HUNDREDS of walkers of all levels will descend on the Sperrins and Killeter regions this Saturday and Sunday to explore the beauty, history and heritage of the local hinterland.
The 2018 Sperrins and Killeter Walking Festival is being hosted by Derry City and Strabane District Council in association with outdoor adventure specialists Far and Wild and a number of intriguing new routes mean organisers are preparing for a record attendance.
Among the new walks are the ‘Beyond Borders’ Brexit themed walk along the Tyrone and Donegal/Fermanagh border which leaves Killeter on Saturday morning and the ‘Craignamaddy Nature Walk’ on Sunday which will explore the flora and fauna of the Glenelly Valley.
The ‘Bright and Beautiful Walk’ around Killeter on Saturday will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of the area’s most famous residents, world renowned poet and hymn writer Cecil Frances Alexander.
The festival has six walks in total that are aimed at walkers of all abilities and Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, John Boyle, encouraged the public to come along and discover some of the area’s lesser known beauty spots while also experiencing the warm welcome the District is famous for.
“The Sperrins and Killeter Walking Festival is an event that gets bigger and better every year with both serious walkers and novices taking advantage of the opportunity to get off the beaten track and discover the majesty of our local landscape,” he said.
“As a council we are keen to develop and promote our region as a walking destination through the development of the greenway network and tapping into the potential of our position on the International Appalachian Trail so this festival can play a key role in that process.
“I know both venues are laying on hospitality and entertainment for the visitors and I’d encourage as many of them as possible to stay for the day and enjoy some refreshments, music and craic.”
In a change from previous years, Killeter will host the Saturday walks at the festival to coincide with the village’s annual fair so walkers can also sample a wide variety of entertainment and activities including music, turf cutting, shooting range and a vintage parade.
Sunday’s walks will leave from Plumbridge where entertainment and refreshments will be hosted at Watt’s Bar in the town in the evening.
The festival begins on Saturday morning with the challenging ‘Beyond Borders’ walk starting out at 9am before the Local and Neolithic Walk, rated as a ‘moderate’ challenge at 10am which will take in a range of interesting sites around the townland from the period when Ireland was settled by its first agrarian inhabitants.
Finally on Saturday ‘The Bright and Beautiful Walk’ will celebrate the life and work of Cecil Francis Alexander who lived in Killeter from 1850-55 while her husband was curate in St Bestius Church of Ireland.
The four churches in the area have come together to create four community gardens in their grounds which are all included on this ‘moderate’ walking route which will leave the Heritage Centre at 12.30pm.
On Sunday the action moves to the Sperrins and the picturesque village of Plumbridge where three more walks will leave from Watt’s Bar on the town’s Main Street.
The ‘Jewel in the Crown of the IAT’ at 9am is a challenging route that will explore Sawel Mountain – a peak that is visible from counties as far flung as Down and is the highest mountain along the route of the International Appalachian Trail.
At 10am the Craignamaddy Nature Walk is a 10k hike that explores the ridge that rises between the Glenelly and Owenkillew Valleys and will be led by an expert in Flora and Fauna who will focus on the areas’ unique habitat.
Finally, the family friendly Vinegar Hill Charity Walk in aid of Rural Support sets off from Watts Bar at 1pm and will be guided by local walking enthusiasts who will provide some appetising home grown hospitality along the way.
Registration for the Sperrins and Killeter Walking Festival is open now at http://www.sperrinskilleterwalking.com/ where full details of each walk are available.