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Business is booming again on the Lagan Valley towpath thanks to National Lottery and Castlereagh Borough Council funding and the talents of two young local men.

Over 50 years ago the Lagan Navigation Company was dissolved and the 18 locks which ran from the start of the canal at Stranmillis to the summit level at Sprucefield ceased all navigational work. Today Lagan Valley Regional Park, situated on the outskirts of Belfast, is Northern Ireland’s only Regional Park and used by over 400,000 people each year for leisure, cycling, jogging, walking or water sports on the River.

There were eighteen locks on the 11 mile stretch and, in addition to a small number of the Lock Keepers dwellings in varying degrees of repair, 13 locks can still be found. Five months ago, a new focal point arrived on the landscape, with the Lock Keepers Inn opening for business, providing delicious home-cooked food in a relaxing yet modern atmosphere. The Lock Keeper’s Inn is located alongside the original, fully restored Lock Keeper’s Cottage, both nestling nicely among their tranquil surroundings next to Lock 3.

Whether you know the immediate area as Newforge; Belvoir; Shaws Bridge or Lock Number 3, the Lock Keepers Inn is being sought out by hundreds of customers every day helped also by new close access from the car park at the back of the adjoining Cooke Sports Club.

Kirk McCambley and Andrew Adair who run the café are grateful for the investment the Park has attracted. “The towpath, as most people know it, has always been busy but our customers are not just the cyclists, dog walkers or families who are using the Park, we’re seeing people visit just to use the café. It’s busy at the weekends of course, but also during the week with local business men and women grabbing a coffee or lunch. It’s a friendly place and many of our customers then return with their friends or family and cycle or walk through the Park, often the full length to Lisburn, so we’re bringing new users to the Park as well. In addition to ourselves and a very talented chef, Martin Carroll, we have 11 staff at the moment. We’re only closed on Mondays, with live acoustic music at weekends, and as the nights get brighter we’ll stay open later. We’ve also planned an outdoor BBQ for the summer months.”

Mayor of Castlereagh Borough Council, Cllr Ann-Marie Beattie, believes that the successful café and the restoration of the original Lock Keeper’s Cottage are a great example of the Lottery, the public sector and young talent working together to create a sustainable project and help the economy. “Lagan Valley Regional Park initially received National Lottery funding to develop the first Landscape Partnership Scheme in Northern Ireland and from that they secured a full grant of £1.617 million through the Heritage Lottery Landscape Partnership Scheme which commenced in November 2007. The Lottery funding restored the existing Lock Keepers cottage, developed species surveys, conservation, habitat enhancement, volunteer and community projects. Also investing in the Park, Castlereagh Borough Council (supported by the EU Building Sustainable Prosperity Programme, administered by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment) built the Visitor’s Centre which houses the café. I’m delighted that Kirk and Andrew have created a very busy and lively business which families, leisure fans, the young and not so young, are all enjoying on a regular basis.”

Kirk adds, “When we first told friends about the opportunity, they said we were mad but the National Lottery and the Council could see the potential prosperity of the Park and so could Andrew and I. We knew there would by a desire for people to enjoy small simple pleasures in their otherwise hectic lives and that’s what they find in the Park and in the Lock Keepers Inn.”

Castlereagh Borough Council, Civic and Administrative Offices, 1 Bradford Court, Upper Galwally, Belfast BT8 6RB
Tel: 028 90 494500 Fax: 028 90 494515 Email: council@castlereagh.gov.uk
This page was last updated on Thursday, 4 July, 2013 10:30 AM