At 150 km² Strangford Lough is the largest sea Lough in the British Isles and is a haven for wildlife. Strangford Lough's shores are also home to some of the finest country estates, parklands and walking trails in Northern Ireland. There is something for every walker to enjoy but the trails are especially suited to families and those looking for well-signed scenic outings on good surfaces. The Lecale Way is the iconic long distance coastal walk in this area.
The coastline around Strangford Lough is dotted with tower-house castles built by noble Norman families. At Ardglass you can find six castles in the town. The area also has many hilltops with windmill stumps, the one above Portaferry offers an excellent vantage point over the Narrows and Lecale to the Mourne Mountains while the one at Ballycopeland has been fully restored. The number of estates on the shore have in many instances been used as film locations. Most recently Castle Ward has been used as the backdrop for Winterfell in Game of Thrones® and Mount Stewart in Dracula Untold.
The Lecale Way is part of the Ulster Way tying Downpatrick, Strangford, Ardglass together in a mix of cross country trails and coastal paths. The route passes many parts including Struell Wells, Saul, Castle Ward, and Strangford where you may board Europe's oldest ferry service dating back to 1180. The Ballyhornan Coastal Path leads to Ardglass and Saint John's Point where you find Ireland's tallest onshore lighthouse. It continues on to Ballykinlar finishing at Newcastle having passed through Dundrum.
Saint Patrick was captured from Roman Britain and subjected to slavery from the age of 16 to 22 years old. After escaping, he returned to Ireland some years later and was instrumental in converting pagan Ireland to Christianity. Saint Patrick famously came up the Narrows of Strangford Lough in a storm and landed outside Downpatrick. Here he founded his first Church in a local farmer’s barn in AD432. This area is now known as Saul (meaning barn) and lies along the Lecale Way. Saint Partrick's Country begins in Downpatrick and follows the Trail to Armagh.
Born in 1660, Sir Hans Sloane grew up in the town of Killyleagh. As a young by he foraged the shores of Strangford and began a catalogue of all the wildlife he encountered. His collection went on to found the base for the British Museum. If this wasn't enough, he also invented chocolate! 70,000 birds, come here each winter to feed on the rich tidal waters and thousands of common seals also breed in the lough, making this area one of Europe’s most important wildlife sites. Up to 75% of the world population of light-bellied brent geese over-winter here with one-third of all Ireland's terns nesting on the lough’s islands during late spring and early summer. The lough also houses many large seal colonies and its shores are noted for the diversity of the wildflowers.
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