Our Own Piece of Paradise

Jonathan Lamberton takes a walk on the wildlife side

One of the best places to take yourself, your family or your dog, for a walk in the UK is right on our doorsteps.

Oxford Island, on the southern shore of Lough Neagh, has been voted one of the best places to take a walk by the Good Dog Campaign.

Bird watching hides, nature walks, forests, 5 miles of pathway and views over Lough Neagh all combine to make it Northern Ireland’s favourite walk.

As if this wasn’t enough a child-friendly play park, paddling pond and the Lough Neagh Visitors Centre are all on the same site. The Visitors Centre bringing those essential ingredients to a day out, a café and rest area.

One of just five National Nature Reserves in Northern Ireland, it is managed in an environmentally friendly manner with biodiversity and conservation topping the agenda.

Along the disabled-friendly paths a variety of flowers can be spotted as well as some of the best chances to catch a glimpse of some of Ireland’s most endangered birds. Whooper and bewick’s swans, great-crested grebes and brent geese can all be spied from the bird hides.

The Good Dog Campaign survey of 3,000 people across the UK revealed almost three fifths of dog owners believe their pet is always the best way to get them and their family out in the fresh air.

The GDC is a local authority environmental programme from Masterfoods, supported by the National Dog Warden’s Association. It aims to help local authorities and dog wardens develop responsible dog ownership campaigns within their communities, to promote the positive aspects of dog ownership and raise the profile and role of dog wardens in this area of work.

Forty per cent also claimed that having a pet was much better than gym membership. Dogs are quick to remind you to exercise, and to exercise them. They are much more difficult to ignore.

Wendy Mardle, from the Good Dog Campaign, says of the Top 10 Walks Award, 'We really hope that this will encourage more families, whether they own a dog or not, to make the most of this free, healthy and educational family activity.'

Oxford Island is the first ever Northern Irish entry to win this annual award.

For those visitors who are expecting, or dreading, a trip to an island on a rickety boat fear not. Oxford Island is not actually an island but a peninsula. When the level of the water in Lough Neagh was higher over 100 years ago it was separated from the land by water. Today you won’t even get your feet wet, unless you go for a dip in the paddling pool that is.

Oxford Island also lies on route 94. No it’s not an American highway but a 128 mile cycle route around Lough Neagh. Established in 2003 the Loughshore trail makes up one of the most picturesque parts of the National Cycle Network in Northern Ireland.

Along the Loughshore trail there are 12 stamp points, one of which is at Oxford Island. Collect 6 stamps and you are entitled to a free commemorative t-shirt from loughshoretrail.com. Maps of route 94 and the other cycle routes across Northern Ireland are available from the same site.

Whether it is to spy some birds, cycle, have a family day out or take the dog for the walk, Oxford Island has it all to offer and makes for an outstanding day out.

Signposted off the M1, near Lisburn, it is easy to find. Oxford Island is open all year round with the visitor centre open from 10am to 5pm in winter and 10am to 6pm in summer months.