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Belfast Mourne Mountains

The Lough Money Loop

27th April 2021 by Derek Flack Share

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Lough Money Loop

This short walk follows a small section of the Lecale Way, a 75km walk from Downpatrick to Newcastle taking in the Strangford Lough coastline with its tower houses, castles and ancient monuments.

Route details

Lough Money is the source for the River Slaney, which flows to the supposed landing spot of Saint Patrick on Strangford Lough. Lough Money’s water is remarkably clear as befits a facility that was once used as a reservoir for Downpatrick. The remains of the disused pumping station still stand on the island in the middle of the lough as do the ugly concrete posts which once supported its security fence. The posts are often beautified by the presence of herons, just one of many bird species that comprise an abundance of birdlife with swans, cormorants and the herons the most visible residents.

Follow the path to the left of the lough, taking care as you pass anglers on the fishing stands along the edge of the lake. Stocked with rainbow trout, pike and perch, the fishing season runs from February to December.

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About half way round the lough you come to a gate and stile. If you wish to investigate Slievenagriddle and its cairn you can left turn here and walk up the grassy path between the trees to reach a fence (further directions and options later).

About 1km from the car park the path is interrupted by a gate and stone stile.

Cross the rather awkward waterside stile with care and turn sharp left onto a grassy path which forms part of the Lecale Way. The path makes its way uphill between dense hedges. The hedges soon give way to dry-stone walls with good views of Slievenagriddle to the left and attractive, undulating countryside to the right.

The path runs for about 600m until it meets Ballystokes. The tiny hamlet, comprising only a handful of dwellings, was at one time part of a thriving community, but the area was devastated by the Irish famine. From Ballystokes follow the Lecale Way signs as they guide you over two stiles onto a rather muddy path.

Keep to the right until meeting a gate and the next Lecale Way marker. The field to the right of the gate contains the Ballystokes Inscribed Stone. The stone bears cup and ring markings dating from the Bronze Age. Unfortunately, it is usually partly covered in earth, mud and vegetation as the field is grazed by cattle and sheep who seem blissfully unaware of the significance of the stone.

Guardians of the Stone
Ballystokes Inscribed Stone

Pass through the gate and continue along the narrow track. Ground conditions are reasonably good, but there are several muddy stretches which deteriorate further in poor weather. The scenery on the right is very pleasant with views of walled fields and scattered rocky outcrops. You may catch a glimpse of Saul Church with its replica round tower and look out for the giant granite figure of Saint Patrick perched on top of Slieve Patrick.

After about a kilometre the path meets a T-junction with several adjacent gates. Turn left onto a narrow path with an ivy covered wall on the left and a conifer plantation on the right. After less than a kilometre, the path arrives at Ballyalton.

Walk through the village and take the road back to Lough Money. The road is usually quiet, but not traffic free. It passes through pleasant countryside and farmland, reaching the car park after about a kilometre.

Optional detour to Slievenagriddle

Turn left through an opening just after the first gate and stile on the loughside path and make your way up the grassy track between the trees.

The faint track through the trees leads to a path that is quite tightly fenced with barbed wire, but it must be negotiated with care to avoid damage to body or fence. To avoid the fence completely, the path can be accessed from a gate to the left of the car park, although the signage is somewhat unwelcoming. However, this is by far the more sensible option and it’s the same track – just a little further back.

Follow the course of the path as it widens and begins to veer left and upwards to the top of Slievenagriddle. The views broaden out to include Lough Money, Strangford Lough and the nearby hills.

The track can be muddy but as it gains height the surface improves along with the views.

St Patrick’s Monument on Slieve Patrick

The cairn takes a bit of finding, but a scout around the flattish summit should flush it out. The Grid Reference is IG J 528453.

Archaeologists describe the megalith as “a rare of example of an intact, unexamined hilltop tomb of which only the large capstone can be seen” and further contend that “its commanding position above a lake, offering vistas across the Irish Sea to the Isle of Man and Cumbria, and westwards towards the Mountains of Mourne suggests that it may be a small, derivative passage-tomb – or at least a megalithic kist”. Source: Slievenagriddle [The Giant’s Griddle] Burial Chamber (Dolmen) : The Megalithic Portal and Megalith Map:

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Please note: Despite strenuous efforts I was unable to discover whether access to Slievenagriddle is permitted. The sign at the beginning of the path is not encouraging; however, the area contains a number of ancient paths and laneways, several of which involve Slievenagriddle*. A local man with knowledge of the area told me that, in times gone by, people went for picnics there on Sundays. It is also obvious that the path to the summit is well used.

* See: The Pads of North Lecale, by Cadogan Enright and Duane Fitzsimons. This book is a comprehensive overview of traditional routes in the area. The publication is currently out of print, but may be available from local libraries.

Walk date

7 April 2021

Getting there

From Downpatrick, take the Bishopscourt/Ballyhornan Road. After about 2 miles, arrive at Ballyalton; drive through the village and take the sign for Lough Money and Ballyculter. Less than a mile further, arrive at Lough Money. There is room for a few cars in the anglers’ car park. If it is full, the walk can begin and end in Ballyalton where there is ample parking space at the Roadhouses Bar.

Distance walked

5km (3 miles) excluding detour; 7km (4½ miles) including detour

Time taken

2 to 3 hours

Weather

Temp 8˚C; overcast with sunny intervals, calm

This trek’s for you if…

…you enjoy a quiet, peaceful walk with very little by way of hills. The Slievenagriddle detour does involve a short steepish ascent, but the view from the cairn makes it worthwhile. Ground conditions are quite good for most of the walk, but expect the occasional muddy section – a short stretch of the Lecale Way approaching Ballystokes seems to be permanently muddy and often flooded, but is passable by sticking to the verge. The short segment of road walking is not traffic free, but is rarely busy.

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