Mountsandel Forest and Fort
Mountsandel Road, Coleraine
The splendid views of Mountsandel forest is a ‘must see’ for every tourist to the Coleraine area.
Situated one mile south-east of Coleraine, on the eastern bank of the River Bann in the vicinity of Mount Sandel Fort, forest walks offer both high and low level routes – Perfect for even the most inexperienced walker.
Arguably one of the most beautiful nature spots to visit, the many Mute Swans, Kingfishers and Grey Herons that nest along the riverside merely serve as an added attraction to the area. Access to the forest is free.
The earthen fort in the Mountsandel woods is a mesolithic site, claiming to be the earliest known settlement site of man in Ireland. Built in the Norman times the fort is close to the site of the first hunter-gatherer settlement dating from around 7000BC.
Hundreds of small Flint tools have been found at the site, providing evidence of Stone Age gatherers camping near the natural weir to trap Atlantic Salmon.
Life and Legend
There are two paths through Mountsandel wood and both follow the course of the river Bann. One is close to the river, while the other is at the top of the bank. Both of them run through mixed forest. The upper walk goes past Mountsandel Fort, a huge mound with a strange large hollow in the centre. It was once thought to be the Norman citadel of de Sandel, but many excavations have brought almost no evidence. Some maps mark it as Dun da Bean, Citadel of the Twin Peaks, but the true fort is really the Giant’s Sconce five miles to the west. It is visible from Mountsandel and it was the home of Niall of the Nine Hostages, the founder of the oldest family in Europe. The hollow in the centre is unknown elsewhere and is also unexplained. It takes its place among the many forts and lookout points along the river Bann.
Through a few trees, inland from the path, there is a small enclosed field. This unassuming place is the site of man’s first home in Ireland. Expecting a Neolithic stone age site, the excavator, Peter Woodman was astounded when the radio carbon dates came back. They showed that the huts and hearths he had dug were almost ten thousand years old. He uncovered the postholes of their circular huts and their fireplaces. He found thousands of the tiny flint microliths they used to hunt and process their food and best of all, he found the remains of their meals. They had a gourmet diet in modern terms. They had salmon and flatfish, eel, mackerel and shellfish, duck and red deer.
At Halloween they celebrated with berries and hazelnuts and in the spring they had suckling pig. These meals were garnished with root vegetables and flavoured with wild garlic and early varieties of onion and fennel.
Oh for the good old days…
Video produced by Ambient Light Productions