Wildlife and history make a stunning mix on coast walk
The Norman influence on the Strangford coast is clear for everyone to see and makes for a wonderful walking experience — with ancient tower houses and castles dotted along a stunning stretch of coastline.
This section of the Lecale Way explores the heavily indented shoreline of Co Down, an area rich in history and wildlife.
From the start in Strangford, the full route journeys south for 40 miles through an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, along quiet roads, beaches and delightful stretches of coastal path, to finish in the seaside resort of Newcastle.
By car, take the A24 from Belfast and follow the signs for Newcastle/Downpatrick. At the Carryduff roundabout, take the A7 for Downpatrick. You will pass through the villages of Saintfield and Crossgar. From Downpatrick turn left at the roundabout and take the A25 to Strangford, approximately 13km.
This section of the route begins at Strangford Harbour and makes its way north out of the village past Strangford Castle and into woodland.
Turn left along the shores of Strangford Lough using a path that can be rough in places. It leads around a headland and back to the south to join the A25 road, the Castle Ward Road. Turn right and walk along the road for a short distance before turning left onto a minor road, the Blackcauseway Road, 30 minutes from Strangford.
Follow this road south for about 45 minutes and then turn left, right and then left once more. At the next junction bear left again (now on the A2), passing Kilclief Parish Church and not far from Kilclief Castle.
The castle is open to visitors in the summer months and offers stunning views. At the next junction take the road on the right (the Killard Road), passing Killard Nature Reserve.
The road continues to Ballyhornan, an hour from Kilclief Castle, with its wide beach and views across the Irish Sea.
The name Lecale was ascribed to the area in the 8th century and is derived from the Irish Leath Cathail meaning ‘Cathal's territory' after one of the Ulidians or ‘Princes of Ulster'.
However, it was the Normans who left the most indelible mark on the cultural landscape following their arrival in 1177. The many castles and tower houses that can be seen on the Lecale Way are a legacy of this invasion. Even today, some of the local surnames are Norman in origin.
The natural history of Lecale is just as interesting. The route begins on the shores of Strangford Lough, which is the largest sea lough in the British Isles, covering 150 sq km. 400 million tonnes of water flow in and out of the lough twice every day through the narrow tidal channel between Strangford and Portaferry.
This is probably the source of its original Viking name Strangfjörthr, which translates from the Old Norske and means ‘sea inlet with strong currents’.
Strangford Lough is Northern Ireland’s most important coastal site for wintering waterfowl and is also particularly important for breeding terns.
The Lough has been designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA) due to its internationally important populations of birds. These include large numbers of light-bellied brent geese, knot and redshank.
En route you pass Kilclief Castle, which translates as ‘Church of the Wattles’ from the Irish Cill Cleithe. Erected in the 1840s, the church stands on an ecclesiastical site that dates from the seventh and eight centuries.
Kilclief Castle is actually a tower house built in the 1400s by John Sely, the Bishop of Down.
The headland at Killard is a Nature Reserve and Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI), a dune grassland rich in flora, including several species of orchid. Not far south of here, another ASSI can be found along a section of the Ballyhornan Coastal Path — the Sheepland Coast, as it is known, is especially rich in coastal wildflowers and is being actively managed to protect species diversity.
In summer, watch out for terns and common and grey seals at Clogher Rocks.
For further information on walking or any other outdoor activity, please contact Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN) at 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: Lecale Way — Strangford to Ballyhoran.
Area: Shoreline of Co Down.
Nearest big town to start point: Strangford village.
Distance: 5.2 miles/8.3km.
Terrain: Quiet roads.
What to bring: Check the forecast and wear clothes suitable for the predicted weather. Comfortable walking shoes are also recommended.
Publications: From Downpatrick Tourist Information Centre, tel: 028 4461 2233, and Countryside Access & Activities Network, tel: 028 9030 3930.
Refreshments: Strangford village offers restaurants to suit all tastes.
Walk Developed By: Countryside Access and Activities Network and Down District Council.
Map: Sheets 21 & 29 of Ordnance Survey Northern Ireland Discoverer Series (1:50,000) cover the Lecale Way and are available from the OSNI Map shop, Colby House, Stranmillis, Belfast.