Rough Island lies at the mouth of the Comber Estuary, where the Comber River flows into the Lough. This is the second largest input of fresh water into Strangford Lough. (The biggest is the Quoile River in the south west of the Lough.) Rough Island is situated at the upper end of Strangford Lough and has excellent views across the Lough and towards Scrabo Tower.
The Comber Estuary is one of the few places in Northern Ireland where rich and extensive salt marsh exists. It’s rarity makes it particularly valuable as a wildlife habitat. These flat, damp open spaces may appear bleak and devoid of life but are rich in plants specially adapted to life in salty waterlogged soil. They are a nutrient store for the Lough and an important part of the ecosystem. The main threats to the salt marsh come from development near the shore and erosion by the wind and waves.
One of the many species of plants on the sand flats is Eel Grass and every year over 20000 Pale Bellied Brent Geese migrate to these Northern sand flats to feed. These geese, which make up ¾ of the world population, travel over 3000 miles here every September from their breeding grounds in Arctic Canada. This is one of the longest goose migrations in the world. They are a spectacular sight to see as they fly low over the incoming tide. By early winter most of the geese have dispersed to bays and estuaries around the Irish Coast. Around April the geese begin their long journey back to their summer breeding grounds once more, stopping off in Iceland along the way.
The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and The National Trust donated the Totem Pole in the lower car park to Ards Borough Council. It was carved by a local artist, Owen Crawford, assisted by Comber Women's Group; the Totem Pole celebrates the cultural link between here and Canada and welcomes the geese back to Strangford Lough every winter.
Eel Grass is also the staple food of Widgeon. These ducks currently number around 2500 every winter, with most migrating here for the winter from the Baltic States. Other species of wildfowl and waders seen around the Island include Mallard, Teal, Shoveller, Pintail, Shelduck, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Knot, Dunlin and many others. You may also see different species of Swan and Geese, such as Mute and Whooper Swans and Greylag and Canada Geese, flying past on their way about the Lough.
If you are interested in bird watching in any shape or form Rough Island is certainly a good place to visit. Also just across the Lough from it lies the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust reserve at Castle Espie.
The Archaeology of Rough Island
In prehistoric times wanderers reached Strangford Lough, where food was plentiful and encamped on a safe place, an island, later called Slesny and later still Rough Island, at Island Hill. Here they caught any little animals that they could and. gathered berries, roots and nuts, while from the sea they caught fish, seabirds and gathered all kinds of shellfish. These were consumed at a communal eating place on the island, the shells being thrown on to one big heap, seven or eight feet high, to be found thousands of years later in 1936 by a team of Americans from Harvard University when they excavated the island for evidence of habitation. They came across an abundance of pottery remains, including Neolithic or Mesolithic bowls, flint axes and five blades finished in a style ‘unknown in the rest of Ireland’ – making Rough Island one of the richest sites of its kind in the country. They also uncovered a ‘midden’, seven or eight feet high, which was where these early inhabitants threw the shells and bones from the animals and shellfish they ate. Remains of these oyster shell middens can still be seen today on the eroded edges of the island. Further archaeological surveys were carried out by Queen’s University Belfast in 1997 on the island and in 2003 on the site of the new top car park. They found further prehistoric evidence including flints and a polished axe head.
Later these wandering people spread round all the shores of the Lough, which provided them with all their needs. They were river folk. This period lasted roughly until 4,000 B.C. These Mesolithic or Mid-Stone Age men were tall, strong and hairy with broad noses and. large foreheads. They were wanderers clothed in the skins of animals and carried heavy wooden clubs, wooden spears or flint hand-axes. They were quite satisfied to do no more than get enough food.
Rough Island was inhabited up until the early part of the 1900’s. The remains of the old farm cottage and its orchard can still be seen. Farming ceased on the island completely and the island in the 1950’s and the vegetation has since reverted to bramble and hawthorn. It is now owned and maintained by Ards Borough Council.
It has been a popular spot since then for recreation. The wooden stumps you can see on the shore as you walk down the causeway were part of a wooden jetty that was there in the 1960’s. The concrete causeway was built sometime after this.
The island can be reached via the causeway, however when the tide is in, the causeway becomes submerged. The tide on this part of the Lough comes in very quickly so be careful you don’t get caught out when on the island. If in doubt check the local tide times before you set out. The causeway usually only remains submerged for around an hour at high tide but this can be affected by the weather and the time of year. The walk across the causeway and around the island takes around ¾ of an hour or so. Be very careful if straying off the island on the surrounding areas as the ground is very soft and there are areas of quicksand present.
Also please be aware that this part of the Lough is in regular use by wildfowlers from the 1st of September until the 31st of January each year. So do not be alarmed if you encounter them. I may be one of them! The wildfowling on Strangford Lough is controlled by The National Trust under the Strangford Lough Wildlife Scheme.
The cache is hidden in a very well camouflaged tab lock box. Please ensure to use discretion when searching for the cache as this is a very popular area and eyes are everywhere. Also ensure that the cache is properly rehidden to prevent accidental discovery. The box contains a log book and the usual swaps. Please only trade up or even. Travel Bugs and Geocoins do not count as trade items.
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