Cavehill Country Park, Northern Ireland

Cave hill stitch

Cavehill Country Park, Northern Ireland

Rising above the city of Belfast is the beautiful landscape of Cavehill Country Park. Once part of Belfast Castle’s extensive estate, the hill is covered in lush woodland criss-crossed with narrow muddy tracks. After meandering on an upwardly-sloping path under a canopy of leaves, you suddenly break out into a beautiful panorama – behind you to one side is an aerial view of all Belfast, the little streets and buildings looking small at the bottom of the hills. And on the other side the landscape of Cavehill seems as if it comes straight out of a fairytale land, dramatic emerald and golden hills punctured with mysterious caves. It seems perhaps a scene you’d find in The Chronicles of Narnia – you almost expect to see fauns and centaurs and talking animals wandering about the hills. Even though you haven’t quite crossed over into a magical land, you’re as close as you can get – CS Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia grew up in Belfast (and was educated at Oxford) and spent his boyhood exploring these hills – the Mourne Mountains to the south up to the Causeway Coast to the north (Dunluce Castle is said to have been the inspiration of the ruined Cair Paravel in Prince Caspian). It’s reasonable to expect that CS Lewis would have climbed the slopes of Cavehill just behind his hometown, and it’s again reasonable to expect that the places he encountered in Ireland as a boy would have formed as inspiration for Narnia. Interesting again that the “real world” places of The Chronicles of Narnia resemble Oxford and its environs, but the mystical, magical places of Narnia and other magical lands find their inspirations in the landscapes of Ireland…perhaps Ireland is just a magical place.


Pro tip: There is a family-friendly car park to go straight to the top of the hill to McArt’s Fort, but you’ll miss the hike, forest, and actual cave hills in the panorama above. It’s worth it to start at Belfast Castle and do the full loop – at 6.5-7km, it should take you about 2 hours. It can be muddy, so bring your boots and waterproof jacket. As of this post, the route from Belfast Zoo is closed (but not the castle). Check here for hiking info.


Further Travels in Ireland


 

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Prague, Czech Republic

PragueREDO

Prague, Czech Republic

Chances are, at some point in your life, you’ve probably heard, read, or watched a fairy tale. Along with similar features involving a royal family, an evil villain, and some kind of magical element, they are all usually set in the same place: Europe. Okay, perhaps they have lofty names such as “Narnia,” “Arendelle,” “the Enchanted Land,” “Riven-dell” or “Wonderland” but after seeing photos of Europe and comparing them with the drawings and paintings found in storybooks,  one can’t help but see the similarities. Prague is arguably one of the most fairytale-esque places Europe has the offer. In the wintertime, the streets are decked in ivy, the markets are set up in every available plaza, hot chocolate and hot wine stands are on every corner, and snowflakes are in the air. The distant husky smell of smoke from wood-burning fires combined with the sweet smell of Czech buns mingle in the air to create a mouth-watering aroma. It doesn’t take long for you to realise that Prague was pulled straight from the pages of a fairytale.