Simon Calder visits the Ards Peninsula, County Down.
There are many beautiful, peaceful places along the outer Ards Peninsula coastline which are off the beaten track and have a rich heritage attracting visitors from all corners of the world.
Simon Calder, well known travel writer and commentator wanted to visit this ancient eastern coastal area and I, Brigid Watson, Sustainable Journeys Ireland took Simon and a colleague on a tour in October 2020.
Our visitors got an early taste of peninsula living getting caught behind a slow moving tractor on route to Cloughey!
The weather was dry and bright if a little windy on Friday morning. The tour started at the multi-award-winning beach at Cloughey where our guests got a glimpse of the expansive beach before the tide rolled in. As Simon Calder was due to do a live broadcast for national TV the first priority was to identify a suitable location for this. The best location was on the elevated site where the Millennium Stone stands (memorial to the brave lifeboat men of Cloughey). Due to the wonders of modern technology Simon appeared on the programme with Cloughey bay and village in the background. Meanwhile locals who were watching the live programme were surprised to see their home area on TV. One local person living along the coastline trained his binoculars on the beach area and was able to see Simon Calder doing his broadcast from his home! Those local people who were out for their morning beach walk and who recognised Simon Calder said a friendly hello when passing by.
With the broadcast completed it was time to share some stories of the maritime heritage of Cloughey and the history of the settlement. Both visitors were surprised that they could see Scotland from Cloughey beach. They walked across the Warren, home to a carpet of wildflowers during the Spring/Summer months and visited Kirkistown Castle where they learned about the role of the Savage family in local history. They were very interested in the history of the area. Other features highlighted were Kirkistown Castle Golf course which is an 18 hole -links course and Cloughey Tennis Club.
The next stop was Slanes Graveyard south of Cloughey. From this ancient hilltop site they had a panoramic view over the countryside to Scrabo Tower in the north and the Mourne mountains to the south. They saw the ancient stone with the cross carved on it and learnt about the stories of some of the people whose last resting place is in Slanes graveyard. There is a souterrain outside the graveyard walls which according to folklore was used to store smuggled goods.
Kearney National Trust village
Travelling on along the Ballyquintin scenic loop route the quiet country roads hug the coastline and there are great views across the low rolling hills or drumlins which give the Ards Peninsula its’ distinctive landscape. Viewed from the air it looks like a ‘basket of eggs’. The next waters’ edge stopping point was the quaint and pretty National Trust village of Kearney. It was time for a cup of tea and some fruit soda bread with some organic apples from Brigid Watson’s garden which went down a treat! Over a cup of tea in a stunning location the visitors heard the amazing story of the rock formations at Kearney which are of international geological significance and about the history of the settlement.https://sustainablejourneysireland.com/product/kearney-coastal-walk-and-quintin-castle/
Windmill Hill Portaferry
Journeying on through townlands including Tulnacrew and Ballyblack the party arrived at the scenic viewing point, Windmill Hill located high above Portaferry which is sited on the shore of Strangford Lough. The sun was shining, the air was still and the sky was blue. A lovely flower bed was in full bloom adding colourful beauty to a picture postcard scene. A couple of older people were sitting on a nearby bench making the most of the autumn sunshine. The ferry was plying its’ way across the Narrows from Strangford to Portaferry. Strangford Lough was gleaming in all its beauty, it was very calm, the original name Lough Cuan means ‘quiet lough’ and that was an apt description for it on that day. It was a beautiful, uplifting sight to behold on a mid-October day, all appeared well with the world as nature shone in all its’ glory. One could see right up the lough to Newtownards and across to Killyleagh and Castleward.
After a walking tour around Portaferry it was time to board the ferry for the short trip from Portaferry to the historic village of Strangford and lunch at the Artisan Cookhouse. The visitors received a warm welcome on arrival. After a delicious lunch it was time to say goodbye to our visitors who were returning to Belfast via the western shore of Strangford Lough.
An extract from the feedback from Simon Calder via email
Thanks for a fabulous tour, it was great to meet you and appreciate your passion for the Ards Peninsula. You were also so kind to provide elevenses in such a beautiful location. (at the picnic table at Kearney coastline)