Oxford Island is one of Northern Ireland’s prime conservation areas. On a peninsula jutting into Lough Neagh – the largest lake in Britain and Ireland – this national nature reserve is a tranquil retreat, far away from the hustle and bustle of daily family life.
It is busy with wildlife though – especially as a sanctuary for wintering wildfowl. Guided trails lead around the reserve, leisurely passing along the shore and through woodland that was planted around forty years ago. On the route you’ll pass by meadows that are home to Irish breeds of cattle. You’ll also come across picnic areas, play parks and ponds with plenty of ducks and swans splashing around and hoping to be fed. There are five bird hides dotted along the shore – spend time in these to see how many of the wildfowl and songbirds you can identify. Kinnego Marina is in the reserve and is also the largest marina on Lough Neagh – from here, for a charge, visitors, including wheelchair users, can enjoy a pre-booked relaxing trip on the lake in the Master McGra vessel.
The Discovery Centre is a recently refurbished building in the reserve – here you’ll find a reception desk, café, shop and tourist information desk. From time to time, exhibitions are run in the centre too. The centre has accessible parking, and is a good place to start an exploration of the island. There are several car parks in the reserve, so if you have trouble covering long distances then it makes sense to drive from car park to car park and explore the surrounding area of each one. The marina has two car parks, with plenty of designated disabled spaces, although there is generally plenty of space between cars. Two Shopmobility powered scooters are available from the Discovery Centre. Most of the paths in the reserve are either tarmac or compact gravel and easily accessible for wheelchair users. Unfortunately, there are few routes that have rest seats, although there are numerous picnic areas to stop at. Many of the play areas are fenced and the Discovery Centre and Kinnego Marina have safety flooring. The only wheelchair accessible hide is called Kinnego (despite not being near the marina) – the closest car park to this is at Artscape (a facility on the island for artists to work in), where there is one designated space. The car park is a four-minute walk or push away from the hide. The disabled toilet at the marina requires a RADAR key.
Food & drink: The Loughside Café in the modern Discovery Centre serves breakfast, lunch and afternoon snacks. The soups, sandwiches, cakes and warm dish of the day are all reasonably priced.