Strangford Lough Cycle Route
Explore the beautiful landscape of the largest sea lough in Ireland or Britain, and one of the richest wildlife habitats in Europe, with this tranquil, long distance cycle trail suitable for all the family.
Strangford Lough in County Down is the largest inlet in these islands at 150 km² and is almost totally landlocked save for the eight kilometre long 'Narrows' separating Portaferry and Strangford Village, giving access to the Irish Sea. It is managed by the National Trust and is a haven for marine life, butterflies and wild flowers.
The region is a popular tourist attraction noted for its fishing, walks and picturesque villages and scenery with the Lough containing 70 islands. The region is also well known for its Christian heritage, with the area to the southeast of the Lough around Downpatrick known as Saint Patrick's Country due to its close links with Ireland's patron saint.
Route description and attractions
Following National Cycle Routes 99 and 20, the bi-directional trail mostly follows minor roads with traffic-free sections, along the shores of the Ards Peninsula and Strangford Lough, although it can be busy through major towns. The Route is relatively flat with some hilly sections. It is linked from Belfast by the traffic-free Comber Greenway through the east of the City. The total length is 82 miles (132 km).
Cycling clockwise from Comber, head toward the impressive Scrabo Tower, high above Newtownards town. Then the Route moves out into the countryside and takes the rolling back roads down towards Ballyhalbert on the coast. Riding southwards on the coast road, you pass through Portavogie and Cloughey towards Ballyquinton Point and into Portaferry for a well earned break with the town offering cafes, pubs and shops. Just off the shorefront is the Exploris Aquarium and seal sanctuary, a fascinating introduction to Strangford Lough.
Crossing the surging Narrows on the ferry to Strangford Village you can enjoy the spectacular scenery. The ferry ticket costs £1.60 return for cyclist plus bike. Ferries leave at half-hourly intervals, for more info telephone (028) 4488 1637.
Wheel the bike off the ferry and cycle through Strangford, down through the magnificent National Trust property of Castle Ward demesne and along the shoreline track. Pass through Saul, reputedly site of Saint Patrick's first church in Ireland, into Downpatrick where you can park up and visit the Saint's reputed Grave in the grounds of Down Cathedral as well as the Saint Patrick Centre.
On the bike again, leave Downpatrick and head towards Killyleagh. Off the Route is Delamont Country Park which offers waymarked walks, a miniature railway and the Millennium or Strangford Stone, the largest megalith in Ireland or Britain. The pretty Killyleagh Castle in the town itself is the oldest inhabited castle in Ireland. This part of the Route offers some excellent views over the Lough. The tidal water surges in around its small islands, then retreats leaving the birds free to feed on the emerging mud flats. There are also some fine views towards the Mourne Mountains to the south.
Further north, Sketrick Island and Nendrum Monastery, just off the Route, have fascinating ruins and incredible views. Just before coming back to Comber, call into the wildlife centre at Castle Espie to round off an unforgettable bike journey.
OSNI 1: 50 000, sheet 21
Terrain rating 2
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