Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom

Lake Locations:

United Kingdom - Northern Ireland - Down -

Also known as:  Strangford Lake, Loch Cuan, Strangford

Strangford Lough (Lake) is a 37,066-acre inland, tidal, salt water lake off the east coast of County Down in Northern Ireland. Separated from the Irish Sea by the Ards Peninsula, the lake is almost totally landlocked. An eight-mile long, fast-running channel known as the Narrows leads into the more gentle waters of the main body of the lake. The lake’s unique habitat makes it a popular spot for migrating birds, and over 45,000 wintering waterfowl use the lake as a stopover. The lake’s sparkling water is also popular with tourists and visitors from around the world who are attracted to the charming villages and townships which border the lake.

Approximately one third of Strangford Lough is intertidal, and large areas of sandflats become exposed at the northern end during low tide. At high tide, this area is completely covered in shallow water. The lake’s unique marine environment and variety of habitats have caused it to become Northern Ireland’s first marine nature reserve. Over 2,000 marine animals and plant species live in the lake and provide food for wintering waterfowl, native wading birds and breeding sea birds. The lake also supports the largest breeding population of common seals in Northern Ireland. Porpoises and whales from the Irish Sea occasionally visit the area as well.

A unique feature of Strangford Lough is its abundant rocky outcrops called pladdies which form shallow tidal reefs on the eastern shore. On the western shore, rounded hills of boulder clay called drumlins are the remains of melting ice sheets from the end of the last Ice Age. According to local legend, there are a total of 365 islands in Strangford Lough, one for every day of the year. The islands provide protection for nesting birds and kayaking and canoeing adventures for paddlers. Seventy of the islands are large enough for exploring and picnicking. Completed in 2008, the Strangford Lough Canoe Trail provides 80 square nautical miles of paddling paradise. The trail can be enjoyed by canoeists of all abilities and winds its way through various scenic stops on the lake.

Despite being a nature reserve, fishing, boating, sailing, swimming, diving, snorkeling and most forms of recreation are allowed on Strangford Lough. Local residents have two names for the lake. When calm and peaceful, the lake is referred to by its Irish name – Loch Cuan, meaning “calm lake.” When the surface turns darks and the tidal waves roll in, the lake is called by its Viking name – Strangford, meaning “the strong fiord.” Boaters on the lake need to pay attention to the tide. The current can become strong making navigation difficult. In the Narrows, the current is always extremely strong and can be up to eight knots. The villages of Portaferry and Strangford sit less than a mile apart from each other on opposite sides of the Narrows. To travel from one city to the other, a passenger/car ferry service operates every 15 minutes between the villages. The alternative to the ferry is a 47-mile road journey which takes about an hour and a half. The ferry crosses the 0.6 nautical miles in 8 minutes.

In 2007, a 1.2 megawatt underwater tidal electricity generator, part of Northern Ireland’s Environment and Renewable Energy Fund program, was placed in the Narrows of Strangford Lough. The generator is powerful enough to power up to a thousand homes, and the turbine has a minimal impact on the environment. The generator’s potential for renewable energy is still being studied.

Fishing in Strangford Lough is popular with both tourists and residents. Boat fishing is best in the bays and inlets around the jagged 100 miles of shoreline. Codling, turbot, whiting, haddock, mackerel, mullet, seatrout, spurdog, huss, thornback ray, skate, tope, and wrasse can be found throughout the lake. Skate and tope are a protected species in the lake, and must be returned to the water if caught. Fishing guides are available to take tourists out onto the water and to the Irish Sea for those who prefer deep sea fishing. Saltwater fly fishing is also a popular sport and a favorite of paddlers. For those who are new to fly fishing, fly fishing schools in the area will be more than happy to give you a lesson and rent equipment needed to catch that trophy seatrout.

Accommodations on and near Strangford Lough are numerous. Hotels, bed and breakfasts, guesthouses, hostels and self-catering cottages are available for those on holiday. Additional holiday homes and cottages can be found in the villages of Strangford, Whiterock, and Portaferry which cater to tourists and visitors. For campers, camping sites and caravan parks can be found throughout County Down. Those seeking a summer or permanent home will find real estate of all shapes, sizes and price ranges around the lake.

For the outdoor enthusiast, the beautiful and rugged landscape of Strangford Lough offers unlimited hiking, biking, and wildlife watching opportunities. Hiking, cycling, and pony trekking trails can be found around the lake along with lakefront parks, wildlife centers, and picnic areas. A highlight of the fall season is the arrival of the of the pale-bellied Brent geese after a nearly 2,000 mile journey from Arctic Canada. Up to 15,000 birds gather to feed on eel-grass growing across the northern sandflats.

Villages along the shores of Strangford Lough offer much to see and do. With a history that goes back over 7,000 years, County Down has a wealth of historic sites, the most famous being Downpatrick, where Saint Patrick is said to be buried. Museums, castle ruins, an aquarium in Portaferry (the only aquarium open to the public in Northern Ireland), the Ballycopeland windmill, garden tours, and shopping and dining opportunities will keep visitors busy. Belfast, the largest city and the capital of Northern Ireland, is just 13 miles from the northern end of the lake.

Whether it’s the sensational scenery or character and charm of the area, Strangford Lough is renowned for its friendly people and natural beauty. The largest sea lough in the British Isles, Strangford Lough offers a unique and tranquil habitat for its resident wildlife and visitors of all kinds. Take a ferry across the Narrows, paddle around hundreds of ancient islands, or enjoy a traditional Irish meal and cold drink at a local pub. Even the most seasoned traveler will find the area well worth the trip.

Things to do at Strangford Lough

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Snorkeling
  • Camping
  • Picnicking
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • Museum
  • Ruins
  • Shopping

Fish species found at Strangford Lough

  • Eel
  • Mackerel

Strangford Lough Photo Gallery

Strangford Lough Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Saltwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 37,066 acres

Shoreline Length: 100 miles

Average Depth: 32 feet

Maximum Depth: 216 feet

Water Volume: 1,053,927,152 acre-feet

Drainage Area: 298 sq. miles

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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