This route will take you on a 32 km scenic drive along the Bann river valley. Leaving the Causeway Coastal Route at the Station Road Roundabout on the Londonderry side of the river. Take a right (From Derry) or left (from Belfast) and follow the waymarked drive. After crossing the Agivey bridge the route turns left onto the Glenstall Road. I would recommend driving straight on to visit the old market town of Ballymoney, why it was left off the route baffles me as it has, history, heritage, culture and retail facilities, the detour will add 8km to your journey and you miss nothing and see a lot more.
As you start the drive at Coleraine, you pass on your right hand side the entrance to Somerset Retail Park which has all the normal superstores with food outlets, a good place to stock up for a picnic unless you plan to stop in Ballymoney, otherwise along this route there is only a couple of small shops on the drive.
A few hundred metres down the road is Somerset Riverside Park, look out for the ‘Canoe Trail’ sign on the left. The facilities here include a boat slip, mooring jetty, picnic areas, interpretation panels, large sculpture and great river views across to the ancient site of Mountsandal. On the opposite side of the road is Somerset Park which has an excellent network of walks on waymarked paths through woodland. One hundred metres down the road from Somerset Riverside Park you will find The Cutts or ‘Salmon Leap’, easy to miss, so look out for the small Canoe Trail sign on the left. The Cutts are fabulous to visit especially if there is a boat going up or down the river. It consists of lock gates, a large weir, sluice flood gates and superb views of the river Bann. It is also a great place to watch wildlife, I have never been here once without seeing herons and on the far side of the river, kingfishers. Take extra care if you are visiting with children as it is a dangerous location with fast flowing river water and deep water in the lock gates.
The next point of interest is Castleroe Wood (2km) on the left hand side with car parking, leafy woodland walks along the riverside but not the best of facilities. From here its a short drive (1.5km) to the site of the ancient church of Camus overlooking the river Bann and Loughan Island. This is very easy to miss as it has no signpost, so as soon as the river comes in view and the woodland stops on your left, it is immediately on the right. Park in a location where you are not obstructing the private farm entrance. From here you drive a couple of kilometres to Camus Park on the left hand side, this has ample parking and picnic facilities plus a mooring jetty and good river views with interpretation panels.
The next few miles takes you through fertile rural farmland and pleasant scenery to the Agivey bridge which is the next crossing point on the river after Coleraine. A couple of kilometres from here is Glenstall Road signposted for the Bann Valley Scenic Route. You can go straight on here and visit Ballymoney which is recommended. The town has tourist information, a heritage trail, banks, a free museum, Joey Dunlop Memorial Garden and lots of great independent retail shops and cafes.
After your visit follow Charlotte Street, this will take you to the village of Balnamore. From here its a short drive through beautiful landscape to the T junction with the Glenstall Road where you rejoin the route. The next spot on the drive worth visiting is Drumaheglis Marina. Here you will find all the normal boating facilities along with an adjacent caravan site, mobile facilities and camping pods, all set in beautiful mature grass and woodland. The layout works really well with river and woodland walks, picnic facilities and a modern reception centre where you can get drinks, ice cream and confectionery.
The river Bann has a canoe trail between Toome and Coleraine with fifteen purpose built access points. Along the Bann Valley Scenic Route are six access points: Somerset Riverside Park, The Cutts, Camus, Agivey Bridge, Drumaheglis and Mountsandal. From Drumaheglis drive up the river towards Coleraine, there are not many pull in points on the road but as you approach the settlement of Loughan, directly across the river from Camus Park there is a river sports centre, mooring jetty, holiday chalets and really good views of Loughan Island which sits in the middle of the river.
From here its a short drive to the suburbs of Coleraine and the entrance to Mountsandal Wood, you can park here and walk to the oldest recorded settlement in Ireland. The woodland has some fabulous walks through both evergreen and deciduous trees. The paths go up high beside the old fort and down along the riverside. Lovely views across to the Cutts and Somerset Riverside Park from here.
Leaving here you will come to a mini-roundabout, go straight on and at the next one, turn right, this will take you the Lodge Roundabout. Turn left to head for Londonderry along the Causeway Coastal Route and right to follow the Causeway Coastal Route around the bypass to Portstewart. If you are looking to stay overnight, I can recommend Crowfield Country House which is set in an idyllic rural location complete with a small river. It is located half way around the Bann Valley Scenic Drive.