Tollymore Forest Park -
at the foothills of the Mourne Mountains
Tollymore forest park near Newcastle, Co Down casts a magical spell upon most who visit it. Many childhood memories of picnics, fun and games on summery afternoons were created right here amongst leafy glades, forest trails and stepping stones across the Shimna river. The frosted crispness of winter too exudes its own distinctive charm. This is a truly special place. Many of us who came here as children are now coming with our own children and although the size of the trees may have changed, the magic remains just the same.
Opened to the public in 1955, Tollymore was the very first state forest to be designated as a Forest Park in Great Britain. In its first year 7,000 cars visited. By the mid sixties, the figure had risen to 37,000 per year. Visitors came from near and far. As well as English, Scottish, and Welsh patrons, it was not uncommon for coaches of American and European tourists to come for the day.
George Hanna - 50 years service
George Hanna, Ranger of Tollymore has just retired in 2003 after having worked there for fifty years. George has a great affinity with the forest and through the years has gained an unmatched knowledge of it. He is a man who is very much in tune with the place and understands its rhythms and cycles better than anyone you’re ever likely to meet.
George has seen major changes during his 50 years. When he arrived in Tollymore at the age of 15, there were 130 staff working in the forest. Trees were felled using cross-cut saws and axes. Horses were used to drag the fallen timbers out of the forest and along the paths. In addition, many of the paths we now see had to be made first. Maintaining a forest of 1200 acres was a big job requiring long hours and very hard work.
The passing of time brings progress and change. Today there are just six people looking after the forest. Mechanisation has been the major reason for such a reduction in the workforce. The petrol chainsaw was the first real turning point in the process. Today one machine can cut the trees, strip off the branches and stack the smoothed trunks in piles. It carries out this sequence very quickly too so what would once have been a week’s work for a couple of dozen men can be achieved in a day with just one operator.
When he joined in ’53 George had the foresight to take a photograph of the park from a high viewpoint, “The Drinns”, looking across Bryansford and over to the Dromara Hills. He took a photograph from the same spot a couple of years before his retirement in 2003. Both photographs are reproduced here below to show the difference that 50 years of working the forest has made.
Today Tollymore continues to be developed not only for timber production but for recreation and education. George emphasises that he considers the forest park as a family place and has spent a great deal of his time welcoming visitors and giving tours to school parties. He has also actively promoted the park as a place for camping and caravanning. His welcoming way has certainly worked. The number of visitors recently peaked at 250,000 in one year. It is not unusual to see families spending Christmas in a caravan in the park.
Marie McStay talked to George about his time working in the forest
Click Here to listen to the discussion. (Requires RealPlayer)
We spent a day filming with George and he took us to places which are special to him.
See an Interactive map with video clips (Requires Flash Player)
If you haven't got Flash Player or you're not able to view the Tollymore Interactive Map, you can still take the walk with George by clicking on the Video links below....
Take a drive down the Cedar Avenue, just inside the Barbican Gate entrance of the park.
View Foley's Bridge, which has frequently appeared in adverts and films.
Visit the mill ponds which were built to drive a saw mill.
Stop at 'the Drinns' viewpoint and look out across to the Dromara Hills and Castlewellan.
Appreciate the wonderful setting of Maria's Bridge, just downstream from a waterfall.
Watch the Shimna River pour under the Rustic Bridge as George explains why it's special to him.
Walk down to the Meeting of the Waters, where the Spinkwee joins the Shimna.
And in this Park the Roden Home,
where the eagle used to soar,
But now the house has tumbled down
and the Blue Lady haunts no more.
Beneath the oak and copper beech
the stag hid from his foe
For the huntsman with his hounds did ride,
where the Shimna Waters flow.
(Extract from 'Where the Shimna Waters Flow'
by Alexander Taylor)
Click here to read the poem in full.
How to get there
Directions:From Belfast, take the A24 south to Clough Village, then join the A2 Newcastle Road. Before entering Newcastle on the A2, turn right at the roundabout on to the A50, signed Castlewellan. After approximately two miles turn left onto the B180 signed Tollymore Forest Park and follow signs to the park and caravan site.
Relevant web links
- Visit the Northern Ireland Fo...
- If you can't visit Tollymore yourself, take a virtual walk through some of the park's beautiful trees Click Here to view autumnal E-Card photos of Tollymore Forest Park.
- View Brian Willis's sket... he did while on holiday in Newcastle in 1963. Sketches he made in Tollymore of a log cabin and a saw mill appear on Page 2.
- Visit our Picture Gallery to view photographs of the Mourne Mountains, Castlewellan Park and landscapes in the Newcastle & Mourne area.
- Taking part in the pierrot shows, swimming in the rock pool, fly-fishing on the Shimna river - read people's memories o...
- Read about Newcastle's origina..., which displayed the sign 'Welcome to Happy Days in Sunny Newcastle'.
- Sean Rafferty returned to his home town of Newcastle for BBC Radio Ulster's "Holiday Places Apart" series. You can listen to the programme here on A Sense of Place.
- Forester Darryl Ridge writes about the history of Portglen..., an ancient woodland in Co Antrim, and Brian Willis recounts a walk through the bl... there.
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