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The largest lake in the British Isles is Lough Neagh in the centre of Northern Ireland- at 388 sq km it is tiny compared to Europe’s largest lake, Ladoga in Russia which is around 17,700 sq km. Legend has it that this large indent was caused by Finn McCool who picked up a clod of earth to throw at a Scottish rival. The clod of earth missed and landed in the Irish Sea to form the Isle of Man whilst the crater left behind filled with water to become Lough Neagh. More prosaically geologists believe it was formed by a larva dome that collapsed many millenia ago, think I’ll stick with the story of warring giants! Today it is a winter home to whooping swans from Iceland and with the leaves off the trees we thought it would be a good time to explore some of its fringes by car and do a little wildlife spotting.

We started at the rather disappointing Discovery Centre on Oxford Island (that is no longer an island) and took a short walk out to the local sailing club’s race box. The centre hosts a tourist information office (where the lady between phone calls provided us with a map of the roads around the lake), a knick-knack shop and a cafe but apart from a list of recent bird sightings there was little on the wildlife, the impact of the industrial scale peat extraction, the towns or the sites of historic interest around the lake’s shores. This is a shame but on our drive through some stunning countryside we discovered for ourselves the fascinating little cemetery on the site of the ancient abbey founded by St Colman (he was an Irishman who was educated on Iona before returning to his native land) and the nearby Celtic cross.

Lough Neagh

Lough Neagh

Race box, Lough Neagh

Sailing Club Race Box

St Colman's Abbey Lough Neagh

Turnstile, St Colman’s Abbey

Lough Neagh

View of Lough Neagh from St Colman’s graveyard

St Colman's Abbey, Lough Neagh

Graves inside the medieval church, St Colman’s Abbey

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Ardboe High Cross – carved in the ninth or tenth century