Enjoy a short walk around the town and learn a little more of its history and character with an opportunity to catch excellent views of the Lough and also observe the newly installed Seagen turbine.
Point of interest:Windmill Hill viewpoint over Strangford Lough and the town
OS map:Sheet 21
Terrain:Tarmac footpaths and road.
Route:The walk starts at Portaferry Tourist Information and Visitor Centre, situated in the grounds of Portaferry Castle and marked as stop 1 on the map.
From the Tourist Information and Visitor Centre, walk down the driveway past the newly developed RNLI lifeboat station. At the end of the driveway veer right to stop 12, close to the ferry terminal to view the statue. This sculpture was created by a local man, Raymond Watson and it 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”” nothing has as yet been revealed to offer clues as to where they settled in the area.
Walking back along Shore Road, go past the Portaferry Hotel, and take a left turn at the Slip Inn. This is Ferry Street and is one of great interest and character and where the oldest houses in Portaferry, mainly 18th century are found.
Ferry Street is also home to Dumigans (stop 10 on the left hand side as you go up the street) one of the smallest licensed pubs in Ireland. In the mid 19th century Portaferry boasted 33 public houses and in 1822 it is recorded that whisky cost 11/2d per glass and 10d for a pint! (A “d” equals 1 old penny.) Just nearby the Methodist Church (stop 11) 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 on a regular basis. Follow the footpath on the right hand side of The Square and you’ll note the Market House on your left hand side. The Market House was 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. The Market House is now used as a community centre.
Moving forward past the Market House, take first right into Meetinghouse Lane and continue straight on. As you walk down the lane, please be aware of traffic. Just past the car park on the left hand side (where bonded warehouses once stood) you will see the old National School (stop 8)
The National School was established in 1831 to provide education for all children between the ages of 6 and 12. The National School system provided a good basic education with perhaps its greatest achievement being a significant increase in literacy during the 19th century.
Just to the right hand side of the street, you will notice the pink columns of the Presbyterian Church on the corner of Steel Dickson Avenue. (stop 9)
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 6-7th January did untold damage throughout Ireland. The architect was John Miller who designed a classical building on Greek Doric lines with an Ionic interior.
The building took a year to complete and cost £1999.12s 6d.
Steel Dickson Avenue is named after the Presbyterian Minister, Reverend William Steele Dickson who was one of the leaders of the 1798 rebellion by the United Irishmen. Descendants of the hardy Lowland Scots who came to Down and Antrim in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, the Presbyterians were known as Dissenters by the ruling Anglican church and considered a grave threat to the stability of the Province by the Stuart Kings of England. They were prohibited from any influence in the government and forbidden to perform marriages, baptisms and funerals in their own churches.
At this time (and strange as it may now seem considering previous divisions between the communities in N.Ireland) the Presbyterians have much in common with the cause of Catholic emancipation and the United Irishmen championed their cause and ideals of liberty and freedom as expressed during the American War of Independence and the French Revolution. The Reverend Steele Dickson was arrested and imprisoned in Fort George in Scotland where he was held for 3 years. On his release he became minister of Keady Presbyterian Church but as a result of his activities he was refused the Regium Donum (a payment to clergymen by the Government) and on his death in 1824 was buried in a pauper’s grave in Clifton Street graveyard, Belfast.
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 (on a clear day!) the Mourne Mountains and Slieve Croob, the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea and Scotland. The view point (stop 14) is an ideal vantage point.
You may also walk across to the Tullyboard Windmill (stop 15). 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 over 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. Most were built by the local landowner, whose tenants would then pay to use it or would hand over a percentage of their crop as payment.
Walking further 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 and the starting point once more to complete your tour.
Facilities:Public toilets and disabled parking spaces are available outside Exploris - The Northern Ireland Aquarium.
A wide range of refreshments are available at a variety of establishments in the town centre.
Accessible toilet facilities:Yes
Accessible terrain:The route covers town centre footpaths but the last section leading to Windmill Hill may cause difficulty for those with limited mobility due to the steep nature of the walk.
Accessible signage:The trail is unmarked but can be easily followed using the map contained in the Portaferry Walking Guide available from Portaferry Tourist Information and Visitor Centre or Ard Tourist Information Centre or to download from www.ards-council.gov.uk
Publication:Portaferry Walking Guide
Publication availability:Available from Ards Tourist Information Centre T: 028 9182 6846 or to download from www.ards-council.gov.uk. A podcast can also be downloaded from the site to accompany the walk. Also available to download on this page.
Getting to the start by public transport:For public transport information please refer to the link below for Translink.
Getting to the start by car:Portaferry is situated twenty 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. This journey takes 15 minutes and further details on ferry times and costs can be found on http://www.roadsni.gov.uk/index/strangfordferry.htm.
Parking is available outside Exploris - The Northern Ireland Aquarium and around the town. The walk begins at Portaferry Tourist Information and Visitor Centre, located on Castle Street and is signposted.
Getting to the start on foot:The walk begins at Portaferry Tourist Information and Visitor Centre, locatedon Castle Street and is signposted.