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Sketrick – Killyleagh

This 34km route explores many of the Lough’s Islands and includes an overnight stay on Salt Island

Nearest Town
Route Shape
OS Map
Access Point
Sketrick 523627 - J523627
Egress Point
Killyleagh - J530525


Points of Interest

Ballydorn Lightship, Sketrick Castle, Islandmore, Island Taggart, Killyleagh, Delamont, Salt Island, Strangford, Ballyhenry.



This itinerary has been compiled using an estimated paddling speed of 2 knots (roughly 4 km per hour).  Although most ‘weekend’ paddlers will be comfortable paddling at 3 knots, this calculation allows for exploring, refreshment breaks and photo stops.  The timing estimations assume light or calm winds and do not make allowance for the help or hindrance of tide.

It is important to check the weather forecast before setting off.  Reasonable shelter can be found amongst the islands, however it is worth noting that some areas dry out completely at low tide and it is wise to consult the OS Map or Admiralty chart for this information.  Numerous busy sailing clubs operate from bays and inlets all along this section of coastline – paddlers should remain vigilant and give sailing boats a wide berth where appropriate.

The overnight camp is on Salt Island.  Camping is permitted free of charge on the north side of the island, however the bothy (GR 531500) must be pre-booked and a key collected prior to departure at one of the agreed keyholder venues. 

Day One – Sketrick (GR J523627) to Salt Island (GR J531502) 18km (9NM)

The trip starts at Sketrick where there is limited roadside parking adjacent to the slip.   If leaving a car, paddlers are advised to park in the large council-owned car park (with toilets) 500m further South along the road.  The closest services to the access point are located at Balloo village (GR J497607), these include two well-stocked grocery stores, a petrol station and an award-winning restaurant-pub.

From here, the route travels east around the back of Sketrick Island  (GR J526626) and then south towards Killyleagh (GR J530525), roughly following the western shore of the Lough.  The paddle weaves its way between the islands with exact route a matter of personal choice, however wind strength, state of tide and time available may all influence the decision.

The western shore is a fascinating maze of submerged drumlins and hills – this is an extension of the ‘Basket of Eggs’ countryside visible on the mainland and is unique to County Down.  Many islands are worth visiting on the journey south, however landing is only recommended on a limited number of islands owned by the National Trust; running south these are Darragh Island (GR J538603), Island Taggart (GR535545), Green Island (GR J537512), Salt Island (GR J531502) and Gibb’s Island (GR J509496).  Also, Ballyhenry Island (GR J574520) on the eastern side of the Lough at the head of the Narrows.

The launch point at Sketrick provides a good view of Sketrick Castle.  Built during the 16 century, it was destroyed during a ferocious storm in 1896 leaving the ruins visible today.  The castle is one of 16 Tower Houses sited along the Lough’s shores.  Adjacent to the launching slip is the Ballydorn Lightship (GR J528628).  Now serving as a clubhouse for a local yacht club, the ‘Petrel’ Lightship was built in 1913 and arrived in Strangford Lough after it was decommissioned in1968.  The sea around Sketrick is also a popular fishing ground for Herons.  They can often be spotted flying between islands or standing quietly by the waters edge.

If seal spotting is on the agenda, Greenisland Rock (GR J544602) adjacent to Darragh Island is worth closer inspection as this is a popular ‘haul out’ for common seals. 

From Ringahaddy Sound (GR J537583),between Islandmore and the mainland, a small dwelling on the western side of Islandmore is visible.  The building, also known as ‘The Blue Cabin’ is now immortalized in a book of the same name documenting modern day island life on Strangford.  Further south again, Island Taggart (GR J535545) is a good place to stop for refreshments and stretch the legs.  The island is one of the largest within Strangford Lough and the remains of the small settlement that existed there are still visible.  The island was inhabited until as recently as 1967.  Camping is also permitted on Taggart.

