Three boys on mountain bikes ride through Castlewellan Forest

Record Breaking Visitor Numbers for Castlewellan Mountain Bike Trails

4th June 2021

The popular mountain bike trails at Castlewellan Forest Park have had their busiest year ever according to newly released figures.

Almost 35,000 riders were clocked on the over 20km of free to ride trails between April 2020 and March 2021 – an increase of 32% on the previous year, which was itself one of the highest on record. This is more impressive still considering the trails were closed for a number of months during the beginning of the pandemic.

At Castlewellan, riders are treated to trails for a variety of abilities, ranging from child friendly green trails, novice blues, challenging red trails, and even includes two epic black trail challenges for the adrenaline junkies. The offering of different abilities has been a key component to the trails success, as more and more people turned to the outdoors for something to do during the pandemic.

Three boys on mountain bikes ride through Castlewellan ForestCastlewellan Mountain Bike Trails caters to all abilities of mountain biker

Kath Maguire from local Castlewellan mountain bike club, ‘Feel Good Factor’ – a women’s only group for those interested in the outdoors – said:

“We love the Castlewellan trails, and the club make great use of them – they are our ‘go to’ trail centre… Feel Good Factor club ladies enjoy riding here, particularly with the longer stretch coming in the evenings. The forest is beautiful and the trail allows you to enjoy the hilly terrain as well as take in the beauty of the forest, lake and aspect of the Mournes.”

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council Chairperson, Laura Devlin was delighted with the news. “The mountain bike trails at Castlewellan have clearly proven to be invaluable to the local community during the pandemic. We are very fortunate to have such wonderful and well maintained natural resources on our doorstep. I am very proud that of the work that Council and our local private sector have put in which has resulted in such a strong outdoor recreation package.”

One key player in the private sector at Castlewellan Forest Park over the years has been the outdoor adventure provider, Life Adventure Centre. One of Life’s Directors, Martin McMullan, has witnessed firsthand the surge in numbers to the park in the last year:

“The past year has been exceptionally challenging for all aspects of society, not least the business community, particularly what would be deemed as ‘non-essential’. That said, the newfound appreciation of the outdoors and the various pursuits it offers, particularly in times of crisis, has proven that what we offer may be much more essential that first realised. When permitted, we’ve been privileged to play a part in supporting what for many is a new start in not just the activity itself but the outdoors in general. We’re very much looking forward to achieving some normality in the not-too-distant future and shall endeavour to continue supporting access to the outdoors, the many activities and resulting benefits it offers.”

The growth in users hasn’t been without its challenges however, as addressed in a recent public awareness campaign #TheRightSideOfOutside. Martin Carey, the Chief Executive of Mourne Heritage Trust recognised the issues this posed to his team, who manage and maintain the trails, but considers it a good problem to have:

“It is very pleasing to see the value so many people have derived from the Castlewellan trails over the last year or so. They have clearly been a vital outlet for people in these difficult times and that makes the work of looking after them all the more satisfying. Of course, with that popularity come increased management pressures but, with the support of funders, our team has risen to the challenge and we are reassured by positive feedback on the condition of the trail network.”

Even with the easing of restrictions, visitor numbers to Castlewellan’s trails have continued to grow, with March alone seeing an increase of more than 100% on the previous year. This has in turn driven up the demand for mountain bikes with which to ride the trails – something trail sponsors, Chain Reaction Cycles are familiar with.

The Managing Editor at Chain Reaction Cycles, Matt Cole said,

“To see growth like this is a great boost of confidence for all involved in the mountain bike industry in Northern Ireland. Chain Reaction Cycles has been a proud sponsor of the national trails since they opened in 2013 and we are proud of our local roots, with the company having started out in Ballyclare over 30 years ago.

In particular the rise in new mountain bikers shows that more people are discovering the fantastic resources that are on their own doorstep and getting out to look after their physical and mental health.”

Ethan Loughrey from MountainBikeNI, the brand which promotes all of Northern Ireland’s official trail centres, was hopeful the figures would reshape people’s concepts of mountain biking and encourage others to give it a try:

“It has been amazing to see the figures just go up and up in the last year. People sometimes assume that mountain biking is an all flying, ultra-adrenaline sport but the truth is that we have trails that suit every ability, and I would really encourage everyone to give them a try. They are also a shining example of how capital investment and private sector endeavor can successfully combine to bring a sustainable economic injection to rural economies.”

The popularity of Castlewellan Mountain Bike Trails reflects the wider growth in the sport, with several new trail centres opening within the last few years in Northern Ireland, most recently at Gortin Glen Forest Park in Co. Tyrone.

The mountain bike trails are owned by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council and maintained by Mourne Heritage Trust. Please adhere to the latest current government advice on exercising outdoors.

For more information on the Castlewellan Mountain Bike Trails please visit