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Coast along between town and countryside

By Linda Stewart

This circular route along the rolling shore of Strangford Lough is not far from Belfast but feels like another world entirely.

It takes you from the plantation town of Comber, which has its roots in the industrial revolution, into stunning countryside and along the fringes of one of Northern Ireland’s most important wetlands.

The journey from town to countryside features a number of fascinating sites, including Castle Espie Wildfowl and Wetlands Centre and Nendrum Monastic site.

Directions

Comber can be reached by bike from Belfast via the Comber Greenway. Access is available from Dee Street in East Belfast using the National Cycle Route number 99. It is seven miles to Comber.

At the Greenway, exit onto the Belfast Road, Comber. Follow signs for Castle Espie to start the route. For further information on the Comber Greenway, please visit sustrans.org.uk . Public transport is available from Belfast and other towns to Comber. Visit translink.co.uk for timetables.

Setting out from Comber town centre, follow signposts for Killyleagh/Downpatrick (A22). Travelling from Comber on the A22 and just outside the speed limits, follow the brown tourism signs to the left indicating Castle Espie Wildfowl and Wetlands Centre.

Follow this road as it twists and skirts along the Lough to Castle Espie. Continuing further along enables you to travel in the direction of Mahee Island and Nendrum Monastic site. You will travel along a causeway to Mahee Island, sitting in Strangford Lough.

If you retrace your journey back along this route, follow the signage for Whiterock. After Whiterock, leave the shoreline and turn inland. You will note that farming is the main industry and may even see some famous Comber potatoes on your journey.

Passing through the hamlet of Kilmood with its fine church, you can follow the ridge high above Lisbane from which Strangford Lough can be seen to one side before rejoining the outward route back to Comber town centre.

The Backdrop

Comber is a plantation town that owes its development to the industrial revolution. The town’s oldest industry is the spinning mill that dates back to 1863.

Many famous names are linked to the town, including Major General Sir Robert ‘Rollo’ Gillespie, who was distinguished in a spectacular attack on a hill fort in the Himalayas. His statue stands in The Square.

The Andrews family are also well known as owners of the spinning mill, but are more widely famous due to their connection to the Titanic through shipbuilder Thomas Andrews and the positions of high office which various family members have held in Northern Ireland since its foundation.

Castle Espie Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust Centre is set on the shores of Strangford Lough and is home to almost the entire world population of light-bellied Brent Geese during the winter months.

Whiterock lies in the heart of drumlin country, which features small regular-shaped hills that formed during the Ice Age.

At Sketrick Island you will come across the ruins of one of the massive fortresses built near Strangford Lough in the late middle ages. At Mahee Island lies one of Northern Ireland’s finest archaeological sites, Nendrum Monastery, that overlooks the lough.

The monastery is reached by negotiating twisting lanes and a causeway. It is the best example of a pre-Norman monastic enclosure with buildings and was associated with St Mochaoi in the 5th century until a fire in 976AD during a Viking raid.

Foundations of a church, round tower, crafts huts and monks’ cells can be seen.

Responsible Cycling

Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN) endorses the principles of Leave No Trace, which mean recreational users can minimise their impact on the countryside whilst still enjoying activities with freedom. For more information, visit leavenotraceireland.org.

Further information

For further information on cycling or any other outdoor activity, please contact CAAN, tel: 028 9030 3930 or cycleni.com.

CAAN in association with Belfast Telegraph have provided this information. Every care has been taken to ensure accuracy of the information. CAAN and Belfast Telegraph, however, cannot accept responsibility for errors or omissions but where such are brought to our attention, the information for future publications will be amended accordingly.

Cycle Name: Whiterock and Mahee Island Circular Cycle Route.

Area: Strangford Lough.

Nearest big town: Comber.

Distance: 27-mile circular route.

Terrain: Rated as ‘medium’, flowing along public roads with some slight climbs.

Access Restrictions: No major restrictions on this route but cyclists should be aware that whilst the route is based mainly on country roads and should therefore be reasonably quiet, traffic encountered may include farm vehicles as well as cars. Care should be taken at all times, especially if with young children.

Refreshments: Available in Comber, Castle Espie, Whiterock and Lisbane (both snacks and more substantial meals).

Publications: Further information on this route is available from cycleni.com

Map: Sheet 21 of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discoverer Series, available from Land & Property Services (lpsni.gov.uk).

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