This is a spectacular level coastal walk along Lough Foyle — Northern Ireland’s biggest expanse of estuary — with great views of the hills of Inishowen and Binevenagh.
It’s also a perfect place to observe the waders and wildfowl that visit Lough Foyle and to be thrilled by their evocative calls.
Exploring Ballymacran Bank by the shore of Lough Foyle, the walker can savour a backdrop of Binevenagh Mountain to the northeast and the famed hills of Donegal punctuating the Inishowen skyline to the west.
Along the north coast, at the western extremity of Limavady’s Benone Beach, lies Magilligan Point. The shore cuts sharply to the south here to embay Lough Foyle, with Inishowen bounding the opposite shore.
If using sat-nav for directions, use postal code BT49 9EE.
Turn off the A2 at the roundabout just west of Limavady on to the B69 (towards Magilligan and Castlerock). After 2km, turn left on to B510 (Lomond Road). There is a large brown sign at the turn off indicating directions for Carrowmore Activity Centre and Hostel.
Follow this road for 2km and turn right on to Carrowclare Road. After a few hundred metres, veer left at a sweeping right bend. This road is Shore Avenue and comes to an end near the sea wall. Take special care at the railway level crossing — stop, look, listen! Park at the end of this road, but do not obstruct gates and entrances.
The track is very obvious and runs between the sea wall and the “back pond”, a wide linear drain that collects water draining off the fields. The track forms a T-junction with Shore Avenue.
The route runs south for just over a mile to the Burnfoot River where, just offshore, the wreck of a World War Two aircraft can still be seen at low water. In the other direction, the track runs northwards just over a mile to meet the River Roe with its remnant of estuarine salt marsh.
Spectacular views can be enjoyed from the sea wall but take care if climbing the grassy bank or walking along the top of the wall.
In the 19th century, the Honourable Irish Society set about “reclaiming” large areas of mudflat in Lough Foyle. The Irish Society engineers designed sea walls to enclose sections of the eastern side of the Foyle estuary.
With the sea water excluded, cultivation began on these richly fertile, level lands. As well as creating polder lands (lying below sea level), the newly established ‘dry’ land offered a low cost route for the new railway connecting the cities of Belfast and Londonderry.
Ballymacran Bank is one of the sea walls built 170 years ago. A rough track runs adjacent to the sea wall to facilitate maintenance of the sea defences. Inland of the track is the back drain, a sump that collects water off the land. Periodically, pumps expel surplus water to the seaward side of the seawall.
The Foyle remains a conduit for goods traded across the world through the Port of Londonderry, but in times gone by witnessed sometimes huge movements of people by boat and ship — Viking raiders, the exile of Colm of the churches (Columba or Columbcille), invasion by the English armies of Essex and Dowcra, the Plantation colonisation by the Honourable Irish Society, 18th century migration to the New World and the sadness of the flight from famine in the 19th century, along with the search for a better life in the 20th.
During World War Two, the naval base of Derry and the airfields of the Foyle basin were critical strategic assets for the Allied effort to conquer fascism. Without these operating bases, the Battle of the Atlantic may well have been lost and many more tonnes of shipping would have been destroyed by German submarine patrols.
So important a naval base was the Foyle, that the German High Command issued an order at war’s end for its North Atlantic U-boat fleet to report to Lisahally at the mouth of the River Foyle to surrender.
Lough Foyle is a winter refuge for thousands of waders and wildfowl. The walker braving the elements between October and March will share a day with the small dark Brent geese that spend summers as far away as the Canadian Arctic and whooper swans that nest in Iceland. The waders plaintively calling on salt marsh and mudflat will, in a few months, fly north over Atlantic waves to nest in Iceland, arctic Scandinavia and Siberia.
The Foyle system is one of the most important river systems in Europe for the Atlantic salmon. Thousands of salmon pass through the narrows at Magilligan each year, swimming towards mountain spawning streams in Tyrone, Donegal and Derry.
For further information on walking or any other outdoor activity, contact Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN), tel: 028 9030 3930 or walkni.com.
Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland (formerly CAAN) in association with Loughs Agency and Belfast Telegraph have provided this information. Every care has been taken to ensure accuracy of the information. Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland, Loughs Agency 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: Ballymacran Bank.
Area: Lough Foyle, County Londonderry.
Nearest town to start point: Limavady.
Distance: 5 miles but conveniently splits into two 2.5mile lengths.
Terrain: This walk takes place on level wide track along a sea wall.
Time: You should leave approximately 45 mins to 1hr 30mins to complete this walk, depending on whether you walk one or two sections.
Facilities: Refreshments can be found at at Magilligan Point (bar and restaurant), Limavady and Ballykelly. Toilets are also available in nearby Limavady.
Walk Developed By: This walk has been developed by the Loughs Agency and is maintained by the Rivers Agency.
Map: Sheet 4 or 7 of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discovery Series, available from LPSNI Map Shop (lpsni.gov.uk).