Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 23 October 2014

Walk of the Week: Island Hill and North Strangford Nature Reserve

Island Hill offers access to Strangford Lough and provides amazing views of the Lough and the flora and fauna of the area. The area welcomes the Arctic migrants.

Accessible at low-tide, this walk around Rough Island provides magnificent views of Strangford Lough and is an excellent viewpoint for birdwatching.

Directions

Turn off the A21 Comber to Newtownards Road towards the shore of the Lough. Follow National Trust signposts to Island Hill Nature Reserve, and continue along the Ringcreevy Road for approximately 1 mile.

Follow the path from the car park, along the concrete causeway (only accessible at low tide) and around Rough Island, before returning over the causeway.

Explore the island itself. Island Hill is situated at the upper end of Strangford Lough and has excellent views across the Lough and towards Scrabo Tower.

The Backdrop

Around 20,000 pale bellied Brent geese (three-quarters of the north European population) make the 3,000km journey from Arctic Canada from October onwards to feast on the Lough’s eelgrass and at this time they can be seen in and around Island Hill.

Eelgrass is also the staple food of wigeon and provides a nursery area for young flatfish. The birds will also eat a soft, green algae called Enteromorphia and farmland grass as food runs low from January onwards. There is a totem pole in the car park which depicts the journey of the Brent Goose to the lough.

Rough Island can be accessed via the Causeway. It was inhabited within the past 100 years — the remains of a cottage and orchard can be seen.

Farming ceased here in the 1950s and the vegetation has reverted to bramble and hawthorn. Archaeological evidence suggests habitation of the island as long ago as 4,000 years BC. Prehistoric pottery remains, including Neolithic bowls and a quantity of flints and axe heads, have been found.

Nearby Comber is a pretty town, just several minutes away and focused around a central square. There are many places to eat and interesting shops to explore. Other visitor attractions in the area include Castle Espie Wildfowl and Wetland Centre which explains more about the bird life in and around the Lough and has a wide programme of events and activities for the family to enjoy (wwt.org.uk/visit/castle-espie/).

If you are interested in craft, pay a visit to Discovery Glass on Killinchy Street (Tel: 028 9187 0181) or The Doghouse Gallery on Mill Street (Tel: 028 9187 1261.) It is advisable to make contact in advance to confirm opening times before your visit.

There is a Titanic connection to Comber, with the town being the birthplace of Thomas Andrews, chief designer of the ship. To find out more about his life, the Andrews family and Comber, you can download the audio tour at visitstrangfordlough.co.uk/Utility-menu/Titanic-Trail and get out and about in the town. There are puzzles and games accompanying the tour which makes it fun for all the family.

For those interested in general historical information about the area, also have a look at the historical walking guide of Comber which is also available to download via visitstrangfordlough.co.uk/Utility-menu/Publications.

Further information

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

Outdoor Recreation NI (formerly CAAN) in association with Belfast Telegraph have provided this information. Every care has been taken to ensure accuracy of the information. Outdoor Recreation NI 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: Island Hill and North Strangford Nature Reserve.

Nearest big town to start point: Newtownards.

Distance: 1.5 miles.

Time: Please leave approximately one hour to complete this walk and enjoy the scenery.

Terrain: Flat stone and grassy paths.

Access Restrictions: Dogs are allowed but should be kept on leads at all times.

Facilities: Ample car parking, toilets and picnic tables available onsite. There are a number of cafes, shops and restaurants available in Comber.

Publications: Out and about around Strangford Lough and Lecale Coast by Strangford Lough and Lecale Partnership (find at strangfordlough.org). Available from Ards and Portaferry Tourist Information Centres. For general information on what to see and do in the area visit visitstrangfordlough.co.uk

Walk Developed By: Ards Borough Council.

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

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