Strangford Lough is the largest inlet in the UK and Ireland and is approached from the Irish Sea via fast-running tidal narrows which open out into more gentle waters.
Viking invaders arriving in their long boats named the entrance to the lough ‘the place of strong currents’ – and it’s no understatement. Known locally as ‘The Narrows’ in Portaferry, the fast-flowing waters require a high level of expertise from more experienced paddlers who are looking for a challenge!
Care should be taken when approaching ‘The Routen Wheel’, a series of whirlpools, boils and swirling waters, caused by pinnacles of rock on the seabed. This area should be treated with extreme caution.
Strangford Lough is internationally renowned for its diversity of habitat and species. Over 200 marine animal and plant species have been found here and many are unique to the area. Look out for common and grey seals, arctic terns, porpoises and more.
One of the greatest draws of the area are the many islands, owned and managed by the National Trust, where you can experience a secluded and peaceful world apart. Explore Taggart Island and get a feel of what it must have been like to live and farm there hundreds of years ago. Observe Grey and Common Seals basking on the Boretree Islands, or you might even catch sight of short eared owls on Darragh.
Visit Salt Island and book a stay in the purpose-built bothy, complete with toilets, kitchen and wood burning stove. You could even use Salt Island as your base to explore the whole lough. Please note that unfortunately the Salt Island Bothy is currently closed due to ongoing repairs. We will update our website when the bothy is usable again. Explore the archaeology on Chapel Island from the Mesolithic middens to early Christian heritage such as the remains of a church and fish traps.
However, please bear in mind there are conservation grazing regimes taking place on some of the islands and as such visitors must be aware of livestock, such as cows and sheep. From April to August, many islands are host to breeding sea birds and as such we would ask water users to please refrain from landing and exploring at these times. Please keep your distance when passing islands where there is obvious bird activity.
Finally, one of the most relaxing places to paddle is the calm waters of Lough Cuan, the main shallow basin further north. The name translates roughly from its Irish origin as ‘sheltered haven’, and it is in these waters that paddlers will discover countless routes to explore, as well as the chance to see some of Northern Ireland’s most beautiful and inspiring scenery from a thoroughly unique perspective.
More information on the canoe trail can be found by visiting Canoe NI online, which we have listed in the ‘related links’ section below this article.