Think of Comber and the humble potato comes to mind — but this walk shows there’s a lot more to the historic Co Down village.
This heritage tour reveals the historical buildings and their stories, even those that are long gone, such as the old Cistercian abbey built in 1198 and closed during the rule of Henry VIII.
Use the Comber Walking Guide issued by Ards Tourist Information Centre or download it as a podcast to discover the stories of the village and its inhabitants, such as the heroic soldiers commemorated in the square and the Andrews family of Titanic fame.
Set off from the car park at Bridge Street Link and turn right to consider the Georgian House, which has withstood the ravages of time for almost 200 years.
Looming in the Square is Major General Robert Gillespie, hero of the Himalayas, who keeps a silent vigil atop a 55ft column. Rollo Gilliespie grew up in Comber towards the end of the 18th century and served in the 3rd Irish Horse and then overseas in the Jamaica Light Dragoons.
He was Adjutant-General of St Domingo when eight men broke into his house. Armed with only his sword, he killed six. In 1814, he led a column to attack a Nepalese hill fort at Kalunga and was trying to rally his men, just 30 yards from the fort, when a Ghurka sharpshooter shot him through the heart.
In the north-west corner of the square is the Comber and District War memorial. Two famous Comber soldiers were Lt Edmund de Wind and Capt George James Bruce. While being overrun by a German offensive, De Wind got out under heavy fire and cleared the enemy from his trench. He continued to repel attack after attack until he collapsed and died. De Wind was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.
Turn right and towards the corner of The Square to see St Mary’s Parish Church which stands on the site of a Cistercian abbey built in 1198. It survived until 1543, when it was closed by Henry VIII. Nineteen stones from the Cistercian abbey are in the care of the DOE and are to be returned to Comber for exhibition.
The name of Thomas Andrews, the 18th century church warden, is engraved on the right-hand pillar of the church gate. Through the gates on the left is the Andrews family vault where the grandparents of Thomas Andrews, Titanic’s architect, are buried.
Pass Tesco and take the next left on to Killinchy Street to see The Cooperage, the last remaining building of the Old Comber Distillery. Turn back towards The Square to stop 6, where you will see the hound and hare depicted in the pavement, the work of John Miller, 19th century owner of the Comber Distillery. It’s said to be a memorial to Master McGrath, the famous greyhound that won the Waterloo Cup in England in 1869, 1871 and 1872.
At the end of Killinchy Street, take first left into High Street. Turn right at Windmill Hill, a laneway leading to the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church.
Return back down Windmill Hill. Turn right to High Street and pause at the Andrews Memorial Hall, now part of the Andrews Memorial Primary School.
Across the road is the former Andrews Spinning Mill built in 1863-1864. It fabricated the threads and bobbins that would then be sent elsewhere to produce linens. Retrace your steps past Windmill Hill on the left and the First Presbyterian Church on the right and into High Street. Move back into The Square and take the second left into Bridge Street link and the car park.
The name Comber is derived from the Irish ‘An Comar’, meaning the confluence. The village is famous for its spuds and also its whiskey, which was last distilled in 1953 — bottles now fetch a considerable price.
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: Comber.
Area: Strangford Lough Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Nearest big town to start point: The heritage walking tour is based around Comber, which is located 5 miles from Newtownards and 10 miles from Belfast.
Distance: The walking tour covers a distance of approximately 1.5 miles.
Terrain: The terrain is mainly town centre footpaths on predominantly flat levels.
Access Restrictions: The walk is based around the town centre which is accessible at all times — however, some of the locations mentioned in this tour are privately owned, therefore cannot be accessed. The privacy of the owners should be respected at all times.
Refreshments: There are a large number of refreshment stops dotted throughout Comber to enjoy a light snack or a hearty lunch or evening meal.
Publications: You can pick up a copy of the Comber Walking Guide from Ards Tourist Information Centre, tel: 028 9182 6846 or Portaferry Tourist Information and Visitor Centre, tel: 028 4272 9882. You can also download a copy from ards-council.gov.uk . The walking guide can also be downloaded as a podcast.
Walk Developed By: Ards Tourism.
Map: Sheet 21 Strangford Lough of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discoverer Series.