Wednesday, 27 September 2017


Ballywalter used to be called Whitchurch, and there is still a church known as the White Church, believed to have been built during a period starting from the 13th century, with transepts added later.  Medieval coffin-lids can be found outside the northeast corner of the church.  The beach is long and sandy, and there are rock pools for the kids to investigate.  During the winter the beach is frequented by over-wintering birds such as Ring Plover, Golden Plover and Manx Shearwater.

Ballywalter Park is a Georgian house built around 1730 and altered signifcantly during the following century by Sir Charles Lanyon.  The house is surrounded by 270 acres of grounds including a lake and woodlands, and the flora include an extensive rhododendron collection.  Visits to the house can be arranged for groups only.  The house has been used for filming a number of times, in one case doubling as St Petersburg, and in another with the grounds representing the World War I trenches in Flanders.  Productions have included The Wipers Times and Wodehouse in Exile.

File:Ballywalter from the Harbour - - 714586.jpg
Photo by Sue Adair, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 18 September 2017


Lying just below the ‘elbow’ of the Ards Peninsula, Portavogie has the distinction of being the easternmost settlement in Ireland.  It is also the second largest fishing port in Northern Ireland.  Fishing has been an economic mainstay in the area since the 16th century, when the activity centred on Stable Hole to the north of the present-day port, undertaken by settlers who had come across from the Solway Coast on the other side of the Irish Sea.  In those days the boats had to be hauled up onto the sandy beach; it was not until 1906 that a pier was built in Portavogie, although it proved unequal to the weather conditions and had to be replaced in 1955.  Further expansion brought the addition of a market and ice making machinery, and in 1985 a new harbour was officially opened by Princess Anne.  The main catch consists of prawns and herring, brought by a large fleet of trawlers.

Portavogie celebrates its fishing industry each August with a Seafood Festival.  Visitors who are interested in the fishing heritage of the port can find a Heritage Trail on the Visit Ards and North Down website.  The trail starts at Puddle Dyke, Stablehole and The Cove and takes in The Prom and the McCammon Rocks, accessible at low tide and frequented by seals.  The end of the trail is the site of the former Palmer’s boatbuilding yard.  The late Eileen Palmer, a prominent figure in the village in her day and the boatbuilder's wife, set up the Portavogie Fishermen’s Choir, which is still going strong.  Further information about the town's past can be found on the Portavogie Culture and Heritage Society website.

File:Portavogie Harbour - - 1499969.jpg
Photo by Ross, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 12 September 2017


The village of Cloughey started out as a row of coastguard cottages at the south end of the beach.  It gained popularity as a holiday destination in the 1920s, helped no doubt by the presence of a golf course and a sandy beach fringing a gently curving bay.  However, not all of this stretch of coast is so benign.  The North and South Rocks in the sea off the village have long been considered one of the major hazards to shipping in the area.  In 1883 a ship called the Wild Deer carrying 300 emigrants heading for New Zealand foundered on the North Rocks in heavy seas.  Happily, the passengers were rescued with the help of the local fishing boats.  No doubt there would have been loss of life were it not for the fact that the passengers were implored to stay below deck, in fact the women were so panicked that the crew locked them in to prevent them from rushing up to the deck.

Kirkistown Castle is about a mile to the north of Cloughey, just outside the golf course bearing the same name.  It is believed to have been built in 1622 by Roland Savage, possibly on the site of an earlier construction.  The castle is typical of the area, with a three-storey tower house.  The tower house was threatened by subsidence, being built in a marshy area, necessitating the later addition of buttresses and iron braces.  There is also a motor racing circuit nearby, which was built on the site of an airfield established during the Second World War for the use of  the American Air Force. 

File:Cloughey Bay - - 837592.jpg
Photo by Albert Bridge, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 6 September 2017


We are now on the Irish Sea side of the Ards Peninsula, where the first settlement of any note is Kearney, a tiny village run by the National Trust, which has restored the village to revive the authenticity of a traditional fishing village.  The village flourished in this role during the 19th century, and there are stories of a ‘she-cruiser’ crewed entirely by women.  The Trust owns a number of cottages in the village and there is self-catering accommodation available to visitors.  Visitors enjoy tranquil walks along the shore to the 8-acre sandy beach of Knockinelder or to the charmingly named Stinking Point.  If anyone knows the origin of this name I would love to hear about it.  Walks along the shore are rewarded with views of Scotland, the Isle of Man and the Mountains of Mourne.  Birdwatchers should look out for oystercatcher, rock pipit, shelduck, wintering waders, tern and eider, while gannets can be seen diving out at sea.

File:Kearney village - - 204159.jpg
Photo by Bill Cardwell, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 1 September 2017


Portaferry lies at the narrow entrance to Strangford Lough and at the southern end of the Ards Peninsula, and the ‘ferry’ part of the name is appropriate, this being the departure point for ferries to Strangford on the other shore.  The ferry takes cars as well as foot passengers.  Portaferry Castle was built in the 16th century, probably by the Savage family.  Now a ruin, it was built as a square, 3-storey tower house with an L-shaped turret.  Just outside the town is the PortaferryWindmill, dating from the 17th century and built by the Savage family, and one of over 50 windmills which once graced the Ards Peninsula.  Near the castle is the Exploris Aquarium, which includes a seal sanctuary.  The town also has a Sailing Club, which is known for events such as the Galway Hooker Regatta for traditional boats.  

File:Strangford Ferry (01), August 2009.JPG
Photo by Ardfern, via Wikimedia Commons