“ Adress: 203A Scrabo Road / Newtownards / County Down / BT23 4SJ / Northern Ireland „
Anyone who has witnessed tourism adverts for Northern Ireland, may very well recognise this famous landmark, that sits 540 feet above sea level, but may not know its name. In fact, even though I live about an hour away from this historic site, I was not aware of its actual name until a few years ago. It is called Scrabo Tower, and it sits on top of Scrabo hill, surrounded by pretty woodland and old quarries.
A few weeks ago, hubby and I decided to visit this site for ourselves.
Scrabo Tower is located in Newtonards, County Down (about 12 miles from Belfast). Upon reaching the town, the tower and adjoining country park, is quite well sign posted, and you are required to drive along a steep narrow road for several miles until you approach Scrabo hill. Just beyong the car park for Scrabo Tower, is Scrabo Golf Club, views of which can be seem from the top of the tower.
The tower itself is open year round, although restrictions apply between October and Easter, when it is only open on Sundays (12pm -4pm). Betweem Easter and September, the tower remains open daily from 10am to 6pm.
The adjoining country park however, is less restricted, opening daily, 9am to 9pm Easter to September, and 9am to 5pm October to Easter.
One very important thing to note to all prospective visitors is that Scrabo Tower and Country Park are completely FREE. Free car park, free info about the woodland walks, and free admission into the tower, when open.
Upon reaching Scrabo hill, there is a rather small coach and car park, and on a busy day, (when we visited), spaces were hard to come by, and unfortunately once full, there was no were else to park, since the road up to the hill is predominately single lane. Toilets are available at the top of the car park.
After a little wait to find a car park space, we eventually got going, beginning our day by climbing to the tower itself. The tower is not a long walk from the car park, but it is VERY STEEP, and those who are not in reasonable health or fitness, would, in my opinion, probably do better to stick to the woodland walk or quarries, since the tower can be photographed extremely well from lower points. Due to the steepness of the paths leading to the tower, it is a popular place for children to visit during Easter time, when children can be seen rolling eggs down the hill, and unfortunately leaving a bit of a mess on the path, though it did look like fun!
After the steep climb to the top of Scrabo Hill, there are some terrific views of the surrounding county down countryside, as well as Strangford Lough. Goats and cattle graze on the surrounding hillsides.
The tower itself was built in 1857, in memory of the Third Marquis of Londonderry, and stands 125 feet high. You can read more about this important person on the website : www.scrabotower.com, which gives a lengthy history into the tower. In fact, according to the website, there is an inscription above the doorway informing visitors to whom this tower has been built in memory of. I have to confess I never noticed this, but it was almost blowing a gale outside, and I'm afraid we rather hastily took shelter inside.
Inside the doorway is a very small visitor information desk, where you can ask for maps of the woodland. purchase postcards, or simply ask more information about the site.
Beside this little information desk are the bottom of the 122 steps that lead to the top of the tower. These are rather narrow steps, although it is possible for people to pass safely going up or down. There are two interior floors to the tower, which offer both a breather from climbing the steps, and visual information about the tower. On the first floor, an introductory display has been set up to allow visitors to view old photographs and piece together a history of this site, as well as the opportunity to be photographed alongside a lifesize replica of a dinosaur. The second floor provides some seating to view an approx 10 minute audio visual, again, bringing to life the history of Scrabo Tower.
If you manage to reach the top of the tower, you are presented with outstanding views of County Down, Strangford Lough, the beautiful Mourne Mountains and even on a clear day, Belfast city. It was rather windy on the day we visited, making it difficult to get a steady photograph, but nonetheless, regardless of the weather, the views at the top are certainly worth the 122 step climb.
As already mentioned, this country park includes beautiful beech and hazel woodland and quarries to walk around. The Killynether Wood offers reasonably easy woodland tracks, and you can pick up a a map of some of these paths at the desk at the bottom of the tower. If you visit in Spring, like we did, you have the chance to see the wonderful display of bluebells that line the woodland floor. Details of the other woodland plants and flowers are given in the display boards on the first floor of the tower, and include: woodsage, potentilla etc.
There are walks available around the disused north and south quarries that used to be quarried for Scrabo sandstone (used in many of the historical buildings in belfast - such as Queens University and the Albert Clock), and used to be shipped across the world, before cheaper althernatives were found. These old quarries are still of major geological importance and have been given the title of 'Area of Special Scientific Interest'. There are also opportunities, if you are lucky, to see some birds such as ravens or jackdaws nestling in the sides of the quarry.
Although there are no actual eating facilites in the country park, there are several designated picnic areas, where you can enjoy a relaxed lunch, surrounded by beautiful views.
Cycling is not permitted in the country park, although dogs, kept on a leash are welcome.
All in all, this is a great place to visit for all the family, especially since it costs nothing!! Children will love the challenge of climbing the 122 steps to the top, and with lots of beautiful sceic walks, and picnic areas you can spend the entire day enjoying this great historic landmark. The audio visual displays inside the tower offer an excellent education and history into the construction of the tower, and the even the early settlers.
A great day out, not to be missed if you visit Northern Ireland, or like us, live not far away!
Scrabo Tower is one of Northern Irelands best known landmarks and we use the top floor of the tower to host a short audio visual show about the history of the local area and its wildlife.