Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 2 October 2014

Reserves of splendour to savour at Lough Neagh

With our walks drawing to a close, we’re highlighting some of the favourite walks we’ve done over the last three years.

Our most popular walk in Co Armagh was this stroll round one of Lough Neagh’s wildlife hotspots — the nature reserve at Oxford Island, which is home to everything from diving cormorants to Irish moiled cattle.

Lough Neagh Discovery Centre is the starting point for any visit to Oxford Island.

The mosaic of reed beds, woodland, wildflower meadows and wildlife ponds make this one of Ulster’s most spectacular National Nature Reserves.

The reserve has recently gone hi-tech with the addition of podcasts, which are available to anyone with an MP3 player. They provide a great supplement to the idyllic walk around Oxford Island.

Directions

Take the turn-off for Junction 10 on the M1 and follow the signs to Oxford Island. Start at the car park in front of the Lough Neagh Discovery Centre, head over to the play park and follow the path from there or head east and follow the path running parallel to the Lough Neagh Discovery Centre — the routes are circular. There are map boards of the area in front of the centre and the route is signposted.

Alternatively start at the Marina and take in Kinnego Pond, the newly created reed bed and the breakwaters which surround the harbour.

The Backdrop

Oxford Island National Nature Reserve is situated on the shores of Lough Neagh, the largest freshwater lake in the British Isles. It is a haven for wildlife and the visitor can explore a range of habitats from woodlands to reed beds, following trails covering four miles in total. Most are suitable for wheelchair use and motorised disabled scooters are available.

Dotted along the wooded paths are five bird-watching hides with dramatic views across Lough Neagh, which can be used as a resting point or for spotting the local birds and ducks that inhabit the area.

Through the woodlands and meadows, interpretative panels indicate the animals and plants that may be spotted. The grasslands on the reserve are grazed by some of Craigavon Borough Council’s rare breed cattle, including the old Irish Moile and small Dexter breeds.

The trails on Oxford Island take in Kinnego from where the visitor can enjoy boat trips along the secluded bays and small islands of the lough, including Coney Island. The marina has been refurbished with new mooring berths and a cafe, as well as a caravan and camp site.

Opened in 1993, the Lough Neagh Discovery Centre provides a wealth of information on the events and activities available around the lough, in Craigavon as a whole and throughout Northern Ireland.

Facilities include children’s play areas, seasonal paddling pool and picnic areas. Between the Centre and the Marina lies Waterside House, the location of the Borough Museum hosting a library and a heritage display in the adjoining building.

The Loughside cafe and restaurant covers two floors with a spiral staircase leading to the upper gallery, which commands panoramic views of the lough. The centre itself is partly surrounded by a wildlife pond, so keep an eye out for tufted ducks and ducklings, swans, terns diving for sticklebacks and also cormorants, water rails and sandpipers.

Lough Neagh Discovery Centre offers a range of events and environmental education to encourage adults and children to get involved in the natural environment, specialising in educational visits. It also offers groups a range of activities such as bird watching, woodland trails, pond dipping and wildflower wanders, and boat trips on the Master McGra cruiser to Coney Island are also available throughout the summer months.

A picturesque island located in the south west corner of Lough Neagh, Coney Island is home to a 13th century Anglo-Norman motte, a 16th century stone tower and Lord Charlemont’s Victorian summer cottage. The Marina offers boat trips on the lough every Saturday and Sunday afternoons during the operating season and also on weekdays by prior arrangement.

Further Information

Further information is available from Countryside Access and Activities Network, tel: 028 9030 3930 or www.walkni.com .

Countryside Access and Activities Network (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.

Walk Name: Oxford Island.

Area: Oxford Island Nature Reserve.

Nearest big town to start: Lurgan.

Distance: Five miles/eight km.

Terrain: Circular trails through the National Nature Reserve. Some steps and stiles. Suitable for walking, and in places cycling and disabled access, 70% of the route is on traffic-free paths and 30% on the nature reserve’s access road.

Access Restrictions: Keep dogs on a leash as it is a family area.

Refreshments: Available all day at the Loughview Cafe, Lough Neagh Discovery Centre.

Publications: Walking and Cycling in Craigavon, available from Lough Neagh Discovery Centre, Oxford Island, Annaloiste Road, Lurgan, tel: 028 3832 2205.

Walk Developed By: Craigavon Borough Council.

Map: OSNI 1:50,000 Sheet 20 Discoverer Series.

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