Coast round County Down
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The coastline of County Down provides plenty of opportunities to get out and about at this time of year. It showcases the world-famous Mountains of Mourne, the first National Nature Reserve in Ireland at Murlough and one of only three Marine Nature Reserves in the UK at Strangford Lough, where wildlife abounds.
The Mournes are visited by many tourists, hillwalkers, cyclists and rock climbers. The climb to Slieve Donard summit can be strenuous but is worth it for spectacular views of the coast, Newcastle town, Murlough Dunes and, on a clear day, Scrabo Tower to the north and the Isle of Man to the east.
Murlough National Nature Reserve
The reserve is a site of outstanding geological and nature conservation interest. There is a network of paths through the dunes, woodland and heath. Look out for information panels at the entrances to the reserve and along the main boardwalk to find out more about the wildlife and history of Murlough.
A self-guided Nature Trail is available, 2.5 miles (4km). Marked with yellow-topped posts the trail initially follows the main visitor walkway, the Slidderyford Path boardwalk, to the beach. You can pick up a leaflet explaining what you're likely to see at each point.
Guided nature walks and volunteer events are held throughout the year; school groups are welcome but must be booked in advance.
If one word could describe Strangford Lough and its wildlife, it would be ‘movement’. Changing tides with powerful currents and the constant rush of waves back and forth over the shores all give character to the Lough and profoundly influence the animals and wildlife. At other times the Lough seems like a large and placid lake.
Accessible at low tide from the car park, the walk to Island Hill, 1.5 miles (2.4km), takes you along a concrete causeway and around Rough Island. Located at the upper end of Strangford Lough, adjacent to North Strangford National Nature Reserve, the walk allows for fine views of Scrabo Tower and across the Lough towards the Ards Peninsula. It's also an excellent viewpoint for birdwatching.
Between the tides a range of habitats appear, from differing grades of mud and sand to boulders and salt marsh. The area is rich in worms, shellfish and other small animals that are a vast food source attracting migratory birds and waders, with some species found in internationally important numbers during the winter. Eelgrass is abundant and is the principal food source of Brent geese, many thousands of which migrate to the Lough during September and October.
For further information on local walks visit www.walkni.com (external link).