Castle Ward loughside walk
Strangford, Downpatrick, County Down BT30 7LSRoute details and mapDownload as a print friendly PDF
Overlooking the south shores of Strangford Lough, Castle Ward is one of Northern Ireland’s finest demesnes, or country estates. At its heart lies an unusual Georgian mansion, but there's a lot more to discover here. This walk explores the waterside, a ruined castle, woodland, an ornamental lake and follies. Visit in winter for a chance to see a fantastic range of migrating birds and the resident seals.
- Bus stop
Start: Old Castle Ward farmyard, grid ref: J575497
Start at the old farmyard. Note the tower house, a fortified home built in 1610. It was the Castle Ward estates main residence before the mansion was built. Follow the blue trail down towards the water and boathouse through a large stone gateway. The name Strangford comes from the Old Norse for 'strong fjord' and probably describes the powerful currents where the Irish Sea enters the lough.
Castle Ward falls within the Strangford Lough Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (currently under review), which was designated in 1972. The shores, woodland, meadows, streams, marshes and farmland of the lough provide a diverse landscape rich in wildlife and cultural heritage.
The path leads along the water front, passing boat houses and small quays, before reaching Audleys Wood. Enjoy beautiful views across to Portaferry. You may see seals bobbing about in the water and, in autumn and winter, birds such as redshank and oystercatcher.
Winter is an excellent time to watch wading birds such as oystercatcher, dunlin, curlew and knot in Castle Ward Bay. Some species perform spectacular aerial displays in the evening as they prepare to roost. 75,000 wildfowl and waders spend the autumn and winter at Strangford Lough, including 75 per cent of the worlds light-bellied brent goose. The Ards Peninsula-side of the lough is the best place to spot them.
At the edge of the wood, a path on the left takes you on a short detour up the 16th-century Audleys Castle. Climb to the top for a great panorama across the estate and Castle Ward Bay. Look out for pine marten and a long-eared owl that are sometimes seen here at dusk. Close to the castle is a Neolithic cairn where around 30 skeletons were found.
Audley's Castle, now a picturesque ruin, was the home of the Audley family from the 1550s. Nearby is the site of Audleys Town, which was cleared by the Wards in the Georgian era to improve the views within their new landscape park. Viscount Bangor spent a lot of money in the 18th century on perfecting his country seat at Castle Ward. His family, the Wards, had lived here for several hundred years, but in order to keep up with the latest aristocratic fashions, he built a large mansion with sweeping views down to Strangford Lough.
Continue walking along the loughside then turn left away from the water and through Audleys Wood, home to badgers and lots of small birds.
Strangford Lough is the United Kingdoms largest sea inlet covering 150 square km with over 350 islands. Millions of litres of water flow in and out twice daily, bringing vast quantities of plankton and nutrients for wildlife to feed on. Underwater reefs and kelp forests provide a habitat for 2,000 marine species like anemones, sea-squirts, starfish, sponges and urchins. Mussel beds are also an important habitat here, but in recent years trawling has done real damage to them.
When the path exits the woodland, head right on a track, which soon leads to a gate in a stone wall. Emerge through this gate in to the parkland surrounding Temple Water. The temple itself is perched up on your right. You pass a Victorian walled garden, currently used to grow wild flowers.
Built around 1610, this is the oldest group of buildings on the estate. See farm animals, a saw mill and a working corn mill (every summer Sunday).
Follow the path away from the lake along a tree-lined avenue back to the farmyard. In summer, note the wild flower meadow on your left. A series of paths lead to the mansion house, woodland and playgrounds. To find out more about wildlife on the estate and lough, visit the Strangford Lough Wildlife Centre, adjacent to the farmyard.
End: Old Castle Ward farmyard, grid ref: J753498
- Trail: Walking
- Grade: Easy
- Distance: 2.5 miles (4km)
- Time: 50 minutes
- OS Map: NI Discoverer Map 21
Trails are gravelled in places with some woodland tracks. Several short sections are steep. Walk can be extended slightly by climbing to Audleys Castle.
- How to get here:
By foot: Follow the Lecale Way (www.walkni.com)
By bike: National Cycle Network Route 99
By bus: Ulsterbus 16E, Downpatrick to Strangford, with connections from Belfast. Ulsterbus Lecale Rambler (Saturday and Sunday only, in summer)
By road: 7 miles (11.2km) north-east of Downpatrick, 1.5 miles (2.4km) west of Strangford Lough, entrance by Ballyculter Lodge. (N.B. If using GPS, once on Strangford Road, follow signs for Castle Ward only)
By ferry: Portaferry to Strangford. Daily, except Christmas Day (www.roadsni.gov.uk)
By canoe: Strangford Lough canoe trail (www.canoeni.com)
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