There are many castles in Northern Ireland but Castle Espie is not one of them. Despite the name Espie is not a castle. It is a wetlands wildfowl reserve, a place you can visit with your family and see a host of rare and beautiful bird species. It is run by the UK’s premier wildfowl wetlands trust the WWT.
The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust is a leading conservation organization. It was founded in 1946 by sir Peter Scott, a respected artist and naturalist. The Trust’s purpose is to save wetlands and their wildlife and raise awareness of issues that may affect their survival. It currently runs nine wetland visitor centres, six in England and one each in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The vision is to expand beyond the borders of the UK and help create a worldwide network of healthy and productive wetlands. For more information and support you can visit their website by clicking here.
Castle Espie is located on the shores of Strangford Lough, a large body of inland sea, a gulf that starts at Portaferry and extends all the way to Newtonwards. The area were Castle Espie is located used to be a limestone quarry and a farm. In 1990 it was officially opened as a wetlands wildfowl reserve.We visited on a sunny but cool spring day. When the sun was shinning bright the temperature was lovely and warm but when clouds covered the sun it was quite chilly. Nonetheless it was a lovely visit. The place was not crowded with only a few dozen visitors. The reserve holds a high percentage of the world’s population of Light-Bellied Brent Geese. It also has the largest collection of ducks, geese and swans in Ireland.
The main part of the reserve consists of a scenic path. It goes past a set of small lakes or ponds where many of the birds spend much of their time. The path then winds through a wooded area and goes close to the shore of Strangford Lough. There are lookout points where you can stop and looked out to the Lough, the natural habitat for many bird species. The whole experience can take anything from two to four or more hours, depending on how much you are into birds and bird watching. We are not bird watchers but before the visit took the time to read well through introductory guides into the fowl life. This means that when we were there we were able to give useful information to the children explaining about the different birds, their colors and their habits. This made the whole experience much more interesting and educational for them.
There is also a café and gift store on site as well as a small play area for children. The staff is very friendly and will be happy to answer any questions you have about the reserve and the habits of the birds.
How to Find Castle Espie
If you are coming from the Belfast direction follow the signs to Comber, about 10 miles south east of the city. From Comber take the A22 towards Killyleagh. The reserve is located 2.5 miles outside Comber on the Ballydrain road and is well signposted. Free parking is available. If you are coming from the southern areas of County Down just follow any of the roads that lead to Comber and then you will be able to find it easily.
Castle Espie is an excellent place to spend a morning or an afternoon or even a day at Castle Espie, especially if you have children or are into bird watching. What we would advise is that to make the visit more interesting for children read well about the birds that you are likely to see there so that you can tell them about it and make it more enjoyable for them, and you will know what you are looking for.
WWT Castle Espie Wetland Centre
78 Ballydrain Road, Comber, Co Down,
N Ireland BT23 6EA
T: 028 9187 4146
F: 028 9187 3857
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