Portmuck Islandmagee County Antrim

Islandmagee is a peninsula on the east coast of Co.Antrim and in many ways its often disregarded by many in Northern Ireland given that its off the beaten path. Its very much a rural community there although it does house Ballylumford power station which provides Northern Ireland with half its electricity, but hidden away at the north eastern tip of Islandmagee lies Portmuck which really is worth a visit.

Portmuck doesn’t get its name from its hygienic condition, but rather from the old Irish word for pig which was “muc” therefore the label actually means harbour of pigs. A long time ago the area had a roaring trade in cattle, horses, and pigs so it looks like the swine managed to give the place its name (though some say its because the island off shore here looks like a sleeping pig but its open to question). The island is known simply as The Isle of Muck (lol) which was once a hiding place for horses when they were being smuggled across from Scotland by those wishing to avoid excise or having them taken away.ย  It was also a retreat for a few scamps on the run from the law.

 

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Some information you will see on arriving at the car park in Portmuck. You can read some notes about the history of the place and there are toilets and useful picnic benches nearby.

 

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The little beach at Portmuck and a view taken from the right side hill looking down on the harbour. Really very tranquil and peaceful.

 

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From the hill top overlooking Portmuck bay you can see The Isle of Muck (not to be confused with an island of the same name in Scotland) which today provides the third largest nature reserve for birds in Northern Ireland including kittiwake, guillemot, fulmar and razorbill with peregrine falcons commonly hunting over the island. You can catch sight of puffins, otters, common and grey seals and porpoises offshore too. The only way on to the island is by approaching from the land facing side (seen here).

 

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From the hill top you should see some wooden steps to take you down to the rocks below. I highly recommend you go down. Once there, walk right along the shore until you come to this beautiful white stoned beach. The water is stunningly clear as you look across to the island.

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Made up of mostly limestone pebbles (limestone is quite common along many shoreline parts of Co.Antrim) the beach here is hidden behind the headland at Portmuck and you wont see it unless you go look for it. Many of these stones will contain fossils and you can find them relatively easily if you know what to look for (just like Whitepark Bay https://niviews.com/2015/02/18/whitepark-bay-north-coast-county-antrim/ )

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The limestone beach in bright sunlight really glows and the camera probably hasn’t done it justice here. You might be able to see a line in the water cutting across to the island which is actually a causeway that can be used to walk over at very low tide. I don’t know anyone who’s done it but the old picture here (not mine) clearly shows that its possible when the tide drops low enough: https://i.imgsafe.org/1452c6cf49.jpg its also said that livestock (many years ago) where brought to and from the island this way. I have to say however, I think it looks a lot more beautiful when the causeway is covered by the sea.

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The edge of the causeway.

 

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Just beyond the beach lies some huge green cliffs which Ive read contains a two mouthed cave that may be accessible at low tide. Sadly this was as far as I could go today though.

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At the left side of the beach there’s a small gate that allows you access to walking a path high above Portmuck Bay (marked by this sign).

 

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Once at the top, the view was simply stunning….๐Ÿ™‚ You can see the Portmuck island just behind the bay.

Silent Valley Reservoir County Down

Its maybe hard to believe, but Northern Ireland was once short of water so someone decided to build a big storage place to gather all the rain that keeps falling on our heads for 364 days of the year (it seems) and they called it Silent Valley.

Silent Valley now supplies water for most of County Down and Belfast and it was built between 1923 & 1933 using a workforce of over 1000 men – 8 of whom died in the process. Its situated near Kilkeel and the water supply to fill the dam included diverting a river from Annalong which meant they had to tunnel a 3.62km hole through one of the Mourne mountains (Slieve Binnian) which was an amazing feat lit by using just candlelight.

Today, Silent Valley gets 50,000 visitors a year with most coming to experience the stunning views and make use of the many trails and walks around the area. The park has an information centre, a conference centre, and an education centre, all set inside some old bungalows (see below) and there’s a cafe there too. The famous Mourne Wall also cuts through the park which was constructed to mark out the catchment area for the Silent Valley dam. Its maybe not as good as the one in China but its still pretty impressive when you see it fade off into the distance.

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After parking your car (its ยฃ4.50 entrance fee for a car full of people at time of posting) you walk along the path before arriving at the information centre above. Nothing too impressive yet.

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Some information on the dam. Apparently the valley used to be called Happy Valley but its not certain why the name was changed (one idea about this is on the sign above). It really is incredibly quiet up there though. Spot the 2 crane flies.๐Ÿ™‚

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Your first view of the dam. The water was below the overflow level on the day I visited which drains excess water off via the circular construction thing you can see on the right of the picture. I’m not sure where the water goes when it disappears down the hole (maybe its how the devil gets his shower water) but if you want to see it in action there’s a small video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxUEfQd4mk4

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The first picture is looking up the reservoir from the walkway embankment. Even on an overcast day like this its still pretty impressive. The second picture is looking across from the left hand side of the water.

