Castle Espie, situated on the shores of Strangford Lough near Comber, County Down, is the newest WWT visitor centre and the Trust’s first in Ireland.
The centre’s buildings are a visitor attraction in their own right because of their history and the numerous eco-friendly features they incorporate, including reclaimed and recycled materials, a wildlife garden and energy systems fuelled by the sun and wind.
Castle Espie’s main draw, though, is its magical mix of wide estuary views, tidal lagoon, eel-grass mats, woodland walks, salt marshes and reed beds; the presence of Ireland’s largest collection of native and exotic water-birds
Point of interest:Largest collection of ducks, geese and swans in Ireland, views of Strangford Lough, Limeklin Observatory, Duckery, many hundreds of migrant birds arriving in winter, large populations of light-bellied brent geese, restored lagoons, grassland, salt marshes<
Getting to the start by public transport:The no 11 bus leaves Laganside Bus Centre in Belfast approximately every hour for the 25 minute journey to Comber. It is then a pleasant one hour walk or 10 minute taxi journey to the centre. (Please note that on Sundays buses run less frequently and depart from the Europa Bus Centre.)
Getting to the start by car:The centre is located 2.5 miles from Comber on the Ballydrain Road, off the A22 Comber/Killyleagh Road.From Belfast follow the A22 towards Comber until you reach the roundabout. Turn right on to the A22 Comber/Killyleagh/Downpatrick road then turn first left at the Ballydrain Road.Free car parking is available at the centre.
Getting to the start on foot:Those arriving at the centre by bicycle enjoy a reduced entry rate. A bicycle rack is situated in the courtyard – please bring your own lock. Follow this link to the Sustrans National Cycle Network website for a location map and details of local cycle routes.
On leaving the visitor centre follow the path to the Plumbs. This is the first point of interest - the waterfowl collection at Castle Espie is home to the largest collection of ducks, geese and swans in Ireland . Many of the birds will nibble grain directly from your hand offering an inspiring up-close wildlife experience. Try spotting the nene, red breasted goose, goldeneye and rosybill up close.
Make your way through two sets of gates over a small bridge and be sure to close them behind you. Follow the path beyond the bridge and head towards the Brent Hide in the distance to your left (second point of interest) Here you can witness panoramic views of Strangford Lough. Each season has a different highlight on offer (refer to sightings section https://www.wwt.org.uk/visit-us/castle-espie/latest-sightings/
From the hide follow the path round to the left toward the thatched round house and Crannog keep an eye out for activity on your left in the Fresh water Lagoon. Moving on from the crannog follow the path round to your left venturing into wood-henge for a closer view point over the lough.
Follow the path heading towards the Limekiln observatory which will be on your left. Head right towards the limestone grassland and you will find yourself in the remains of Castle Espie Brick works. (third point of interest) listen to the history of the brickworks through interpretation panels which are located next to the chimney.
Head towards the Limestone Pavilion and you will find details of the Castle Espie story which began 320 million years ago during the carboniferous period. On leaving the pavilion follow the path round to the left sign posted ‘short return route’ look out for wildfowl on the Limestone Lake (on your left).
Keep following the path and it will slowly verge round to the right and back to the visitor centre through the Duckery (forth point of interest) The duckery has two functions: in winter, many young birds are kept within the duckery so that they can stay safe and healthy in the very cold conditions and in June and July, the duckery becomes home to a huge number of ducklings, goslings and cygnets. Passing through the duckery follow the signposts back to the visitor centre and make sure you enjoy the delights of the Loughshore Café.
There is an admission charge into Castle Espie, with all proceeds going towards conservation of wetlands.
Facilities:Visitors centre, disabled toilets, bicycle rack, cafe