On water

Kayaking, Canoeing & Paddle boarding


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

Northern Ireland was the first country in Europe to develop official canoe trails. 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
  • Facilities

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

Area Description

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.

Additional Information

Good Practice & Safety

General Safety
Canoeing is an adventure sport and as such should be treated with respect. If you are new to the sport, it is advisable to join an organized club or take some lessons with a canoeing provider, both options will offer expert coaching.

When participating in canoe sport note should be taken of the following safety advice:

Do not canoe without adequate buoyancy in the form of a personal life jacket or buoyancy aid. Canoe buoyancy should be sufficient to keep the canoe afloat if you capsize
It is recommended not to canoe alone – three boats is the minimum required for most rescues
Remember – a canoe may be difficult to see from a larger craft – carry a whistle
You do not need to be able to swim vast distances but you will need the water confidence to deal with a capsized boat and get ashore safely
Carry and know how to use a map and compass
Wear adequate clothing, prolonged immersion in cold water leads to hypothermia – hypothermia can kill.
Leave details of your journey with a responsible adult
Strangford Lough Specific
‘The Narrows’ has very strong tidal currents and especially when wind and tide are in “opposing” directions generates very turbulent waves and sea states. It is reccommended this area should only be tackled by appropriately experienced canoeists
A ferry operates across ‘The Narrows’ between Strangford and Portaferry every 30 minutes.
Be aware of the limitations and needs of larger craft that are restricted to deep water channels
The lough is a major recreational area and you should be aware of other users, especially sailing bots when they are competing in races
Emergency Telephone Numbers
Both the Coastguard and Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) cover Upper and Lower Lough Erne. In the unlikely event of an Emergency use the following numbers:

Police and Ambulance: 999 (all phones) or 112 (all phones)

Coast Guard: 999 (all phones) or VHF channel 16

Note that mobile phone reception is variable across the area.

Clubs, Opportunities, Disability Access

If you are interested in getting out and enjoying the canoe trails but don’t know one end of a canoe from the other then why not take some lessons. Northern Ireland has a great range of canoeing providers who can teach you all the necessary skills so you can make the most of future canoeing adventures. Even if you want to just have a go before embarking on a course then why not check out the Canoe NI website and calendar of canoeing events which can give you that perfect introduction.

Equipment and Facilitation is offered by service providers for :

Canoe Hire
Kayak Hire
Transfer service along trail
Camping Equipment Hire
Wet Suit Hire
Airport / Ferry port transfer service
Clearsky Adventure Centre

Address: Castle Ward Estate, Old Farmyard, Strangford, Downpatrick, BT30 7LTPhone: +44(0)28 43 723 933Email: Website:

Mobile Team Adventure

Address: Ardnavally Scout Centre, 108 Old Milltown Road, Belfast, Shaw’s Bridge, BT8 4SPPhone: +44(0)28 90 646695Email:

Outdoor Concepts (NI) Ltd

Address: The Mount, 2 Woodstock Link, Belfast, BT6 8DDPhone: +44 (0)28 9073 7271Email:

Strangford Lough Activity Centre



(T) 07909721898

Address: 40 Whiterock Road, Killinchy, Co. Down, BT23 6PY

Care for our Coast

Accepting that all small boats too have a right to navigate at sea, all paddlers are encouraged to be considerate with regard to the wildlife and natural habitats of our area. For example there is a widespread use by many marine based animals associated with islands, reefs[pladdies], coastal shore, intertidal shores, on and within the seas. The more iconic and noticeable include the cetaceans – whales, dolphins and porpoise; basking shark; grey and harbour seals. There are very significant populations and concentrations of bird life throughout the year with great seasonal variation. These include huge flocks of geese. ducks, waders and auks especially in the autumn-winter; with very important breeding colonies of terns and gulls in the summer.

Good and sensitive practice is about looking out for these wildlife, being aware that noise, speed, direction, wake and proximity of a boat can cause disturbance to animals that may be feeding, resting, or breeding with young.

Reccommended are the principles of the WiSE scheme and RYA Green-Blue Scheme.

Anyone using the water has a duty to protect wildlife and enhance the environment. We share the waters we use for our recreation with a wide range of birds, fish and cetaceans but the presence of boats should not necessarily have to mean disturbance to the local wildlife. If craft are handled with sensitivity to the needs of wildlife then there can be minimal or zero disturbance. Keeping clear distances from sensitive areas, awareness of seasonal and geographical sensitivities, and education can all been used to mitigate the impact of boat use on wildlife.

For information on how to enjoy the wildlife you see whilst out boating and steps you can take to minimise your impact on it, see The Green Wildlife Guide for Boaters, or look on The Green Blue Website.

The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) have also written guidance about marine wildlife disturbance.

Research & Studies

Earliest Canoe in County Down :