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A little bit of back story about the men who built the dam. They even had their own workers village called “Watertown” and you can still see some of the old foundations of Watertown next to this sign.

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There are 5 walking routes around Silent Valley with one to suit every ability. I did the “Mountain Trail” (3.4km) route which is considered moderately difficult but it really wasn’t that bad. It gives good views over the reservoir from the left hand side of the water (as you come in). This picture was taken from near the top of the mountain trail.

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As you descend from the Silent Valley mountain trail you’ll reach the Mourne Wall which usually becomes a feature of many of the Mourne mountain range walks given its meandering 22 miles of length. Its always stunning to see it disappear off into the distance.

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And finally, a little plaque in memory of the 8 men who died in construction of the dam (and one at Ben Crom dam too).

Portrush County Antrim

I posted (some time ago) a few pictures that I took at the furthest end of the East Strand at Portrush near a place called the White Rocks (named this way because of the colour of the limestone cliffs overlooking the bay) but I haven’t put up any pictures of the actual town area itself. Portrush is undoubtedly Northern Irelands premiere seaside resort with thousands visiting here in the Summer months taking advantage of its two long beaches, amusement rides, and some pretty decent dining too. We visited back in early June this year on a day during the school week, and as you can see the weather was absolutely stunning with very few people there at all – hard to believe, that just a few weeks later, the streets here would be mobbed with families and children. I have to say though, we like it much better when its quiet, particularly in Winter when it takes on a much more melancholy feel yet still retains a wild beauty with the waves crashing onto the shore. Its a great spot for an off season night away and the restaurants here (55 North, The Ramore Restaurant etc) are really excellent and always open.

 

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The iconic old railway station clock in Portrush, constructed in mock Tudor style and standing here since the station was completed in the early 1890s. A grandfather clock which stood inside the old station is now on display in Barrys Amusements (the entrance seen in picture 2) which is the largest theme park in Northern Ireland and hits its 90th birthday this year having opened in 1926. Barrys remains a huge draw for all visitors to Portrush and many have fond memories of visiting there as a child (including me)๐Ÿ™‚

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You might be forgiven for thinking the first picture here is some ocean going liner but it is in fact an area right in the centre of town created for sitting down and having a rest with huge fake masts giving the impression of a ship. If you get the angle just right with your camera the effect is pretty good. The second picture is of Portrushs other iconic landmark, The Arcadia, which is certainly the most photographed location in the town being built in the 1920s. It originally opened as a cafe (which it is today) but became a ballroom for dancing in 1953 and the large complex (now demolished) that once stood behind it played host to many concerts in the 70s and 80s seeing bands like The Stranglers, The Undertones, and Ian Dury play there. I remember the building itself even being a roller disco at one point but I guess I’m showing my age here. I have to say I find the Arcadia enthralling, there’s just something about it. If a building could speak it would have some stories to tell in its 90 years of life, and hopefully it has 90 more.

 

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There are 2 “strands” in Portrush (another name for its two long beaches at either side of the town) one being the West, and one being the East. The East Strand (seen above) regularly wins a blue flag for its water quality and amenities and its 2.5miles of gorgeous white sand and huge dunes (search “Portrush” on the site here to see pictures of those) really could compete with any of the beaches in Europe. Its a wonderful walk out here on a sunny day looking out to the off shore islands of The Skerries. Its not uncommon to see Basking sharks feeding along here too with their huge fins being visible from the beach (don’t be scared though, they’re harmless).

 

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The beach at the opposite side of town (the West Strand) which as you can see from the information sign here has enthralled visitors since the Victorian age. This little horse was out for a walk along the promenade the day we were there. Maybe hes a sea horse.๐Ÿ™‚

 

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Not a cloud in the sky…. A swathe of Portrush guesthouses overlooking the harbour. The second picture here showing the much lauded Portrush lifeboat which has been the saviour of many a poor soul finding themselves in difficulty in the waters around the town. If you look just to the left of the lifeboat you should be able to see the Ramore Restaurant complex which for many years has had a great reputation for good food when in the town – see here: http://www.ramorerestaurant.com/

 

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Portrush….. A great place to visit. Any time of the year.

Titanic Belfast, Titanic Quarter & SS Nomadic

Once again Ive fallen a bit behind with posting a months pictures as work (and our new house needing decorating) just got in the way. Sadly my May 2016 post sunk into oblivion and never came to fruition but (again) I really want to get things back on track particularly now that I’m paying for the website (as my free WordPress allowance burst its seams with the amount of pictures Ive posted haha).

