Kayakers and Canoeists have been enjoying the marine waters of Strangford Lough, Lecale and the Outer Ards Coastlines for generations. Accepting the first canoes as those roughed out of solid tree trunks, the carbon date on a “canoe like boat” found in Greyabbey Bay was dated as circa 5500 years BP!!
Of course recreational paddling is a very modern activity and one which has seen a significant increase in interest in recent years. Especially since the promotion of a series of Canoe Trails developed by Outdoor Recreation NI http://www.canoeni.com/
Northern Ireland was the first country in Europe to develop official canoe trails. CanoeNI.com has been delighted with the success of these trails as not only have they won awards – most importantly they have attracted people from all over the world.
But don’t just take our opinion. Following the launch of the Strangford Lough Canoe Trail in July 2008, Canoe and Kayak Magazine UK described Northern Ireland as ‘one of the must go canoeing destinations in Europe.’
Choose a Canoe NI Trail: Strangford Lough and the [South]-East Coast Trails are those immediately relevant to our area, alternatives are listed here:
Lough Erne Canoe Trail
River Blackwater Canoe Trail
Lough Neagh Canoe Trail
Strangford Lough Canoe Trail
Lower Bann Canoe Trail
Overview and Welcome to Canoe Trails
Lough Foyle Canoe Trail
East Coast Trail
Paddlers naturally require reasonably convenient access to the water. Our extensive area offers ample “wild” or informal access whether off beach or rocky shore. Facilities to make parking and access easy are often associated with our towns, villlages and recreational beaches linked to the sea. At these locations car parks, slipways, toilets etc may be available. The trail links listed will provide a wide range of information relevant to each trail area
Strangford Lough Canoe Trail
This island-studded sea Lough is the largest inlet in the UK and Ireland, covering 80 square nautical miles. It is approached from the Irish Sea through the (5 nautical mile) fast running tidal Narrows which open out into more gentle waters. The Viking invaders who arrived in their long boats through the fast flowing waters called ‘The Narrows’ bestowed the name Strangfjorthr or ‘place of strong currents’. This is a section of the canoe trail that requires a high level of expertise and it provides an excellent challenge for the experienced paddler! The Routen Wheel is a series of whirlpools, boils and swirling waters, which is caused by pinnacles of rock on the seabed. This area should be treated with the utmost caution.
By contrast, the calmer waters of the main shallow basin further north gave this Lough its old Irish name, Lough Cuan, meaning sheltered haven. Here paddlers will find a myriad of channels and routes to explore, as well as the chance to discover some of the country’s finest scenery. Designated as Northern Ireland’s first Marine Nature Reserve, Strangford Lough is internationally renowned for its abundance and diversity of habitats and species. Over 2000 marine animal and plant species have been found, most unique to this area. Look out for Harbour and Grey Seals, Artic, Common and Sandwich Terns, Irish Hares, porpoises and much, much more! This trail has been designed by canoeists for canoeists. It provides practical information including official access points, campsites and tidal details.
East Coast Canoe Trail [County Down section]
The East Coast Canoe Trail, approximately 70 nautical miles long, can offer more adventure than the mainly low-lying shores and sheltered sea loughs might suggest. Negotiating choppy tidal races to visit lighthouse islands and skirting hundreds of small reefs known as pladdies add spice to this journey. The drama of chalk and basalt cliffs of the east County Antrim coast gives way to a low-lying rocky shore broken by numerous sandy beaches in County Down. The tidal range increases southwards to Strangford Lough. There are optional excursions out to islands such as the Maidens (County Antrim) and the Copelands (County Down) as well as the sheltered waters of Larne Lough, and the trail also takes you into and across Belfast Lough. The starting point is at Waterfoot beach south of Cushendall and the route mirrors coastal roads most of the way to end at the turbulent Narrows and the attractive village of Portaferry at the mouth of Strangford Lough. There is the choice to paddle the four sections in either direction, southwards as described here, or north. Thus the East Coast Trail offers stretches of relatively easy paddling for the less experienced canoeist and, for the more adventurous, challenging tide races, overfalls and windswept island circuits. Seals, seabirds, an almost 500 million geological time span and a varied human history linked to nearby Scotland add interest to this side of the North Channel and Irish Sea. There is a good range of slipway access points, beach haul-outs and picturesque locations to rest and relax.