Wood. Red grouse, hen harrier, seabirds like razorbill, kittiwake and puffin, hare, bats and endangered flora like wood crane’s bill.
The AONB contains the famous Nine Glens of Antrim, and the area has deep associations with the folklore legends of the ‘wee folk’. To this day, place names evoke this connection: Feystown (the town of the fairies) and Breen (the fairy palace). Ancient heritage comes in the form of Neolithic monuments, Iron Age forts (at Lurigethan) and castles at Ballygally and Glenarm, as well as medieval friaries and picturesque old villages like Cushendun.
Binevenagh Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is defined by its stark, austere cliffs with majestic views from Gortmore's viewpoint of Magilligan’s Nature Reserve, Inishowen and the Scottish islands of Islay and Jura. Mussenden Temple and the Martello Tower can even be sighted far away
The special features here are the fine sandy beaches and dunes, as at Benone and Portstewart, which are both protected. The rich fertile plains around Lough Foyle have long supported the traditional agricultural activities here, with sheep farming being an important part of the upland moors. Wildlife includes wildfowl like brent geese and whooper swans, while the clear waters are important for shellfish, salmon and dolphins.
The Causeway Coastal Route has been voted 5th in a poll of the world’s most spectacular views. This is 80 miles of beautiful coast with unspoilt beaches and windswept cliffs dotted with ancient monuments and crumbling castles. Highlights of the Binevenagh stretch include Mountsandel Forest and Portstewart Strand.
Causeway Coast AONB
Running 30 km along the North Antrim Coast, the Causeway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is also designated as a World Heritage site and is world famous for the Giant’s Causeway, the most visited place in Northern Ireland. Sometimes referred to as the 8th wonder of the world, the Giant’s Causeway comprises 40,000 stacks of lava dating back 60 million years and most having the mysterious hexagonal shape.
The AONB incorporates eight Areas of Special Scientific Interest, as well as areas protected for their unique habitats. Sheep Island is important for migrating sea birds, notably cormorants, while plants like pink thrift, white sea campion and oysterplant are all protected. The more unusual wildlife includes eider ducks, peregrine falcon, otters, porpoises, basking sharks and small whales.
Other highlights are the dunes at East Strand, wonderful coastal cliff top walks, including over the Carrick-a-Rede footbridge, and evocative ruined castles at Dunluce, Dunseverick and Kinbane. Bushmills village has a special appeal for its iconic Old Bushmills Whiskey.
Lagan Valley AONB
Situated just to the south of Belfast, the River Lagan is what shapes this AONB, acting as a focal point that connects various elements of the Regional Park. The riverbank is tranquil and unspoilt, stretching out into meadows, woodland and lush farmland. Stroll along the towpath that connects Belfast and Lisburn for a unique perspective on this charming AONB.
The Lagan Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is rich in wildlife, inhabited by badgers, otters, bats, red squirrels and a wide variety of birdlife such as kingfishers, dippers and the increasingly rare yellowhammer.
The flora is special too, with plenty of wildflowers and orchids favouring the meadows and bluebells carpeting the woodland floor of Belvoir Park Forest and Minnowburn. The oaks in Belvoir Park Forest are among the oldest in Ireland.
The area has a wealth of ancient monuments, including the Giant’s Ring (a ring of tombs dating from the Stone Age), the early Christian ring fort in Clement Wilson Park, Norman mottes and long forgotten industrial heritage left behind by the linen industry that once thrived here.
The mountains that define this AONB are perhaps the most dramatic of all of Ireland’s landscapes. Brooding, epic and imposing, the Mournes rise up around the shimmering expanse of the Silent Valley Reservoir in the heart of the mountain range. This is a majestic spot, with visitor centre and great hiking trails. The twelve peaks include Slieve Donard, Ireland’s highest mountain at 850m.
The craggy peaks give way to moorland, where endangered peregrines and rare red grouse thrive on the heather, and ridges offering sensational panoramic sea views before sweeping down to the coast. Enjoy the fine sandy shores, such as the Cranfield West Blue Flag beach at the entrance to Carlingford Lough – you might spot seals and dolphins here.
