Scrabo Hill, an AONB, rises dramatically above the town of Newtownards and the surrounding plain. The view from the hill is exceptional, extending across Strangford Lough to the Mourne Mountains, the Isle of Man and the Scottish coast. It has been a place of human habitation from the Mesolithic through the Bronze and Iron Ages; the density and number of hut circles and the remains of an extensive hill fort indicate that it may have been one of the largest communal settlements in Ireland.
Scrabo is famous for its sandstone which has been exploited in a number of quarries designated an Area of Special Scientific Interest. The sandstone formed during the Triassic (160-190 million years ago), when this part of Ireland lay at the fringes of a vast desert; the climate was hot and punctuated by periods of torrential rain that caused severe erosion, depositing enormous quantities of sand in rivers and shallow lakes which later became rock. During the Tertiary, these sandstones were heated and intruded by a dolerite sill which formed a hard cap on the crag and tail of Scrabo Hill, protecting the sandstone from erosion, and scouring by later ice sheets.
Today, the hill is part of the Scrabo Country Park and is marked by an iconic tower at its summit. Built to the design of Charles Lanyon and W H Lynn, and stylistically similar to a Scottish watch tower, it was erected in 1857 and financed by local people to commemorate Charles William Stewart, 3rd Marquis of Londonderry, as a mark of their gratitude for his efforts in alleviating poverty during the famine. Costing over £3,000, the tower is 41 metres high; its walls, over a metre thick, are constructed of Scrabo dolerite. The roof, stairs, quoins and window dressings are of Scrabo sandstone.
Lying unoccupied after the last tenants left in 1966, the tower deteriorated until the DoE (NI) undertook a programme of structural and remedial works. In 1983 it opened to the public during the summer months housing a centre for the Countryside and Wildlife Branch of the DoE and contained a permanent exhibition about the Country Park and the surrounding countryside. Visitors were able to climb the 122 steps to a viewing platform at the top of the tower for unsurpassed panoramic vistas. However, in April 2014 the tower was closed to the public on safety grounds following water damage to its electrical system.
From the Newtownards or the Comber bypass, follow the signs for Scrabo Country Park and drive uphill to its main car park. The summit can be reached in a few minutes by following a steep tarmac track uphill. Follow the 3.7 km circular route exploring the old sandstone quarries to lengthen your visit. Linkback: mountainviews.ie/summit/1489/comment/18172/