So talking of things that sunk (see what I did there?) its time for a visit to the hugely popular Titanic Centre area of Belfast although I didn’t actually visit any of the exhibitions there, I just wandered around outside snapping the vast area of land it covers. But it was a really enjoyable walk and it was totally free.

 

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The huge Titanic sign at the main entrance to the exhibition centre. There’s car parking below the centre that costs ยฃ1.50 per hour and there’s a cafe inside too if you just wanted to visit the area and pop in.

 

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The June weather was wonderful on the day of my visit, and the Titanic building itself is pretty impressive dominating the skyline with every angle offering a different photo opportunity.

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Around the back of the Titanic building is Titanic Studios which used to be called the Paint Hall where all the components of the ships built here were painted and kept in climate controlled conditions. Today however, its actually much more interesting with the building becoming one of the biggest film studios in Europe, and being the filming location for movies and TV series such as City of Ember, Your Highness, Series 1 of Game of Thrones, and the very recent release of Ben Wheatleys “High Rise”.

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There are many signs and information boards around the area so you really don’t have to pay to see any of the exhibitions in the main building if you’re on a tight budget (and you can of course enter the building for free too).

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Please don’t climb up behind this lady whilst singing a Celine Dion song๐Ÿ™‚

 

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Across the road and facing the front of the Titanic Centre you can also visit the SS Nomadic which was tender to the Titanic and its also the last White Star Line surviving ship in the world.

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The SS Nomadic has been fully restored and for less then ยฃ8 you can go on board and look around.

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The Nomadic really has been restored to an excellent condition and looks fantastic sitting in the summer sunshine.

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Nomadic sitting on a shallow sea of algae. You can see how close it is to the Titanic building just to the left. Its a great little area for strolling around for a few hours for sure.

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And before I left I just had to snap one of these iconic yellow monsters piercing the blue sky of Belfast on such a lovely June day.

Whitepark Bay, County Antrim, Panorama View

Ive been a little busy this past month or so as our landlord decided to sell the house we’ve been renting (privately for 5 years) so we had to find another home (arrgh!) Its been a bit of a stressful time house-hunting but we finally found somewhere new and now its just a matter of getting everything packed up to move on. I really wanted to get a few pictures on the site for the month of April however as its almost over and I didn’t want to miss this months entry, so the two pictures below are just a quick post to fill the gap.๐Ÿ™‚

The two photographs below were taken (as always with my trusty compact camera) from the roadside overlooking the beautiful Whitepark Bay in County Antrim. Ive already posted some pictures of Whitepark before (see here:ย  https://niviews.com/2015/02/18/whitepark-bay-north-coast-county-antrim/ ) but not from such a high vantage point as seen here. The pictures were taken back in June 2015 on a glorious summers day, and basically the first one is looking left from our stopping point on the road and the other is looking right. A truly stunning vista….

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Looking left over Whitepark Bay, you can see the tiny village of Portbradden sitting just beyond the cliffs, and Fairhead is far off in the distance.

 

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Looking right, down to the south end of the bay where you can hunt for one of the many prehistoric fossils strewn along the shore. Whitepark is a beautiful (and almost always tranquil) spot on the renowned County Antrim coast.

 

See you next month…..๐Ÿ™‚

Bangor Castle, Bangor, County Down.

Bangor Castle was built for the Hon Robert Edward Ward and his family in 1852. It is presently the headquarters of North Down Borough Council who use the mansions spectacular grand salon as the council chamber. The building is situated in the grounds of Castle Park alongside North Down Museum and is just a short walk from Bangors Walled Garden.

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The castle can be hired reasonably cheaply for wedding services and is a popular venue for those seeking a non-religious event.

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Picture taken Christmas 2015 (spot the tree).

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Bangor Castle overlooks the town of Bangor and its really worth having a walk around it and Castle Park behind. The walled garden (about ten minutes walk away) has just been used in the brand new film by Ben Wheatley called High Rise.

 

 

 

 

Roe Valley Country Park, Limavady, County Derry

If you venture just a little further beyond the wonderful Causeway Coastal route, heading in the direction of Londonderry, you’ll come to the tranquil Roe Valley Park. The Country Park stands on the outskirts of Limavady, running three miles along the banks of the River Roe. The river plunges through spectacular gorges with banks shrouded in a mixture of woodland. We arrived early in the morning as the winter sun broke through the mist…

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A beautiful winters morning indeed.

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You can walk along one side of the river, crossing over a bridge, then coming back again which is a total of 3 miles. Its all on a flat path so its suitable for everyone.

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The river Roe here is a magnet for salmon and trout fishing.

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Reflections on the water, silhouettes in the mist.

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Such a calm and peaceful place to walk. Theres also a large tearoom near the park entrance to get some refreshments after youve returned.