Gulliver Naps Beside the City

Jacinta Owens pays a visit to Cave Hill and Belfast Castle

A number of paths lead up to the Cave Hill from Belfast Castle. Only a short journey from the centre of the city and the visitor is catapulted into a dramatic environment of mixed woodland, heather moorland and rocky outcrops.

On the way to the top are the manmade caves that give the hill its name. There are five in total but little is known of their history. We can only speculate that they were temporary refuges for Neolithic inhabitants. Stories are told of the infamous Ness O’Haughan, a highwayman from the Braid valley, using the caves as a hideout.

At the highest point of the Cave Hill (250m) is McArt’s Fort. Roughly circular and surrounded by an earth bank and ditch, it may have had a ritualistic purpose in Neolithic times. Wolfe Tone met the Belfast leaders of the United Irishmen here in 1798 to take an oath of fidelity, pledging ‘never to desist in our efforts until we have subverted the authority of England over our country and asserted our Independence’.

McArt’s fort is known popularly as ‘Napoleon’s Nose’. Some claim that the distinctive ‘profile’ gave Jonathan Swift the idea for Gulliver, a giant sleeping among the Lilliputian citizens of Belfast.

The views of Belfast Lough and the city itself are unrivalled. On a clear day the visitor can see north Down, the mountains of Mourne, Lough Neagh, the Sperrins, Slemish and the Mull of Galloway. Belfast north, east and west sprawls below, including the cranes of Harland & Wolff and new Laganside developments. Often the HSS ferry to Stranraer can be seen ploughing up and down the lough.

Down from the hill, a more sedate stroll can be enjoyed in the gardens of Belfast Castle. The sandstone castle was built in the Scottish baronial style in 1870, with a tower and many turrets. A striking feature of the castle is the Italianate stairway that curves from the main reception room to the garden terrace.

In Belfast, black can often become white. The legend goes that as long as there is a white cat in residence, visitors to Belfast Castle will have good fortune. The gardens celebrate this story with a number of mosaics and statues to the lucky white cat.