Murlough Woodland Walk

Walking trail

This first walk is an introduction to the woodland which grows around Murlough House and on the North point. There is a wide range of trees to be seen, most of which were planted in the late 1800s following the building of Murlough House by the Downshire estate. Most tree species have established well, but few have spread, sycamore being the major exception, which has, in the last 50 years, progressively spread to form extensive woodland around the house, and out over the dune land. It is a highly competitive tree which shades out other species to form a near single species of woodland. As the woodland is maturing an interesting ground flora is developing, which will be the focus of a spring time walk. Closer to the North Point a more natural woodland of hazel, blackthorn and spindle will be visited before the walk returns looking at the heathland trees.

The trees of Murlough

Woodland at Murlough National Nature Reserve


Murlough National Nature Reserve Woodland Walk Map


Enter the reserve at Keel Point, the western end of Dundrum village on the A24, near Newcastle, Co. Down


Follow the avenue SE from the concrete towards Murlough House. Note the large open grown Austrian pine on the left, often the nesting tree of long eared owls. In the autumn, noisy rooks and crows may be carrying unripe cones from this and other pines, to bury them on the open dunes. Exactly why is uncertain, but this has been the way the pines have spread in the past. Ignore the path signed to the beach. Continue until approaching the cattle grid and stop @ IJ 41206/35100 before entering the trees. Note the nine species of trees which are growing before the gate.

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Murlough National Nature Reserve, scot's pine, birch and young beech


Pass through the small gate next to the cattle grid and continue for a short distance towards Murlough House before turning right onto a grassy path @ IJ41272/35088.

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Murlough National Nature Reserve woodland bracken


Continue along the path, turning left, just before reaching a gate at IJ41226/34992. Pass through another group of shelterbelt pines. At the top of the hill look right through a gap towards the mountains, out over a deep valley. (If you are short like me, this may be obscured by bracken). Rhododendron grows on the left of the path, a game cover plant. The climbing plant using the young self-sown pine tree on the right is hop, Humulus lupus, probably a garden escape. Even though it dies back each autumn, its tough twining stems can be seen year round. It has large rough three lobed leaves.

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Murlough National Nature Reserve path through bracken


Meeting another path, turn left towards Murlough House @ IJ41416/35002, stopping before meeting a fine large mature beech tree.

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Murlough National Nature Reserve Mature open grown beech tree


Turn right at the beech tree IJ 41391/35039, down a path skirting the front of Murlough House. Stop to look at the first large oddly shaped sycamore on the left hand side at @ IJ 414350, which was once pollarded. Because they are sheltered in this valley, mosses have grown on the branches, along with the fronds of an epiphytic fern Polypody (many figured), Polypodium vulgare.

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Murlough National Nature Reserve Polypody fern and ivy on a sycamore branch


Continue down the sunken pathway and take the left-hand path, grid ref: IJ41408/35057 at a large lime tree with a massive ‘bird’s nest’ of epicormic growth. Climb to the top of the path and stop to look down into the woodland below on your right. Walking along this path is taking a walk back in time. On the left-hand bank and on the face of the cliff line below the path are large mature sycamore trees which must have been the original plantings around 1860. These have become the parent trees for the establishment of the sycamore woodland which has now colonised the lower level of younger dunes.

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Murlough National Nature Reserve sycamore wood


Continue along this cliff top path, @ IJ 41418/35159 note concrete steps on the left coming from the back of Murlough Stable yard to meet the path. In fact, this route crosses the path, as two Y shaped flights of steps continue down onto the woodland floor, but are now covered by vegetation. Note a well grown sapling wych elm on the cliff face.

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Murlough National Nature Reserve sapling beech


Continue along the path until another set of steps on the right leads down to the shore @ IJ 41395/35212. (The path to the left, past the Stable block could be a short cut back to the concrete.) Note the size of the sycamore log at the base of the steps, probably one of the original planted trees.

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Murlough National Nature Reserve Woodland walk


Continue along the path until passing below a large sycamore on the left which arches over the path@ IJ 41380/35236. By now you may have noticed a few young trees saplings of other species growing on a more crowded floor to the woodland, with the younger sycamore trees. At the beginning of this path the sycamore trees in the lower wood seem well spaced and the woodland floor is quite open. Here you will notice the trees are more crowded and the woodland floor has more shrubs and ferns.

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Murlough National Nature Reserve Woodland view of sapling yews


Continue until meeting a Y shaped forked sycamore on the right @IJ41367/35314 which has a sapling elderberry bush growing in its fork.

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Murlough National Nature Reserve Y-shaped sycamore


Continue for a short distance along the path until @ IJ 41372/35368, (green topped post on right) where a distinctly different form of woodland grows on the bank to the left. This is a hazel wood. Hazel is a naturally multi-stemmed large native shrub. A good example lies on the right at the base of the cliff and was clearly once growing in more open conditions. The shading influence of invading sycamore can be seen here again, and is a threat to the survival of this native woodland, so some felling of sycamore is taking place.

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Murlough National Nature Reserve path through hazel scrub


Continue along the path, which eventually becomes a cliff overlooking the channel, taking care not to slip down the bank. Some way along take the first path which leads to the left, and continue to the gate @ IJ41294/35694, joining the Boathouse path. Continue left through the gate where the hazel scrub grows on both sides of the path. Continuing along this path back to the Avenue, the walk crosses heathland with a new variety of isolated trees and groups.

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Murlough National Nature Reserve ash, rowan and hawthorn on heath


Stop to look at the large group of willows on the right @ IJ41264/35453. Look for the pussy willow male flowers in the spring, followed by the silky fluffy female seed catkins. You may also see seed catkins on a mature downy birch on the edge of a large group of them on the right. Note other ‘scrubby’ willowy patches farther away to the left.

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Murlough National Nature Reserve Hawthorne bearing fruit


Continue along the path past a bank of tall gorse on the left, taking the right fork, avoiding the gate, until @IJ 41246/35239, where a power cable crosses a fine group of young Scots pine which have spread out from an original plantation on the left between the path and Murlough House.

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Murlough National Nature Reserve Scots pine group


Continue along the path until you meet the road, turn right and return to the parking area. I hope you have enjoyed your walk, and understand a bit more of the complexity of Murlough, and the demands for management.

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Return to the concrete standing.

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Murlough Woodland Walk


Easy walk, mostly on grass tracks.

Some areas of the walk may involve uneven ground and care should be taken. Please be advised that only parts of this walk are disabled access, so it may not be suitable for disabled persons.

Dogs should be kept on leads at all times whilst in the Reserve. When possible, please keep to the marked pathways and boardwalks in order to avoid disturbance to wildlife. 

Murlough Woodland Walk

Contact us

Telephone: 028 4375 1467


Murlough Woodland Walk

How to get here

Enter the Reserve at Keel Point, at the western end of Dundrum village on the A24, near Newcastle, Co. Down. Continue along the avenue until reaching the concrete standings parking area, grid ref: 410351
By road

Follow signs on A24, 2 miles (3.2 km) south of Dundrum.

By foot

Follow signs on A24, 2 miles (3.2 km) south of Dundrum.

Murlough Woodland Walk

Facilities and access

  • No immediate local public toilets
  • Nearest shops and public houses situated in Dundrum
  • National Trust car park (free to members)