Beginner’s Guide to Tollymore Forest Park (Shimna River Trail)

I’ve probably covered all the waymarked routes in Tollymore Forest Park in one way or another. I’ve also on occasions been completely lost off the beaten path relying on the sound of faraway traffic to lead us back to the main road.

This is because my aunt and uncle owned a holiday home of sorts between Tollymore Forest Park and the Mourne Mountains on the Trassey Road that connects them. pretty much marked the end of Tollymore Forest Park and the beginning of the walk to the Hare’s Gap.

Anyway, as a youngster, nearly every holiday we would be there, alternating between days getting lost in Tollymore or getting lost in the Mournes. It’s a coin toss on which I prefer.

Otherwise, it was often the same route from Trassey to Tollymore, a one-way route following the main Shimna River to finally reach the main Tollymore car parks.

We’d maybe grab some grub at the restaurant (now closed), some sweets out front at the Bryansford shop (now gone), then phone for a lift back from the pay phone next to it.

I’d still recommend this route between Trassey and Tollymore, but it is one way, so you’d need to arrange collection at the opposite end. At the same time, it only adds a handful of beauty spots such as the King’s Grave and Salmon Leap.

Otherwise, we don’t go this far these days and instead just loop around the main attractions of Tollymore Forest Park which are dotted along the Shimna River nearer the entrance car parks.

The Shimna River Trail (Red Waymarkers)

Much of my preferred loop (shown in the video above) can be found on the red waymarked trail (the River Trail) which is roughly 5.2 km (3.2 miles) in distance and takes around 1 to 2 hours to cover the full loop at a leisurely pace. At the same time, not everyone wants to cover the entire length.

Like many others (incl. older folk, dog walkers, and families), we tend to shorten it to the main attractions of the Tollymore Forest Park along the Shimna River. These include a number of scenic bridges and stepping stones, a Game of Thrones filming location, and of course the Hermitage.

Where to Start at Tollymore Forest Park?

This simple loop of the Shimna River starts at the main car park, taking the furthest path to the right next to the visitor information board. From here the scenic walk down the Azalea Walk is an attraction in itself before reaching the Shimna River and the start of the trail.

Reaching the river we then take a right to follow the path parallel to the river and soon you’ll reach the Hermitage or the ‘Hermit’s Cave’ as we have always known it. This is probably the main beauty spot of Tollymore Forest Park.

The Simple Shimna River Loop

The Hermitage for me marks the start of the Shimna River loop as the trail continues to follow the river for as far as I can remember. It does however get more rugged and off-the-beaten path the further you walk so I only ever make it as far as the Parnell Bridge before crossing and looping back on the opposite side.

It is also possible to cross and crisscross the river with two sets of stepping stones and a couple of bridges. We do cross the bridges and stepping stones along the way, playing Pooh Sticks, or for the photo-ops and whatnot but I recommend sticking to the nearside of the river to begin with then returning again on the opposite far side of the river.

Highlights include the Hermitage, the Stepping Stones, and the Parnell Bridge.

The Return Journey

I recommend crossing at Parnell Bridge (although you can continue on if you wish) before walking back on the opposite side along a path between towering pine trees. The River does split for a bit but just continue to follow the path nearest the river and it will soon connect again shortly after crossing the Altavaddy bridge which again is one of the main attractions of Tollymore Forest Park.

Again you will be able to cross and crisscross at the bridges and stepping stones on the main river but again I recommend sticking to the far side path which is higher up and almost looking down from above the river. Continue along this path and you will soon find yourself opposite the Hermitage and the bridge crossing to the Azalea Walk back up to the car parks.

I do recommend continuing however as it’s just a short walk to reach The Lake, an attraction often overlooked as many visitors make the earlier crossing back to the car parks. You can easily circle this lake and then continue to the nearby Old Bridge before walking back towards the climb to the car park through the Azalea Walk. There are other nearer trails back to the car parks but they are nowhere near as scenic.

Highlights include the Altavaddy Bridge, the Lake and the Old Bridge.

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