Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 26 October 2014

Walk of the week: Follow in the footsteps of Vikings in Co Down

This walk across the rocky outcrops of Orlock Point in Co Down affords stunning views of the Copeland Islands and out across the Irish Sea towards Scotland.

The area is steeped in archaeology and history, with evidence of Vikings, smugglers and World War II defences, and the outcrops harbour a mosaic of semi-natural habitats which support a rich diversity of plants and animals.

The path around Orlock Point has been managed by The National Trust since 1984. It runs from Portavo to Sandeel Bay and is a section of the North Down Coastal Path.

Making up part of the Outer Ards Special Protection Area (SPA) and Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI), it is recognised for its international and national importance for breeding, wintering and migrating birds.

Directions

Access is off the Donaghadee road, about 1.5 miles east of Groomsport and 2 miles north west of Donaghadee. Coming from Groomsport, pass the entrance to Orlock Road on your left and then look for the small left-hand turn as the sea comes in to view. There is a small car park at OS grid reference J565828.

From the car park, the walk sets off through the stile bearing the National Trust emblem. Walk along the path until you encounter a stony sheltered bay, crossing over the small stream (the Portavo River) with the standing stone to your left.

A flight of steps leads up onto the headland and a large expanse of open farmland. While catching your breath, enjoy the views of the Copelands with the Galloway coast, Mull of Kintyre and Ailsa Craig providing a hazy backdrop.

Take a moment to look for farmland birds feeding in the cereal fields or birds of prey hunting along the field margins. Continue on this path, along the top of the slope, through a stone stile. After another 200 yards, the path divides in two. The lower route will take you down towards the sea and onto the nineteenth century Orlock Coach Road for a short section.

If you want flatter terrain, remain on the top path until they merge again a little further along. The path will then lead you down some more steps before passing under an archway which was hewn out of the rock by hand as part of the Coach Road. Chisel marks are still evident in places.

The path leads past some open shingle bays and sheltered coves. The Second World War lookout hut makes a good vantage point for watching passing seabirds and boat traffic. The walk ends at Sandeel Bay. At this point you can retrace your steps or continue up Sandeel lane to the main road and back to the start point.

The Backdrop

The area around Orlock has a strong cultural heritage with close associations to Scotland. Long before the time of the Scottish settlers, the land would have been inhabited by Vikings, whose longships crossed the seas between the North Down coast and Scandinavia.

Three miles off-shore, the three islands that make up the Copelands are clearly visible from the footpath. Centuries ago the islands were called the ‘Copman Iles’, which is Nordic for “merchants’ land”. This tells of the history of the Isles as a trading post for Vikings, who are believed to have coveted pigs and lambs for the high quality and sweetness of the meat.

A famous sea battle — The Battle of the Copelands — was fought between the American Continental Navy ship ACS Ranger and the English HBM Drake on April 23, 1778. It ended in a victory for the newly-fledged American Navy.

The National Trust has acquired sections of farmland immediately adjacent to the Orlock Coastal Path. These agricultural fields are managed in an environmentally sensitive manner to encourage wildlife and in time, provide public access by introducing a series of footpaths.

Orlock Point is also a peaceful haven, ideal for catching a glimpse of a wide variety of wildlife.

It is a great place for spotting seals, which are often seen basking on the rocks or bobbing around in the water as they curiously observe the passers-by on the path. Passing porpoises are also occasionally glimpsed.

Further information

For further information on walking or any other outdoor activity, please contact Countryside Access and Activities Network (caan), tel: 028 9030 3930 or walkni.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.Walk Name: Orlock Point.

Area: North Down.

Nearest big town to start point: Donaghadee.

Distance: 3 miles.

Time: This walk should take approximately 1 hour to complete.

Terrain: This coastal path can be uneven and rocky in places with some steep steps and so is only suitable for those with reasonable mobility.

Access Restrictions: Dog walkers are asked to be aware of any livestock in the adjoining fields and breeding birds and other wildlife during the summer months.

Refreshments: There are no shops or toilet facilities on site. There are a number of shops, cafes restaurants and toilet facilities in Donaghadee and Groomsport.

Walk Developed By: The National Trust.

Map: Sheet 15 (Belfast) of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discovery Series, available from LPSNI Map Shop, Colby House, Stranmillis, Belfast BT9 SBJ (lpsni.gov.uk).

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