Derry City & Strabane - Walking in an eco wonderland -- the Faughan Valley




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Walking in an eco wonderland -- the Faughan Valley

25 March 2015

Ecologist Martin Bradley has been rooting around under hedgerows since he was a nipper and now his Landscape and Countryside Tours are helping curious visitors from all over the world discover what lies within Derry’s rural hinterland - the Faughan Valley and beyond……

Martin Bradley has literally come a long way since his childhood days checking out the undergrowth and looking for insects in the hedgerows near his family home.

He recalls: “I was always searching under trees and bushes in Derry`s, Top of the Hill where we lived. There was a Hawthorn hedge at the back of our house and my mother knew it was safe enough letting me out to go digging under its roots.”

An interest in plant ecology is definitely in the genes as Martin’s maternal grandfather was a professional gardener, and he’s an absolute mine of knowledge who’d give David Bellamy a run for his money!

Martin obtained a degree in Environmental Science and Post Grad qualifications in Environmental Management from the University of Ulster. During his 18 years as Access Officer with Strabane District Council, he built up an extensive knowledge of the many facets of the Sperrins region.

As a qualified ecologist and guide he now provides interpreted walking trips that give visitors an appreciation of the region’s landscapes, ecology, archaeology, rural traditions and folklore, in his unassuming, informative and entertaining style.

He has guided all sorts of visitors over the years from WI members to Hollywood actors, medics and botanists, whose added expertise is always welcome along the way. Martin once found himself being called upon to organise a hike for US actor Bill Murray’s sister-in-law Eliza Coyle Murray, an actress who is big into walking and her Irish heritage, while her husband, Joel, a TV producer based in California, and his brother Bill, spent as much time as possible golfing on the Co. Antrim coast.

Landscape and Countryside Tours are among 52 rural tourism providers being actively supported by Derry City Council’s Rural Tourism Development Programme which is part funded by Invest NI and the European Regional Development Fund.

According to Martin, there is a growing interest among locals and tourists alike in discovering the many unique and hidden aspects of the landscapes, flora and fauna in the North West, with the hills, glens, forests and coastlines of Counties Derry, Tyrone, Donegal and Antrim providing many interesting locations, for exploration.

Instead of going all the way to the edge of the Artic to find examples of glaciation, you can explore glacial landscapes in the hills above the Co Derry village of Park, features which were deposited during the close of the last Ice Age more than 12,000 years ago.

Walkers will also be fascinated by Martin’s take on the archaeology– or as he calls it, the ‘rock architecture’ - of the FaughanValley where you will discover ancient standing stones and the remains of both portal and wedge tombs. One of the finest examples is the megalithic Tireighter Wedge Tomb near the village of Park which is thought to have been built more than 4,000 years ago.

Ballygroll Prehistoric Complex, a concentration of prehistoric monuments ranging in date from 4000BC to 1000BC, is located to the east of the River Faughan. A surprising variety of moths and butterflies can also be found at Ballygroll.

Mary Blake, from Derry City Council, said: “We are delighted to see a real interest in our landscape and archaeological heritage.  We have recently been successful in securing support for Slow Tourism from the Northern Arctic Peripheral Partnerships. Films like the Game of Thrones have really generated a new interest in our ancient sites and landscapes and it is fantastic to see Martin interpret this offer to wider audiences.”

Visitors to the Faughan Valley will also get up close and personal with a variety of rare and fascinating plants such as the geologically ancient club mosses, even the branched club moss which Martin Bradley says is the only place in Ireland that he has seen it.

Several types of insectivorous plants can also to be found. And, Martin promises “a wee bit of a chemistry lesson” when you come across insectivorous butterworts as enzymes in their leaf were used in the process of butter-making. Or how the antiseptic properties of meadowsweet where discovered and perhaps discuss the adaptations that created the toxic plants found in our countryside.

That’s not forgetting a fascinating fact about the contribution club mosses made to the development of photography in the 19th Century. Other weird and wonderful things to look out for are fossil tree trunks and roots more commonly known as bog firs, the remnants of ancient Scots Pines. Or how our bogs hold evidence of past climate changes.

And, he’s not afraid to point out to visitors the damage caused to some parts of the landscape by over exploitation and pollution, although this is far outweighed by the many beautiful features in our Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Special Scientific Interest.

Martin says: “There is a lot out there. It is not just a case of saying to people, ‘That’s the Sperrins over there and the Faughan Valley there. When you get down into it, it’s the landscape and ecological details that are the most interesting things!”

For further informationcontact Martin Bradley, Landscape and Countryside Tours, on: Mob – 07926785706. Email –  Gift vouchers are also available!

For further information on visitor attractions in the Faughan Valley, visit and