Drumnaph Community Nature Reserve lies on the gateway to the Sperrin Hills; this gorgeous ancient woodland is one of the scarce remaining fragments of a great forest that once covered much of mid-Ulster.
Sometimes referred to as Drumlamph, but locally pronounced ‘Drumnaph’ is two miles (3km) north of the town of Maghera, County Londonderry. It inhabits an edge above the meandering Grillagh River with views west to Carntogher Mountain and the Sperrin Hills. The main entrance is located via the car park off Grillagh Road.
The name Drumnaph translates to either ‘the ridge of the elm tree’ or ‘the ridge of the wild garlic’.
Drumnaph Community Nature Reserve is a rare survivor of huge ancient oak forests, captivating remnants of what was an ancient landscape; it has defied the odds of history, which makes it particularly valuable. Historical evidence gathered from old maps and estate records, combined with natural features such as the flora and moss-covered stones trace Drumlamph Wood back as far as 1599. As a side note – In order to qualify as ‘Ancient Woodland’ land has to have been continuously wooded since at least 1600.
This offers a rare chance to encounter woodland as our distant ancestors would have recognised it. That sense of a shared history is especially strong because Drumnaph has tangible reminders of those former inhabitants in the form of three raths which stand within its bounds.
After parking up our car and venturing to lift some free leaflets provided by the Woodland Trust, we made our way along a gravel path to the first Rath known as ‘Lios Sceoláin’, a reference to the Finn McCool Legends.
According to mythology Sceolán and Bran were twins of Finn McCools aunt, Tuireann. Who in one account was magically transformed into a dog and gave birth to her sons as the famous hunting hounds of Gaelic tradition, Bran and Sceolán.
To the right of the above image you’ll see gorse in full bloom, behind this lies the remanence of the Rath, dating back to AD700-1400 and would indicate an early Christian settlement. Many of these were fortified homesteads where cattle were kept safe and crops were stored.
Throughout the year Drumnaph Community Nature Reserve’s has a mosaic of habitats to explore. In spring time the woodland floor is carpeted with bluebells and other flowing plants, such as wood anemone and pignut. In summer, butterflies brings the Drumnaph meadows to life, whilst brightly – coloured dragonflies guard the bog cotton grass in the wetlands. Whereas in winter you may be able to spot some Irish Hare around the edges of the woodland.
The Woodland Trust manages Drumnaph Community Nature Reserve with the interest of both wildlife and people in mind. To date, almost 30,000 native trees have been planted here; 2km of pathways have been created to allow access to this hidden gem. This includes a section suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs. A car park has been created and 700m of earth bunds to control the water levels within the wetland habitat.
It felt so unusual to walk through the ancient woodlands, and appear right into a wetland and be surrounded by rush meadows.