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Newtownards is a large town based on the Ards Peninsula in Northern Ireland. The fact that it is only 10 miles from Belfast, with its two airports and lively cultural scene, makes it a highly convenient destination for visitors from all over the UK and the rest of the world.
Even more appealing than the simple convenience of its location, however, is the fact that it is also based at the most northern tip of Strangford Lough. This is the largest inlet or sea lough in Britain, being linked to the rest of the Irish Sea by just a narrow channel. Its 150 square kilometres of water are home to over 70 islands and its waters, bays and mud flats play host to a dazzling range of flora and fauna.
The natural diversity of the lough is such that it was chosen as Northern Ireland’s first Marine Conservation Zone in 2013. Many sea birds migrate to and from the lough, and its waters are also home to animals as diverse as basking sharks, common seals and Brent Geese.
The shores of Strangford Lough form a natural playground for any visitors to Newtownard, offering facilities and activities which can be enjoyed indoors or out, no matter what the weather. The waters of the lough itself are the most obvious choice, of course, allowing visitors to take part in activities such as sailing, diving and kayaking, with equipment and instruction on hand from a local adventure centre. For those keen on heading out alone, there are also specifically marked ‘canoe trails’ and a Strangford Lough Activity Map produced by the Ordinance Survey of Northern Ireland.
To the west of Newtownards, in Scrabo County Park, you’ll find Scrabo Tower, a 125 foot high turreted tower which was originally built in 1857. From the car park below you can walk up to the top of the hill, where the tower is positioned, and mount the steps up to the top floor to take in stunning views for miles in all directions. Having conquered the tower, you can then explore the surrounding country park, enjoying the rural tranquillity of the woodland walks and disused quarries.
Slightly to the north of the town itself you’ll find the Somme Heritage Centre, a unique visitor attraction which conveys the reality of the First World War and, in particular, the impact it had on the Irish divisions involved.
Those interested in music will simply have to fit in a visit to the Avalon Guitar workshop. Favoured by artists such as Bruce Springsteen, David Gray and Katie Melua, these are some of the finest hand crafted musical instruments in the world. Book a tour in advance and you’ll get to watch master craftspeople creating highly sought after artefacts before relaxing in the guitar lounge and even having a go at playing one of the guitars yourself.
From the shops in the centre of the town to the independent craftspeople that have based their studios around the shores of Strangford Lough, you’ll be able to commemorate your stay in Newtownards by taking home gifts and souvenirs unique to this beautiful part of the world.