On the lower slopes, Oakwood National Nature Reserve lies near the village of Rostrevor. Along with forests at Mourne Park, Tollymore, Castlewellan and Donard Park, it’s a great place to stride out and explore. Look for prehistoric standing stones, dolmens and medieval castles wherever you go.
Ring Of Gullion AONB
The Ring of Gullion is a circle of low hills - known as a ring dyke - forming a rampart around heather-clad Slieve Gullion, one of the Mourne mountains. This is the result of volcanic activity over 60 million years ago, and it’s an area through which local myths and legends have long swirled. The Giant’s Lair at Slieve Gullion is a popular outdoor children’s story trail with dragons, fairies and giants.
The upper reaches of the hills are exposed with heath, bog and scattered woodland, all found above the fertile fields of the lush valley floor. Red squirrels find sanctuary here, raptors circle overhead, and within the AONB are seven Special Scientific Interest areas.
Man has inhabited these hills for over 6,000 years so there’s a real sense of shared traditions and heritage, with folklore, poetry, music and literature all combined in a colourful tapestry. There are around 20 prehistoric stone tombs, including Ballymacdermot, with its amazing views, and the King’s Ring at Clontygora. Remarkably, there’s even a Passage Tomb on the summit of Slieve Gullion, the highest such monument in Britain or Ireland.
Lying south of Londonderry and running from the Strule Valley to the Lough Neagh lowlands, this is an epic area of towering mountains, exposed moorland and lush green valleys. Sawel Mountain is the highest peak at 678 metres and the 7th highest in Northern Ireland.
Tucked away in the heart of Ulster, this is some of Ireland’s most majestic scenery, millions of years in the making. Glenelly and Owenkillew valleys are on a majestic scale, and at the southern end, the Burren area is dotted with lakes and wetlands. The landscape is peppered with plenty of ancient heritage and mysterious standing stones.
The AONB is sparsely populated and mostly agricultural in terms of economic activity. The wide open spaces and lack of urban build-up ensures attractive habitats for wildlife such as Sika deer, pine marten, red grouse and red squirrels. Overhead, birds of prey like the peregrine falcon, buzzards and even golden eagles circle and survey their vast terrain.
Strangford and Lecale AONB
Strangford Lough is an almost landlocked inlet, sprinkled with countless tiny islets and surrounded by gorgeous undulating hills, meadows and marshes which provide wonderful habitats for all kinds of wildlife.
On the shores of the lough, the 15th-century Strangford Castle and the 18th-century Castle Ward estate, with its charming woodland trails and expansive gardens, are noteworthy attractions. At the northern end, Scrabo Hill and its Victorian tower is a local landmark, while to the south is the Quoile River Walk, taking in the ancient Mound of Down and 12th century Inch Abbey. Around 70,000 migratory birds arrive each autumn, joining the resident wildlife, including red squirrels, otters, porpoises and seals.
The Lecale Coast runs from Strangford Lough to the Mourne Mountains and comprises craggy headlands and sandy beaches backed by dunes. Follow the paths and boardwalks through the Dundrum dunes and enjoy the wildflowers and rare butterflies.
Best campsites for Northern Ireland's AONBs
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Ballyness is immaculately cared for and is designed with conservation in mind. In keeping with the surrounding countryside, it is extensively planted with native trees...
Set in a beautiful area, overlooking the seaside town of Ballycastle with its sandy beach, Rathlin Island and the mystical cliffs of Fairhead, Causeway Coast...
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A site which continually maintains high standards, Drumaheglis is popular throughout the season. Situated on the bank of the lower River Bann, approximately four miles...
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In a magnificent parkland setting overlooking the Irish Sea and Scotland, what makes this touring site popular are its scenic surroundings and convenient location. It...
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The owners of Loan Eden have built up a reputation for their park based on a friendly, caring attitude. It is particularly suitable for those...
Delamont Country Park Camping and Caravanning Club site is currently the only club site in Northern Ireland. The site sits adjacent to the stunning Delamont...