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Strangford Lough (Lake) is a 37,066-acre inland, tidal, salt water lake off the east coast of County Down in Northern Ireland. Separated from the Irish Sea by the Ards Peninsula, the lake is almost totally landlocked. An eight-mile long, fast-running channel known as the Narrows leads into the more gentle waters of the main body of the lake. The lake's unique habitat makes it a popular spot for migrating birds, and over 45,000 wintering waterfowl use the lake as a stopover. The lake's sparkling water is also popular with tourists and visitors from around the world who are attracted to the charming villages and townships which border the lake.
Approximately one third of Strangford Lough is intertidal, and large areas of sandflats become exposed at the northern end during low tide. At high tide, this area is completely covered in shallow water. The lake's unique marine environment and variety of habitats have caused it to become Northern Ireland's first marine nature reserve. Over 2,000 marine animals and plant species live in the lake and provide food for wintering waterfowl, native wading birds and breeding sea birds. The lake also supports the largest breeding population of common seals in Northern Ireland. Porpoises and whales from the Irish Sea occasionally visit the area as well.
A unique feature of Strangford Lough is its abundant rocky outcrops called pladdies which form shallow tidal reefs on the eastern shore. On the western shore, rounded hills of boulder clay called drumlins are the remains of melting ice sheets from the end of the last Ice Age. According to local legend, there are a total of 365 islands in Strangford Lough, one for every day of the year. The islands provide protection for nesting birds and kayaking and canoeing adventures for paddlers. Seventy of the islands are large enough for exploring and picnicking. Completed in 2008, the Strangford Lough Canoe Trail provides 80 square nautical miles of paddling paradise. The trail can be enjoyed by canoeists of all abilities and winds its way through various scenic stops on the lake.
Despite being a nature reserve, fishing, boating, sailing, swimming, diving, snorkeling and most forms of recreation are allowed on Strangford Lough. Local residents have two names for the lake. When calm and peaceful, the lake is referred to by its Irish name - Loch Cuan, meaning "calm lake." When the surface turns darks and the tidal waves roll in, the lake is called by its Viking name - Strangford, meaning "the strong fiord." Boaters on the lake need to pay attention to the tide. The current can become strong making navigation difficult. In the Narrows, the current is always extremely strong and can be up to eight knots. The villages of Portaferry and Strangford sit less than a mile apart from each other on opposite sides of the Narrows. To travel from one city to the other, a passenger/car ferry service operates every 15 minutes between the villages. The alternative to the ferry is a 47-mile road journey which takes about an hour and a half. The ferry crosses the 0.6 nautical miles in 8 minutes.
In 2007, a 1.2 megawatt underwater tidal electricity generator, part of Northern Ireland's Environment and Renewable Energy Fund program, was placed in the Narrows of Strangford Lough. The generator is powerful enough to power up to a thousand homes, and the turbine has a minimal impact on the environment. The generator's potential for renewable energy is still being studied.
Fishing in Strangford Lough is popular with both tourists and residents. Boat fishing is best in the bays and inlets around the jagged 100 miles of shoreline. Codling, turbot, whiting, haddock, mackerel, mullet, seatrout, spurdog, huss, thornback ray, skate, tope, and wrasse can be found throughout the lake. Skate and tope are a protected species in the lake, and must be returned to the water if caught. Fishing guides are available to take tourists out onto the water and to the Irish Sea for those who prefer deep sea fishing. Saltwater fly fishing is also a popular sport and a favorite of paddlers. For those who are new to fly fishing, fly fishing schools in the area will be more than happy to give you a lesson and rent equipment needed to catch that trophy seatrout.
Accommodations on and near Strangford Lough are numerous. Hotels, bed and breakfasts, guesthouses, hostels and self-catering cottages are available for those on holiday. Additional holiday homes and cottages can be found in the villages of Strangford, Whiterock, and Portaferry which cater to tourists and visitors. For campers, camping sites and caravan parks can be found throughout County Down. Those seeking a summer or permanent home will find real estate of all shapes, sizes and price ranges around the lake.
For the outdoor enthusiast, the beautiful and rugged landscape of Strangford Lough offers unlimited hiking, biking, and wildlife watching opportunities. Hiking, cycling, and pony trekking trails can be found around the lake along with lakefront parks, wildlife centers, and picnic areas. A highlight of the fall season is the arrival of the of the pale-bellied Brent geese after a nearly 2,000 mile journey from Arctic Canada. Up to 15,000 birds gather to feed on eel-grass growing across the northern sandflats.
Villages along the shores of Strangford Lough offer much to see and do. With a history that goes back over 7,000 years, County Down has a wealth of historic sites, the most famous being Downpatrick, where Saint Patrick is said to be buried. Museums, castle ruins, an aquarium in Portaferry (the only aquarium open to the public in Northern Ireland), the Ballycopeland windmill, garden tours, and shopping and dining opportunities will keep visitors busy. Belfast, the largest city and the capital of Northern Ireland, is just 13 miles from the northern end of the lake.
Whether it's the sensational scenery or character and charm of the area, Strangford Lough is renowned for its friendly people and natural beauty. The largest sea lough in the British Isles, Strangford Lough offers a unique and tranquil habitat for its resident wildlife and visitors of all kinds. Take a ferry across the Narrows, paddle around hundreds of ancient islands, or enjoy a traditional Irish meal and cold drink at a local pub. Even the most seasoned traveler will find the area well worth the trip.
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