Monday 31 October 2011

Walking the Cassie cattle trail: 1. From Beltoy to the 'Resting Slap'

As promised in the last posting, here is the first installment of the walk down the Cassie cattle trail with my re-united primary school friend, Ray Cowan.
We started at the Beltoy Road end of the Cassie, just beside Ray's 'home farm' where he lived when I last saw him (50 years ago). In the foreground of this photo of Ray (with the start of the Cassie behind him), is the Beltoy Road. This 'crossroad' is where the old cattle trail lane from Lough Mourne and the Commons meets the Beltoy Road before the cattle trail continues down the "Cassie" (Causeway) to Dalway's Bawn. This is the point I had got to before in my own explorations, as described in an earlier posting of 29/9/2101 "Along the Cattle Trail - in sight of Scotland".

A quick look at the map shows where we are about to start, marked in red - Beltoy Road. But before we even got going, Ray took me back to the ruined walls of his great grandmother's (Mary Moore) family farm at the end of the earlier section of the cattle trail coming down onto the Beltoy Road from Lough Mourne at Carnmanus - 1 David Moore (1860) on map.

We weren't long rambling round these ruins before the importance of this site to the whole cattle trail became obvious. The Beltoy Road between Eden to the south and Glenoe to the north is an ancient coach road, older than the cattle trail itself, and runs alongside the Copeland Water - the river that marks the boundary between the medieval County of Carrickfergus and the east Antrim lands granted in the 16th century to John Dalway of Dalway's Bawn and John Dobbs of Castle Dobbs.

This crossing point of the Cattle trail with Beltoy Road and the Copeland Water was the first significant "service station" for the drovers after the trek across the Commons from Ballynure, and the Moore farm here had
paddocks, a circular "by-pass" lane to act as a passing place, and a frontage on the Copeland Water to water the beasts. It seems like this was an ideal stopping point for the drovers, and, just across the Beltoy Road on the Cassie, was a blacksmith's forge - 2. Blacksmith (William Greer, 1860) on map.

This photo shows the circular "by-pass" lane on the former Moore farm, looking back towards the site of the ruined stone house and outbuildings. The beech trees were planted on the Moore farm, but the belt of conifers that now covers the entire glen of the Copeland Water was planted by the Belfast Water Commissioners some time after 1870 when they bought out the entire Copeland Water river-course. This was done to 'sanitise' the land from farming 'pollution' along the water feed into the Copeland Reservoir that the Water Commissioners were about to construct at Marshallstown. And so the Moore farm was abandoned at that date.

This next view from the top of Carnmanus, looking down over the Beltoy 'glen' towards the fields on the Cowan farm in Bellahill, gives a good impression of how steep the slope was down to the Moore farm from that part of the Commons cattle trail.

Back to the start of the Cassie walk
So, back to where we started at the beginning of this post!

The Cassie is a wonderful country-lane walk, although a bit overgrown on this first stretch, with no sign of the old blacksmith's forge that once sat on the left-hand side.

The lane gets narrower as we go, so it is down to single-file!

I should say that it's not the lane that gets narrower, but that it has only been used as a single line 'pad' and the side hedges have encroached. Ray correctly predicts where there will be raspberry bushes among they blackberries - something he remembered from his childhood!

After a while we reach the first 'feature' of the walk: a sort of lane 'crossroads' - or rather a widening of the Cassie at a bend where two old redundant lane-ways join the Cassie.

Looking back from this point back down the path we had just come up, the line of conifers can be seen back on the far side of the Beltoy Road, where the Moore farm was. The new gate in the front right of the above photo blocks off another overgrown lane that leads to the farm that was the 'original' Cowan farm (marked as "3. John Cowan, 1860" on the map at the start of this post). It is another story for another time, but tracing this lane on older maps, it does seem to continue across the Beltoy Road further north, and on towards the north end of the Commons. This may have been an alternative route for the cattle trail that came round the north end of Lough Mourne rather than the south end.

And on the other side of the Cassie, facing south, is another gate closing off the back lane to Ray's 'home' farm (marked as "3. Cowan Farm, (John Davison, 1860) on map). This is the farm mentioned in previous posts where I attended Ray's 7th birthday party. It was owned by John Davison in 1860, but was bought by Ray Cowan's father in the 1930s and is where Ray was raised.

[To connect the families on the 3 farms highlighted on the map, John Cowan's son (also John Cowan and who was therefore Ray's great grandfather) married Mary Moore (daughter of David Moore of Carnmanus) in Ballycarry Presbyterian church in 1859. One of the witnesses was William Davison (son of John Davison).]

Pressing on, then, towards the 'Resting Slap', the track is still quite overgrown - but that only adds to my own sense of anticipation and exploration.

Then, another opening appears ahead where the Cassie has a well-worn surface, and we get to the Resting Slap.

Looking back from here (below right), the path we have come seems a long way from the trees on the skyline where we started.

The Resting Slap is an appropriate name for the feature that marks the end of this first stage of our journey. As you can see, there are a number of openings into adjoining fields at this point. The term 'slap' is defined in James Fenton's Ulster-Scots dictionary The Hamely Tongue as meaning "a gap in a hedge allowing the passage of cattle, machines, etc. (normally closed with a gate, strands of barbed wire, etc.)"
It is marked on our map "4. Resting Slap" and the name tells of the days when this was a passing and a resting place for livestock being driven
along the Cassie place in both directions. It is likely that the main traffic from the coast up to this point consisted of imported Scottish horses destined for the horse fairs at Ballyclare and Ballynure, along with cattle and other livestock heading for summer grazing on the Commons. The other direction, of course, was mainly cattle heading for the major drove roads in south-west Scotland from Ballynure and further west in mid Antrim.

Through one of the 'slaps' here, Ray pointed out where there was a legend of buried treasure. So, with the whiff of other pieces of folklore including a 'witch thorn' round the corner, we had to take a break at this stopping point ourselves.

The fields beside the Resting Slap mark a change of gradient for the Cassie. From here on, it is a decidedly downslope journey towards Dalway's Bawn and the coast at Whitehead and Portmuck. Glimpses of the distant Scottish coast are a feature along this cattle trail from time to time ahead and to the left. But here on the right hand side of the Resting Slap, Belfast Lough and the County Down coast are visible for the first time.
This somewhat hazy detail from the last photo shows that the Resting Slap even overlooks Carrickfergus. The keep of Carrick castle (built in the 12th century), is silhouetted against the lough in the center of the shot. On many a clear day centuries ago, drovers must have paused to enjoy this sight.

The next stage of the walk takes in even more surprises, and I still can't believe how fortunate I was to meet up again with the one person (Ray) who knows first-hand the history of the fields, farms and families along the Cassie.

Next, on our journey comes the Witchthorn and the site of the 'Witchthorn National School' right in the middle of the Cassie ... (coming soon!)


  1. Thanks Ray for your email confirming that there were blacksmiths (father and son) at the start of the Cassie where shown on the map as 'William Greer, 1860). I do also remember now you telling me at the time that you couldn't remember whether this part of the Cassie was called 'Graze' or 'Greer's Loanen'. I did say I was suffering from information overload at the end of the walk! Should have brought a notebook or tape-recorder!

  2. I'd been wondering if you were still amongst the living. Since you reposted this, I assume you are.