Shining a light on Strangford Lough in new BBC NI documentary

A new four-part documentary follows a year on Strangford Lough, the largest sea inlet in the UK.

By Graeme Cousins
Sunday, 16th January 2022, 7:00 pm
Strangford Lough is the largest sea inlet in the UK
Strangford Lough is the largest sea inlet in the UK

Narrated by Armagh-born actor Colin Morgan, The Chronicles of Strangford starts on BBC One Northern Ireland tomorrow night at 7.30pm.

The story of the lough is told through the people who live and work there, preserving traditions and protecting the wildlife that shares their home.

‘The Chronicles of Strangford’ is the fourth instalment in Waddell Media’s critically acclaimed ‘Chronicles’ series, which has included ‘The Chronicles of Mourne’, ‘The Chronicles of Erne’ and ‘Chronicles of the Glens’.

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Marine biologist Christine Picton

Like those series, it is filmed using a variety of techniques including drones and time-lapse photography, which bring familiar landscapes and secret corners of the lough to life in a spectacular fashion.

Strangford Lough gets its name from the Vikings who knew it as “strong fjord”, after its powerful tides.

Four times a day 400 million gallons of water are pushed and pulled through the lough, creating whirlpools and eddies in the narrows to the south and shaping the shallow shorelines to the north.

The tidal waters flood the lough with nutrients that feed a diverse variety of marine life, some of which is still being discovered.

‘The Ferryman’ John Murray

The lough was known in ancient Irish as Loch Cuan, which can be translated as harbour lake.

It’s an apt name as its many islands offer shelter and sanctuary to a huge range of wildlife, many of whom treat it as a temporary home before they move elsewhere.

The show features John Murray, known as the ‘Ferry Man’ and custodian of the lough.

He reads the tides and weather, and has seen huge changes in his hometown of Portaferry over his 84 years. The Murrays are now in their sixth generation of ferrymen.

John himself was an engineer of the very first Strangford/Portaferry car ferry, filming the launch in 1969 on a super 8 camera.

He has spent his life around boats and has built many including the St Brendan heritage tour boat which he built with his son John 30 years ago. It is moored practically at his front door and he takes great comfort watching it out of his bedroom window.

St Brendan takes tours out in summer months for angling and lobster fishing and wildlife spotting, as well as stags, hens and even funerals. His Grandson Tom is now also taking a hand in captaining the boat and takes great pride in being part of the Murray extended family.

“All water should be respected,” said John.

The show also includes seabed and shore surveyor Christine Picton.

Christine, who manages ShoreNI, has a diving licence and films underwater surveys, all in a mission to document coastal marine wildlife, which in turn will improve our knowledge and understanding of some of the most important species along our coastlines.

She said: “Everything else gets shut out when I am engaged with nature – it’s spellbinding.”