Bluebell Fairyland at the Milford Cuttings

It feels like Armagh’s worst keep secret even though the Milford Cuttings should not be kept secret at all. It is a stunningly gorgeous walk that is especially at its best in May with its carpet of bluebells.

Managed by the Ulster Wildlife Trust, this section of disused railway track is home to the largest colony of a rare tree – the Irish whitebeam. Wildflowers grow in abundance and include several species of orchid.

It is a tricky place to find from the directions on the Ulster Wildlife site, so I’ll do my best to make my directions clearer. At the moment, is it dry underfoot because of the lack of rain recently, but keep an eye on the weather conditions. Worst case scenario, it’s a welly-boots walk, but well worth getting mucky for.

So start at Hill Street in Milford village with your back to the Monaghan Road. You’ll see an old School House on your left, a gorgeous old house set in lovely grounds to your right, and then, further along, a new development on your left.

You can park along here if you came this far by car.

You’ll pass Old Mill Court on your left, and the next lane on the same side sports a sign for the Milford Cuttings.

Turn left here. Walk over the old Iron bridge and notice how it looks like it may have been part of the railway system (I don’t know for sure if it was, but it sure looks like it.) Below you flows the Callan river – apparently, the name derives from an old Irish word for ‘Noisy’. It is lovely to hear the water gurgle past.

Follow this lane to a wooden gate (recently mended by the Ulster Wildlife Trust – thank you!)

Go through the gate and keep following the trail…

until it leads you down some wooden steps to what looks like a platform at a train station. (I believe this may be referred to as the old halt locally, but I’m not 100% certain on that.)

It’s a peaceful sun-trap nowadays. You might see frogs in the pool of water that now floods where I presume the tracks went. There’s the buzz of insects and the scent of blossom. It’s a place you could sit and read a book if you were so inclined!

Turn right and head through another wooden gate to follow the trail.

I’m guessing this section was carved out of the hill for the railway tracks. It’s incredible to think this was gouged out a couple of hundred years ago for a railway system that ran to Monaghan and beyond. Sad to think we no longer have a rail system in Armagh anymore.

Soon you’ll come to wooden steps that climb out of the cutting.

From the top, you can see glimpses of the Callan river, though not in the picture below

At the minute, white wood anemone flowers tumble down the hillside colliding with the more stately bluebells and the demure primroses clustered on banks and around tree roots.

Down some more steps…

then the trail threads through a fairyscape…

until it splits into two. Here you can choose to take the high road or the low road – both are equally gorgeous, and if you are doing an out-and-back, the two join up, and you can loop back at this point (for a shortish walk of about 1 mile)

If you fancy a longer walk, you can integrate this into the Rock Road-Ballyards loop I wrote about before. To do this, don’t close the loop. If you took the low trail, turn right, and if you took the high trail, that will be a left. Along this path at the moment, there are white clouds of Blackthorn in bloom, promising heavily laden branches of sloe berries come the autumn. I’m thinking, ‘sloe gin!’

Follow the trail right to the end, where it terminates at the remains of a bridge that once spanned the Ballyards Road below. (Below is a winter shot – an equally gorgeous time to visit the Cuttings)

Be careful when looking over the edge – there’s no fence or safety barrier. From here, double back about fifteen metres to find a gap in the hedge on the right, revealing a steep path down the bank towards the river. Be careful – I’m always scared that one slip will have me swimming in the Callan!

Follow the river bank…

until you see a rusty gate secured by a loop of barbed wire (sounds delightful!) that leads out to the Ballyards Road.

Turning right takes you back into Milford (total walk distance of about 1.2 miles). If you go left, then about half a mile later, cross a stone-walled bridge and take a left again to bring you to the Rock Road. Another left here takes you back into Armagh, where you can grab a well-earned coffee and traybake at the Espresso Bar before doubling back up to the Stormy Hill to cut over to the Monaghan road and back into Milford. For more details on this portion of the route, you can read this post from a while back. The full loop can take about 5 miles.

The Milford Cutting is a place where, on a warm summers evening, as the midges dance in clusters, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a gathering of the fairy folk celebrating nature. In winter, frost glistens in the bare branches of the trees and hedges. A snowfall lingers longer in the hollow of the cutting.

All year long, something stands out to make the heart swell with joy at the wonders of this world we are lucky to inhabit. The Milford Cutting truly is a magical place, and if you don’t believe me come see for yourself.