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Walk of the Week: Lecale Way - Strangford to Ballyhornan

This is a section of the beautiful Lecale Way, which explores the heavily indented shoreline of Co Down, a coast rich in history and wildlife.

From the start in Strangford, it 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.

Access to the Walk

By car — from Belfast, take the A24 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. Co Down is well serviced by frequent Ulsterbus services.

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 has stunning views.

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At the next junction take the road on the right (the Shore 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 Backdrop

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.

Four hundred 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 UK's largest sea inlet with more than 120 islands dotted throughout its area. It 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.

Founded in 1636, Ballyhornan is a village and townland in eastern Co Down, located along the coast of the Irish Sea. It lies near the site of the former RAF Bishopscourt installation, which closed in 1990, and much of the housing outside the boundaries of the traditional settlement (such as Killard Square) was used by RAF airmen. Located 200 yards from the shore of the Ballyhornan beach is Guns Island — a known fishing spot in the area.

The name Kilclief means ‘Church of the Wattles’ from the Irish Cill Cleithe. Erected in the 1840s, Kilclief 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. Walking along the coast near Kilclief Castle on a clear day you can see the Isle of Man.

The headland at Killard is also a Nature Reserve and Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI), comprising a dune-grassland rich in flora, including several species of orchid. Not far south of here, a section of the Ballyhornan Coastal Path is another ASSI.

The Sheepland Coast, as it is known, is especially rich in coastal wildflowers and is being actively managed to protect species diversity. Recorded history of the site dates back to 1403, and it has seen a number of uses — from hurling pitch to remote RAF radar station. Unique flowers, birds and animals can be found in the nature reserve and bird-watching is one of the main reasons people visit the site.

Further information

For further information on walking or any other outdoor activity, please contact Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland at, tel: 028 9030 3930 or walkni.com.

Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland (formerly CAAN) in association with Belfast Telegraph has provided this information. Every care has been taken to ensure accuracy of the information. Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland 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 Ballyhornan.

Area: Lecale Coast, Co Down.

Nearest town to start point: Strangford Village.

Distance: 5.2miles / 8.3km linear.

Time: Walkers should leave approximately 2 hours to complete this walk.

Terrain: Relatively flat, quiet roads along the coast.

Refreshments & Facilities: Toilets, accommodation and refreshments are available in Strangford Village. Newsagents can be found in Ballyhornan.

Walk Developed By: Outdoor Recreation NI (formerly CAAN) and Down District Council.

Map: Sheets 21 & 29 of Ordnance Survey Northern Ireland Discoverer Series (1:50,000), available from the LPSNI Map shop, Colby House, Stranmillis, Belfast.

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