Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Walk of the Week: Castle Espie

Castle Espie is situated on the shores of Strangford Lough near Comber, Co Down, and is the first Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust centre in Ireland.

 The centre’s buildings are a visitor attraction in their own right because of their history and the numerous eco-friendly features they incorporate, including reclaimed and recycled materials, a wildlife garden and energy systems fuelled by the sun and wind.

Access to the walk

The no 11 bus leaves Laganside Bus Centre in Belfast approximately every hour for the 25-minute journey to Comber. It is then a pleasant one-hour walk or 10-minute taxi journey to the centre. The centre is located 2.5 miles from Comber on the Ballydrain Road, off the A22 Comber/Killyleagh Road. Those arriving at the centre by bicycle enjoy a reduced entry rate. A bicycle rack is situated in the courtyard and discounts are available for cyclists in the loughshore cafe.

Directions

On leaving the visitor centre, follow the path to the Plumbs. Make your way through two sets of gates over a small bridge and be sure to close them behind you. Follow the path beyond the bridge and head towards the Brent Hide in the distance to your left. Here you can witness panoramic views of Strangford Lough. Each season has a different highlight on offer.

From the hide, follow the path round to the left towards the thatched round house and crannog — keep an eye out for activity on your left in the fresh water lagoon. Moving on from the crannog follow the path round to your left venturing into wood-henge for a closer view point over the lough.

Follow the path heading towards the Limekiln Observatory, which will be on your left. Head right towards the limestone grassland and you will find yourself in the remains of Castle Espie brickworks.

Head towards the Limestone Pavilion and you will find details of the Castle Espie story, which began 320 million years ago during the carboniferous period. On leaving the Pavilion, follow the path round to the left sign posted ‘short return route’ — look out for wildfowl on the Limestone Lake on your left.

Keep following the path and it will slowly verge round to the right and back to the visitor centre through the Duckery. Passing through the Duckery, follow the signposts back to the visitor centre and make sure you enjoy the delights of the Loughshore Cafe.

The Backdrop

The the first point of interest on the walk is the Plumbs. The waterfowl collection at Castle Espie is home to the largest collection of ducks, geese and swans in Ireland. Many of the birds will nibble grain directly from your hand, offering an inspiring up-close wildlife experience. Try spotting the Nene, Red-breasted Goose, Whistlers and Brent geese up close.

The Limekiln Observatory is a modern take on an old building that used to house the kiln when the site was a brick and lime works at the end of the Victorian era. Now the state-of-the-art building, which boasts glass on three sides and incorporates a composting toilet, is the venue for birdwatching and weddings alike. It’s a must-see when you visit the centre. The Limestone Pavilion has an interactive learning zone indoors and is built complete with a climbing wall on one of the exterior walls. The structure was erected using hempcrete, which allows the wall to breathe.

At the Castle Espie Brickworks you can listen to the history of the brickworks through interpretation panels, which are located next to the chimney.

The duckery has two functions: in winter, many young birds are kept within the duckery so that they can stay safe and healthy in the very cold conditions and in June and July, it becomes home to a huge number of ducklings, goslings and cygnets.

Further information

For further information on walking or any other outdoor activity, please contact Outdoor Recreation NI or, tel: 028 9030 3930 or walkni.com.

Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland (formerly CAAN) in association with Belfast Telegraph have provided this information. Every care has been taken to ensure accuracy of the information. Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland 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: Castle Espie Wildlife Wonder.

Area: Strangford Lough.

Nearest big town: Comber.

Distance: 0.75 miles.

Time: Approximately 45 minutes.

Terrain: Coastal, lakeland and woodland.

Facilities: Loughshore Cafe, parking,

visitor centre, shop (wheelchair accessible), art gallery, disabled parking,

disabled toilets, mobility scooters. There is an admission charge into Castle Espie, visit wwt.org.uk/castleespie

Walk Developed by: Outdoor Recreation NI (formerly CAAN) and WWT Castle Espie Wetland Centre .

Ordnance Survey Map: Sheet 21 of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discoverer Series, available from Land & Property Services Map Shop, Lincoln Buildings 27-45 Great Victoria Street Belfast BT2 7SL lpsni.gov.uk.

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