By ELEANOR MCGILLIE 6 June, 2018
The weekend is fast approaching and let’s hope the sun continues to shine. One place certainly worth exploring over the weekend is the beautiful Strangford Lough. Moira Magee recommends you Live It Experience It – The Lecale Way
If you’re keen to spread your wings whether you’re visiting Northern Ireland, or just fancy a day trip with the family, then one place you should make your way to is the picturesque Lecale Way – an area which extends from Downpatrick, taking in Strangford Lough and ends in the seaside resort of Newcastle.
Carved out by glaciers thousands of years ago Strangford got its name from some marauding Viking invaders who christened it Strong Fjord. And it’s not difficult to see why our Viking friends loved the area. You’ll see tower houses, ancient monuments, castles, a plethora of wildlife along our shores and much more.
I love Strangford and I’d recommend you start your journey by heading towards the Ards peninsula via Newtownards where you’ll see Scrabo tower majestically keeping watch over the lough. Head to Portaferry where you can take a trip to the Exploris Centre. It’s a great place to see rescued seal pups up close and personal and see some of the great work the staff do to return them to the wild. Where else can you see lots of sea life, a Nile crocodile and an Asian Short Claw Otter under the one roof? If sea life doesn’t float your boat then why not take a trip via Mount Stewart in Greyabbey where you can see the beautiful restored National Trust property and gardens.
I have always found that the very best way to see Strangford lough is to catch the car ferry from Portaferry on the peninsula to Strangford which runs every 45 minutes. I love to climb up to the top deck and take in the amazing views across the lough especially if the sun is going down across the water. So, be prepared to relax after your drive, fill your lungs with some sea air and take in the pretty town of Strangford Lough which has played host to many a film crew.
Most recently of course it was the setting for the infamous Game of Thrones which used the grounds of the gorgeous Castleward National Trust estate to film many of its Winterfell scenes using the lush woodland and medieval buildings on the shores of the lough.
In fact, if you pop into The Cuan Pub for some fresh local seafood and a pint, which I’d highly recommend, you might even be lucky enough to find some costumes and props which were used in the production.
But don’t leave Strangford without taking a tour round the house at Castleward itself. It really is well worth it. You’ll feel like you’ve walked back in time during the interactive guided tour of this beautiful 18th century National Trust property. You might even discover the secret of the two facades created by a Lord and Lady Ward who just couldn’t agree on a common style.
My favourite part of Castleward is being able to see the corn mill in action as well as the Victorian kitchen and laundry. It really makes you appreciate how many household gadgets we take for-granted now.
People visiting this wonderful place can explore around some of the 320 hectares of the Castleward estate because it gives you a flavour of the beautiful landscaped gardens along the edge of the lough and see the wildlife too. You can even arrange to have your wedding here in the little church in the grounds of Castleward, but make sure you book well in advance!
And if you are a huge Game of Thrones fan and want to see a 15th Century medieval castle – the location for many of the Game of Thrones Winterfell scenes then Audley’s Castle in the grounds of Castleward, is also a great vantage point to snap some great photographs over Strangford Lough.
If you want to extend your stay in the Lecale area then why not visit the beautiful Killyleagh Castle, overlooking Strangford Lough and then head south towards the historic county town of Down, Downpatrick. It takes its name from the patron saint St Patrick who famously established his first church in the local townland of Saul.
There’s no better place to discover all about St Patrick than the St Patrick’s Centre and buy some trinkets in the lovely shop where you can take your pick from beautiful local Irish crafts. Whenever I visit, I love a coffee in the garden café and a leisurely stroll up the steps to St Patrick’s Cathedral overlooking the town.
While you’re in Downpatrick you should take time to explore the sights of the historic English Street, St Patrick’s Cathedral and the Old Gaol, which is now a museum, where you can discover just what it was really like for convicts in the 1700’s. If you’ve worked up an appetite, I’d definitely recommend some local culinary delights in Denvir’s Coaching Inn, one of the oldest in Ireland. You can even book and stay here, and if you do, be sure to take in a play at the Down Arts Centre, just a few steps away or just enjoy some live music. On your way back to catch the ferry, take a detour to Inch Abbey, one of the oldest monastic ruins in Ireland. It’s particularly atmospheric and a bit spooky at twilight where you can see the abbey silhouetted against a moonlight sky.
Strangford Lough is a jewel in the crown of the Lecale district, take a leap across the Lough to discover it. You’ll be so glad you did. Go and Live It Experience It – The Lecale Way!
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