Presenting the fifth instalment of my geocaching New Year’s resolution to go on at least one hike a month… although, disclaimer: this month felt more like a short uphill walk combined with a forest stroll than a proper hike!
Scrabo Country Park
Located near Newtownards, 10 miles east of Belfast, Scrabo Country Park encompasses Killynether Wood, disused sandstone quarries and Scrabo Tower. Upon arrival at the main car park near Scrabo Golf Club, there are already great views over Strangford Lough to enjoy.
There are lots of picnic tables around the car park area, as well as a designated picnic site on the way up to the tower to sit and enjoy lunch with a view.
view of strangford lough *revised*, GC50757
The word Scrabo originates from the Gaelic word for cow pasture. It’s easy to imagine herds grazing on the area which is now a golf course. The hill stands at just 160 metres but the comparatively flat surrounding areas results in some breathtaking panoramic views.
The park is also home to sandstone quarries, where various fossils have been uncovered, including the footprint of a proto-dinosaur. There is evidence of habitation here dating back to over 5,000 years ago. It’s easy to see why people decided to settle here, with the appeal of an elevated position for security.
It’s a short walk up to the tower, passing by the golf course on the left, with wonderful views over Newtownards and across Strangford Lough on the right.
The tower is actually a monument, built in 1857 as a memorial for Charles Stewart, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry. The Marquess was a local landowner who was well-respected by his tenants (which was unusual for the time), “for his attempts to alleviate suffering during the potato famine in the second quarter of the nineteenth century.”
The tower’s design is attributed to Charles Lanyon, the architect behind the famous Lanyon Building at Queen’s University in Belfast and William Henry Lynn, another famous Northern Irish architect who was an apprentice to Lanyon before forming a partnership with him in 1854 (in fact he prepared the drawings for the Lanyon Building).
The tower is visible from miles away and is one of Northern Ireland’s most well-known landmarks. The view from the top of the hill is really something else: Newtownards, Strangford Lough and the nearby airfield can all be seen clearly. You could easily while away a few hours watching the small planes taking off and landing.
The tower was once open to the public, with 122 steps to climb to get the best vista of the surrounding area. However, water damage in 2014 affected the electrical supply, deeming the building unsafe and it remains closed to this day.
There are several geocaches in Scrabo Country Park and we managed to find three while we were there. There are several more, and I hear rumours of a new EarthCache to come soon, so I’ll be more than happy to return again to go geocaching here.
After enjoying the views at the top of Scrabo Hill, we made our way back through the car park and into Killynether Wood.
The wood was once part of an estate centred around Killynether Castle, which was demolished in 1966. The beech and hazel wood was planted in the mid nineteenth century and is now a peaceful haven of birdsong. There are steep parts in the wood and the trails are uneven in places, so it’s not suitable for all abilities.
Progressively harder!, GC3V06Z
Scrabo Country Park is well sign-posted as you arrive in Newtownards from Belfast and the main car park is located just off Scrabo Road. It’s free to park and there are public toilets on site. There is also an alternative entrance to the wood on Killynether Road.
What new places have you discovered thanks to geocaching? Let me know in the comments!
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