Cruise The Lough
On Sunday we woke to a bright crisp autumn morning, a perfect day for a leisurely cruise on Lough Neagh. After launching Stormborn at Newferry we set off through Lough Beg, a serene nature reserve hidden from the rat race. It is a specially protected wetland of international importance and one of the finest ornithological sites in the British Isles.
In spring and autumn, migrating birds on their journey pause to rest and feed in Lough Beg. Black-tailed godwit, green sandpiper, wood sandpiper, greenshank and knot are seen every year. And in early summer, the sky is alive with the calls of breeding waders. It is possible to hear the drumming of snipe, the piping whistles of redshank and the peewit calls of lapwing.
Many rare plants including pennyroyal and the Irish ladies’ tresses orchid also reside here. Winter brings floods and with them hundreds of wildfowl to feed on the inundated grasslands.
Church Island, is the focal point of Lough Beg, formerly known as Inish Toide, it was the site of a pre-Viking monastery. The island has an eighteenth century spire, a ruined medieval church, an old graveyard and boasts legends and myths of Saint Patrick and reputed healing powers.
But we’re not visiting Church Island today, just cruising past, under the bridges at Toome and into the canal. Here we stop to open the lock gates to allow us access into Lough Neagh. It’s surprisingly warm so I sit outside and we cut our way through the water of Toome Bay and into the Lough. It feels like we have the whole lough to ourselves except for the birds as I sit back to enjoy the breeze and the quiet exhilaration of cruising through the calm waters.
As we make our way to the Torpedo Platform at Antrim, we see the Fishery Protection boat out on a patrol and three small sailing boats outside Antrim. The Torpedo Platform is a formidable piece of engineering, a reminder of the important role played by Lough Neagh during the Second World War. It’s raison d’etre is now a more peaceful one, as a sanctuary and resting place for many birds.
Not far from the Torpedo Platform we stop to appreciate Shane’s Castle, built in 1345 by a member of the O’Neill dynasty, it was originally called Eden-duff-carrick and was used in the filming of Game of Thrones. We get a really unique view of the castle from the water and take plenty of pictures.
Finally, we cruised back to Toome under the rays of a stunning Lough Neagh sunset.
Again, we appeared to have the Lough to ourselves excepting the birds flying alongside us.
Complete and utter tranquility.