Portaferry on the Ards peninsula was settled as far as back as prehistoric times, with evidence of early Neolithic, Bronze Age settlements and Iron Age raths, but the main influence on the town’s development came from the Norman invaders.
The sculpture near the RNLI station, created by local man Raymond Watson, also represents the Viking influence on the lough.
Although it was known that the Vikings arrived in the region in the 9th century, naming the lough ‘Strangfjorthr’, it remains a mystery as to where they settled in the area.
This short walk around the town gives you a chance to learn a little more of its history and character, and an opportunity to catch excellent views of the lough.
Portaferry is situated 20 miles from Newtownards on the A20 or from Downpatrick via the A25 to Strangford and then a short ferry trip on the Strangford ferry to Portaferry.
The walk starts at Portaferry Tourist Information and Visitor Centre, in the grounds of Portaferry Castle.
From the Tourist Information and Visitor Centre, walk down the driveway past the newly developed RNLI lifeboat station. Walking back along Shore Road, go past the Portaferry Hotel, and take a left turn at the Slip Inn. This is Ferry Street where the oldest houses in Portaferry, mainly 18th century, are found.
Ferry Street is also home to Dumigans, one of the smallest licensed pubs in Ireland. In the mid 19th century Portaferry boasted 33 public houses.
The Methodist Church nearby was built in 1780 and the town was visited by John Wesley (founder of the Methodist faith) in 1778 and again in 1789.
Continue walking up the hill to enter The Square, where markets and fairs were held. Follow the footpath on the right of The Square and you’ll note the Market House on your left, built in 1752 by Andrew Savage. The upstairs was used by the town’s Literary Society and later as a petty sessions court.
During the United Irish rebellion of 1798, the house was defended by a small garrison under the command of Captain Matthews and supported by fire from the revenue cutter ‘Buckingham’, moored in Strangford Lough. It is now used as a community centre.
Take first right into Meetinghouse Lane and continue straight on, watching for traffic. Just past the car park on the left (where bonded warehouses once stood) you will see the old National School, established in 1831 to provide education for all children between the ages of 6 and 12.
Just to the right, you will notice the pink columns of the Presbyterian Church on the corner of Steel Dickson Avenue. Having lost their original place of worship, Templecraney, when it was given over to the Church of Ireland around 1661, the Presbyterians erected a meeting house of their own on the site now occupied by the present church.
One of the first seven Presbyterian meeting houses in Co Down, it was rebuilt in 1751 and again in 1839 after the ‘Night of the Big Wind’ on January 6-7 did untold damage throughout Ireland. Steel Dickson Avenue is named after Reverend William Steel Dickson, who was one of the leaders of the 1798 rebellion by the United Irishmen.
Turn from the church back onto Windmill Hill and continue straight up for superb views across the Lough to the Down countryside, as well as the Mourne Mountains and Slieve Croob, the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea and Scotland.
You may also walk across to the Tullyboard Windmill. Built by the Savage family in 1771, it had two sets of millstones but was completely destroyed by fire on Christmas day 1878. Only the mill stump remains — still an important navigational aid to shipping coming up the lough.
With more than 50 windmill sites in the area, the Ards Peninsula was known as the Little Holland of the North. These mills were used for flax scutching and for grinding grain.
Walking farther on Windmill Hill, you will come to a crossroads. Turn right down Cooke Street and this will take you back down to the Shore Road. Follow the Shore Road to the ferry terminal, then right into the grounds of Portaferry Tourist Information and Visitor Centre to complete your tour.
For further information on walking or any other outdoor activity, 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: Portaferry — Windmill Hill.
Area: Strangford Lough Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Nearest town to start: Portaferry.
Distance: Two miles.
Time: Approximately one hour.
Suitability: The walk is centred on urban footpaths with a steep climb to Windmill Hill. People with limited mobility will find this particular section of the walk difficult.
Access Restrictions: None.
Refreshments: There are a variety of cafes and restaurants in Portaferry to enjoy refreshments en route.
Publications: You can pick up a copy of the Portaferry Walking Guide, which includes the Windmill Hill walk, from Ards Tourist Information Centre, tel: 028 9182 6846 or Portaferry Tourist Information and Visitor Centre, tel: 028 4272 9882.
Walk Developed By: Ards Tourism.
Map: Sheet 21 of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discoverer Series, available from Land & Property Services Map Shop (lpsni.gov.uk).