Ballywalter WalkLinear, 1.8 miles
Roads, pavements, coastal paths
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.
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.
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
The villages of Strangford and Portaferry lie only half a mile apart however they sit either side of the narrows, where the waters of Strangford Lough meet the Irish Sea. Walkers can cross this turbulent stretch of water on a short ferry crossing (deaprts every 30 minutes) meaning that you can explore both sides of the picturesque Strangford Lough in one day.
Morning – Castle Ward
Castle Ward offers a variety of trails – some hug the shores of Strangford Lough, others pass through woodland, tower houses, castles and ancient monuments. The trails are dotted throughout its landscape and a wealth of wildlife can be discovered.
Afternoon – Corrog Wood
Corrog wood was formerly an area of grazing fields set upon a drumlin in the rolling hills landscape typical of the Ards Peninsula, with gentle slopes down to the nearby lough and farmland. From the top of the wood you can see down to Strangford Lough and across the Portaferry House lands.
The Lecale Way extends from the heart of Downpatrick, taking in Strangford Lough and finishing in the seaside resort of Newcastle. This 2 day itinerary offers walkers the opportunity to explore tower houses, castles and ancient monuments dotted throughout this landscape. There is also a wealth of wildlife waiting to be discovered along the contrasting shores of Strangford Lough and the Irish Sea.
Day 1 – Downpatrick to Ardglass – 22 miles (35.4 km)
Beginning from the Saint Patrick Centre in Downpatrick, day 1 takes walkers on quiet rural roads to the Strangford coast and National Trust property of Castle Ward. Walkers then pass through the picturespue coastal villages of Strangford and Ballyhornan before reaching Ardglass. This coastline provides a stunning outlook over towards the Ards Pennisula and on a clear day further to the UK mainland. Most of this day’s walking will be on quiet rural roads with some off road coastal paths.
Day 2 – Ardglass to Newcastle – 18 miles (29 km)
Day 2 begins by passing through the village of Killough and rounding St. John’s Point. The route continues to hug the South Down coastline as far as Ballykinler before heading inland crossing over the Blackstaff bridge. The route then follows the Dundrum Coastal Path and off road trail through Murlough Nature Reserve before heading into Newcastle by the the beach.
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I offer guided walks in the Ards Peninsula in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and on the Mourne Coastal route.
Most of the walks are at coastal locations rich in maritime and social history. The natural environment has a diverse range of species and is home to rare plants and animals.
The walks are suitable for people of all levels of fitness and are flexible in length and duration. They normally last 1 to 2 hours. Guided bus tours are available for groups who can provide their own transport.