Bessy Bell and Gortin Landscape
- Scenic, accessible landscape on the western fringes of the Sperrins; steep mountain of Mullaghcarn to east and rounded moorland summit of Bessy Bell to west.
- River Strule flows within incised, wooded valley, with roads following river course on terraces alongside.
- Diverse landscape pattern, with a transition from steep, wooded river banks to farmland to open moor within relatively short distances.
- Hedgerows enclose all fields, becoming gappy, with wire fencing on higher land; stone walls in areas of higher land close to the Sperrins.
- Relatively dense tree cover, with numerous hedgerow trees and small copses; landscape becomes more open on elevated slopes.
- Long scenic views from mountain slopes and along valley.
The Bessy Bell and Gortin landscape is a distinctive, scenic and much visited part of the North West; the twin peaks of Bessy Bell and Mary Gray form a gateway to the south of the Sperrins. The high summits of Mullaghcarn (542m), Slieveard (419m) and Bessy Bell (420m) are outliers to the south west of the principal Sperrins range. They are divided by the scenic valley of the River Strule, which flows northwards from Omagh towards the Foyle.
In common with the rest of the Sperrins, the high summits of Mullaghcarn and Slieveard have a dramatic, mountainous appearance, with distinct, sharp ridges and rocky summits. The slopes are littered with grey scree and carved by steep, fast-flowing burns, which flow in deep gullies. A long ridge extends from the main mountain block to the north west, enclosing the undulating valley of Cappagh Burn and its branching tributaries. Its sequence of lower summits, Ballnatubbrit Mountain, Beauty Mountain and finally, Mary Gray, form a scenic backdrop to views along the Strule Valley. The lower slopes of the Mullaghcarn mountains have a striking landscape pattern, with stone walls and earthbanks following the historic townland boundaries. The stone farmsteads on these slopes are an attractive element in most views. The western slopes of Mullaghcarn are covered by the extensive conifer plantations of the Gortin Glen Forest, which forms a prominent blocky pattern on the steep slopes.
To the west of the Strule, Bessy Bell, and the neighbouring smaller summits of Deer's Leap and Forster's Mountain, have a more rounded character, in common with the foothills to the north of the Sperrins. The open summits are capped with open moorland, with a transition to marginal pastures and richer farmland on the lower slopes. The wind farm on the slopes of Bessy Bell is a prominent local landmark. From the confluence with Cappagh Burn to Newtownstewart, the Strule River meanders within a deeply incised, wooded channel, with the road on a river terrace alongside. To the south, the river is more visible as it winds between fertile fields and the woodlands of the Mountjoy Estate. The valley to the west of Bessy Bell is dominated by the woodlands and deer park of the Baronscourt Estate. The river channel has been dammed to create a sequence of loughs on the valley floor.
Landscape Condition and Sensitivity to Change
This is a highly accessible and scenic landscape. Mullaghcarn and Gortin fall within the Sperrins AONB, but Bessy Bell and the adjacent Baronscourt Estate are classified as part of the Sperrins Foothills Area of Scenic Quality. The landscape as a whole is in good condition and is extremely sensitive to change and the mountain slopes form a backdrop to the long river views.
The upland summits and steep upper slopes are particularly sensitive to changes, such as the introduction of transmission masts or commercial forestry; the wind farm on Bessy Bell and the plantations of the Gortin Glen Forest are already prominent. The river corridor is also extremely sensitive to change and its scenic character would be affected by any form of built or infrastructure development along the valley roads. The historic landscape of the Baronscourt Estate is also sensitive to the impact of change from tourist developments and from commercial forestry.
Principles for Landscape Management
- Deciduous species may be used to soften harsh edges of plantations and to integrate them with the neighbouring upland and valley landscapes
- Hedgerows and riverside woodlands are important in defining the landscape pattern and should be priorities for conservation & restoration.
Principles for Accommodating New Development
- Siting new development within the existing settlements of Newtownstewart and Gortin will help to retain the rural, scenic qualities of this special landscape; these settlements have distinctive and robust landscape settings and may accommodate some sensitively designed development.
- The undulating glacial landforms and existing tree cover within parts of the valley may offer some opportunities to shelter new development.
- Compact two-storey farms with red-roofed outbuildings are characteristic.