6 min read

Ards Peninsula

Ards Peninsula
When you have nothing more to say, just drive
For a day all round the peninsula
Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney wrote Peninsula based on his drives around Ards Peninsula in the 1960s. It's a beautiful poem and he is spot on. As drives go it's a good one.

Looking down Strangford Lough at sunset from Newtownards

The Ards Peninsula is a narrow strip of land in the North East of Ireland, extending from the town of Newtownards to Ballyquintin Point. It is surrounded by the waters of Strangford Lough to the west and the Irish Sea to the east. Ards comes from "Aird Uladh", meaning "peninsula of the Ulstermen"

Starting in Newtownards you have Scrabo Tower keeping watch down the Peninsula. A 19th century folly built on Scrabo hill. A memorial to Charles Vane, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry. The name Scrabo is thought to derive from the Irish screabach, meaning thinly covered rock.

First place to pop past as you drive down the west coast is Mount Stewart - a National Trust property now. Credit to the National Trust as they have invested a lot in the peninsula, with many of the spots you might want to stop by being owned and protected by them.

Mount Stewart is a 19th century house and grounds that was owned by the Stewarts (the folk that commissioned Scrabo Tower). The history of Mount Stewart is interesting in itself. A great spot for a walk and picnic in the good weather.

The garden walk at Mount Stewart

Just down the road is the village of Greyabbey. If antiques and coffee are your thing it's a good place to stop. It gets it's name from Grey Abbey, the first Gothic style building built in Ulster at the end of the 12th century. Founded by the wife of John de Courcy, Affreca. In 1572, Bryan O'Neill burnt Grey Abbey to stop it being used as a refuge for English colonists trying to settle in the Ards Peninsula.

Keep driving down past the village of Kircubbin, heading towards the town of Portaferry. The clue is in the name, it's the point where you can get a ferry across the lough to the village of Strangford on the other side.

View from the ferry looking south into the Irish sea at the mouth of the lough
Portaferry looking across Strangford Lough

Nearly at the tip of the peninsula now, just a few miles down some windy roads to Ballyquintin point.

Ballyquintin point is the most southerly tip of the peninsula, a reserve with farmland owned and managed by the National Trust. You get views across Strangford Lough and out to the Irish Sea, with the Isle of Man visible on a good day.

Looking west across Strangford Lough at Ballyquintin

Heading back up the peninsula now, but on the eastern side - looking out at the Irish sea towards the Isle of Man to the south, Scotland north. The eastern side of the peninsula is a little more developed. When I say developed I mean caravans. Lots of them. Before package holidays to Europe this was where people took their breaks. I remember going to Millisle or Donaghadee and the place was packed in the Summer.

Kearney village, another National Trust property is worth a visit on the way back up. In the 19th century this was a small fishing community. Now it's been faithfully restored by the Trust. Very pretty in the summer with lots of wildflowers down to a rocky shore.

Personally I prefer the west coast of the peninsula but if beaches are your thing Cloughey is the place to go. Never busy any time I've visited.

Cloughey beach on a Summers day

A point of interest if you like the Neolithic is Millin Bay Cairn. It is a late Neolithic burial monument and appears now as an oval mound of sand, grass-grown, with a surrounding oval stone setting. Excavation in 1953 revealed a complicated sequence of structures under the mound along with the bones of at least 15 individuals, neatly sorted and stacked.

Millin Bay Cairn
Looking out across the Irish sea with the Isle of Man on the horizon.

Final destination Orlock Point, just outside Groomsport, a great coastal walk that forms the start of the coastal path into Belfast Lough.

And drive back home, still with nothing to say
Except that now you will uncode all landscapes
By this: things founded clean on their own shapes,
Water and ground in their extremity.
Seamus Heaney

read the poem peninsula