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Hidden History on the Lecale Way

Posted on September 2, 2016 @ 3:37 PM in Walking

A 47 mile linear route, forming part of the Ulster Way, the Lecale Way in Co. Down extends from the heart of Downpatrick, taking in Strangford Lough and finishing in the seaside resort of Newcastle. Featuring stunning coastal walking, tower houses, castles and ancient monuments the route is full of fascinating stories as well as stunning coastal scenery. 

A local guide with a passion for history and folklore we were delighted that Duane from Lecale Pennuisula Tours wanted to share with us some of the hidden history of the route…

Lecale Way

An Ancient Pilgrim’s Path

The first section of the Lecale Way is largely the pilgrim’s path to Struell Wells. Following the incline of Scotch Street in Downpatrick it is hard to imagine this was the main route to Ballyhornan. Just as you reach the top of the hill is a quiet, grassy entrance to a large open space. Beguiling as the vista is this was a place of public execution in the 1700s. The town’s gallows were known by the name of the three sisters as they were constructed of three posts. You have to wonder about the fear of the weary pilgrims beholding this sight. Before diverging off on the Ballysallagh Road make sure to take in Struell Wells. Legend has it this spring was created by Saint Patrick. It was famous throughout the medieval era and a place to visit on Midsummer when the wells would overflow. Make sure to look out for Saint Patrick’s chair on the hillside above.

The Druids Ceremonial Ground

Coming over via Ballyalton toward Raholp you are following in the footsteps of Saint Patrick. However, the people long before him also left their mark. Around Lough Money you will find a large concentration of megaliths. This is the highest area of Lecale which makes it easy to relate why it was selected. Just before the clachan at Ballystokes is a carved stone with concentric rings. Atop Slieve-na-Griddle once stood a cromlech with outstanding views over Scrabo, the Isle of Man, and the Mournes. Heading just off the Lecale Way to the east at the head of Lough Money you can find near the roadside, in a field, Lough Money Cromlech and just a little further along the Carrownacaw Longstone. Of course in modern days the largest stone monument in the area is to be found on Slieve Patrick. Carved from Mourne granite in a quarry just outside of Castlewellan is the largest statue of Saint Patrick in the world. Look closer and you will discover that he is wearing a workman’s boot as well as a sandal in honour of the masons who carved him!

Lecale Way

Tales of Woe

Walking along the coastal path from Ballyhornan to Ardglass you can be totally unaware of the disaster that befell a ship one night in April 1797. This ship was carrying arms for the United Irishmen when it went down on the rocks of Sheepland. Of all the crew only the steersman survived as he huddled down between two sheep on that bleak snowy night. The locals who heard the disaster would not open their doors as they mistook the cries of the French crew for that of the banshee! Every day the Steersman walked the clifftop looking down upon the wreck site. It is said you can fish lobsters from one of the ship’s cannons.

Continuing along the pathway toward Ardglass is Ardtole Church. Looking from the north east on a clear day the Mournes provide a spectacular backdrop. This church stood when the Vikings were plundering the coast. It was rebuilt in the 1300s but abandoned in the 1400s after a cruel massacre by the local chieftain one Christmas Eve. A row was ongoing between him and is people over the price of cattle. They found him drunk and tied his beard to the briars he lay in. Having to cut his beard off to become free meant that he lost his symbol of standing. To avenge the insult, he set out that fateful night.

Visit WalkNI for route details for the Lecale Way and walk it yourself.

If you found that as fascinating as we did book a tour with Lecale Peninsula Tours and relive the history on a walking tour with Duane in this beautiful landscape with plenty of stories to tell! 

Duane Fitzsimons
Duane Fitzsimons  Owner at Lecale Peninsula Tours

Duane is a local guide with a passion for history and folklore. From his interest he has gone onto create The Lecale Peninsula Tours. These tours explore various sections of the Lecale Way through rambles and town walking trails. To Duane a walk is not just a mere scenic pathway but a cultural gateway to unlock the past. Details of the walks can be found on the website www.lecalepeninsula.com

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