Killyleagh Town lies 1.5km south of Island Taggart.  From the access point (GR J530525)it is a 10 minute walk into the town centre.  The town itself is well serviced with a grocery store, numerous takeaways, a pub restaurant and an award winning café delicatessen.  Sitting offshore, the unmistakable silhouette of the Mourne Mountains dominates the horizon to the South West.

As the paddle continues around the Killyleagh coastline Salt Island comes into view.   From here, paddlers wanting to cut the journey short can head straight for the overnight camp on Salt.  If this is the preferred option it is worth taking in Green Island on the way.  Otherwise the route continues past Moore’s Point towards Delamont Country Park where landing is available at GR J514502.  On approaching the park, attention is drawn to the giant structure on the skyline of the adjacent hilltop - this is the ‘Strangford Stone’.  This giant megalith was erected in 1999 as part of the millennium celebrations.  Standing 10 metres high it is the tallest of its kind in the British Isles.  For a closer look, the stone is just a 5 minute walk uphill from the landing site.

Leaving the coastline, it is a short paddle out to Gores Island (GR J520494) and then on to Salt Island.   It is worth noting that the area immediately surrounding each island dries out as the tide drops and it is not advisable to walk cross the soft mud exposed at low tide; this can be hazardous.  It is wise to plan arrival so that this does not correspond with low tide.

The bothy is located on the south east side of the island whereas wild camping is permitted on the opposite side by Brandy Bay.  For campers, there is a simple trench toilet on the northern side of the island behind a hedge line (GR J530504); it is surrounded by a willow hurdle screen.  A watertap (GR J531502) adjacent to a water trough is located along the eastern fence line that surrounds the woodland behind the bothy.

 Day 2 - Salt Island (531500) to Killyleagh (530525) 16km (8NM)

Day 2 itinerary explores the islands within the Quoile Estuary before journeying to Castle Ward Bay (GR J580498) , and then Stangford(GR J589498)  (if time and tide permit), before returning to Killyleagh. 

Leaving Salt Island, it is possible to island-hop north east towards Strangford town.   For the enthusiastic, a short diversion can also be made to take in Green Island.  Beware - the area between the islands and the mainland to the south dries out at low tide.

As paddlers approach the narrows, the effects of tide become more apparent.  For any paddling in the vicinity of the narrows it is important to take account of the tides and pre-plan accordingly.  Within the narrows itself, spring tidal rates can reach 8-10 knots at the narrowest point.  At some states of tide it is possible to make progress against the tide in eddies close to shore.

Approaching Castle Ward Bay, Audley’s Castle comes into view.  Built in the 15th Century, this tower-house stands on a rocky height overlooking the narrows.   The castle can be accessed by a short walk from a suitable landing point on the shore below.  At low water, Castle Ward bay dries out leaving extensive mudflats.

If time allows and tidal conditions are favourable, it is worth paddling on to Strangford town.  On this stretch, great care should be taken to stay clear of the ferry which crosses every 15 minutes between Strangford and Portaferry.

Strangford harbour has numerous slipways however the agreed canoe access slipway sits in the centre of the harbour area at GR J589497.  Strangford is a picturesque village with a number of good pub-restaurants, a grocery store and a café all within easy walking distance from the harbour area.  The village is a good spot to bide time while waiting for the tide to turn.

If tides are not favourable for a trip to Strangford, or paddlers want to avoid the narrows completely, it is possible to cross to Ballyhenry Island (GR J574520) on the opposite side of the Lough, striking out from Audley’s Castle or before. The island is owned by the National Trust and landing is permitted.  Just south of the Island, in Ballyhenry Bay, the SS Empire Tana shipwreck lies exposed at all levels of tide.  The vessel, which was originally involved in the WW2 war effort, sank shortly after being moved to Strangford in 1946.  The return trip to Killyleagh is a 4km open crossing, or to avoid this, a slightly longer and less exposed trip can be made by island hopping back toward Chapel Island (GR J562513) an then continuing to the town.

From Strangford, paddlers should retrace the route past Audley’s Castle and strike off for Killyleagh after Chapel Island.

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