Ballintoy, County Antrim. Game of Thrones, Pyke Harbour

So not long now until the premiere of Season 5 of Game of Thrones (12th April 2015) so I thought Id mark that with a little mention of Ballintoy which substituted as Pyke Harbour in Season 2 of the series. A permanent plaque stands there now for visiting fans to read and it looks as if Northern Ireland will be home to the show for a while longer as Season 6 will also be filmed here. Ballintoy is a quiet little village with an attractive small harbour, but walk left around the headland and it has some amazing scenery. There are also some caves you can enter (though you may need wellingtons). 

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Some information.

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Do you remember this place? Its probably pretty recognizable as Pyke harbour even without the special effects.

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On the left is Roarks Kitchen, which is a little cottage style cafe that’s been serving lovely food here for 35yrs. And on the right is another view of the harbour used in Game of Thrones.

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Now follow the path left, walking away from the harbour and past this little house (there’s a cave before you get there you could maybe walk into, though it might have some shallow water in it).

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The view ahead.

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You can climb up some of the huge grass covered rocks (be careful) which have trails left by local sheep. Once at the top of this one, the view back to the harbour is quite amazing (you should be able to see it in the distance here).

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A huge eroded arch just off the shore, and a bit further out…….. arrrgh….. a shark!! 🙂

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Its easy to see here how vast the immediate landscape is, with all its greenery, yet having a look like some strange alien planet. And in this first picture you might just be able to see a little church on top of the hill. This is Ballintoy church, built in 1813 and seen closer in the second picture. Ballintoy is definitely worth stopping off at if you’re visiting the north coast, even if you’re not a fan of Game of Thrones 🙂

Cushendall & Cushendun, County Antrim.

Less than 5mls apart and on the much travelled A2 (the Antrim Coast road) Cushendall and Cushendun are pretty sleepy little villages that sit below the imposing Glens of Antrim and the table-top Lurigethan Mountain. Cushendun is likely the quieter of the two, but it boasts a long stretch of sandy beach and on a clear day you can see The Mull of Kintyre in Scotland as its only 15 or 16mls away. Both towns sit in a designated area of outstanding natural beauty (sometimes seen as AONB on maps) and there are many splendid walks and drives around the locale. Five miles inland from Cushendall is Glenariff Forest Park which Ive posted a few pictures of already, but intend to return to soon. The entire area really is beautiful.

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So what do you think of this little tower in Cushendall High Street? Its called the Curfew Tower and was built to confine riotous prisoners in 1817. Dan McBride, an army pensioner, was given the job of permanent garrison here and was armed with one musket, a bayonet, a brace of pistols and a thirteen-feet-long pike. But that’s not the end of its interesting tale. Today the Curfew Tower is owned by none other than Bill Drummond, and if you know your UK music scene of the 80s and 90s you’ll know he was co-founder of The KLF who had worldwide hits with songs such as 3am Eternal, Justified & Ancient, What Time Is Love, and (my favourite) Last train To Transcentral. They also (infamously) set fire to £1million in 1994 on the island of Jura in Scotland and filmed the whole thing (I dont know why but I actually find that incredibly funny). Anyway, the tower is used now for various artists and their work (on loan from Mr Drummond). Quite a strange history for the building then.

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Cushendall seafront…. and if you’re anything like me you’ll be thinking of a certain movie from the 1970s by Mr Spielberg right now. Yes, you could easily see a giant spaceship land up there as per Close Encounters of the Third Kind haha. This is Lurigethan Mountain which is pretty impressive on first sighting. Its actually the end of a long piece of plateau but from the right angle looks like a stand alone peak. We really hope to return to this area again very soon as the weather in Winter was extremely cold and very changeable.

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The Cushendall seashore.

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It probably looks like a balmy Summers day here but this was instead a pretty cold February one!

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Theres a cliff path from the Western side of the shore (behind the little kids playpark) that gives a great view over the entire bay. This picture was taken from the top.

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Five miles along the coast, this is Cushendun.

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It has a long sweeping beach and I suppose it would be pretty busy on a warm day, but today it was quite quiet.

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Lying at the mouth of the River Dun, this is Cushendun Bridge. Most of the town was designated a conservation area in the 1980s.

Dunseverick Grasslands, Causeway Coast, County Antrim

Having already posted Dunseverick Castle a little while ago, Im going to post a few pictures of what lies beyond there and Dunseverick Harbour. And I have to say, I can barely put into words how outstanding this part of the Causeway Coast Walk is, it really is mind blowing. And on a day like the one we had there, I doubt you’ll find anywhere on the entire island of Ireland that looks so awesome for its pure natural beauty.

As ever, all pictures are pretty high definition so they might take a little while to open on a mobile phone (you might have to wait for them to focus). All were still taken with nothing but a compact camera however. Something I always intend to do on this site as an encouragement to those believing you need a huge camera to take a decent picture . Not true. 😀

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Less than 3.5mls from the Giants Causeway, lies the ruins of Dunseverick Castle. Ive already given details of it (and some pictures) on an earlier post, so I wont go into it again. But once you arrive at the small roadside car park (overlooking the remnants of the building), climb the right hand side wooden stile over the wall there, and continue going right around the headland. This is the beginning of whats known as the Dunseverick grasslands, and I guess the picture above speaks for itself.

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Looking ahead as we walked on towards Dunseverick harbour from the castle.

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The expanse of gorgeous rugged coastline before you really is dumbfounding.

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It doesn’t get any more dramatic than this in Northern Ireland.

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It kinda felt like the opening scenes from the movie Prometheus at this point, so primordial, so raw and pure, a world free from anything at all but water and plant life.

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Those ridges are the scars of some long past human habitation.

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I wish I could convey the sound and the vibrations we felt watching this sight. A whirling pool of awesome ocean power, like the planets largest washing machine churning its way through rocks and sand. The waves sounded like huge bass bin explosions going off, and if you ever wondered just how a bit of swirling water could cause the kind of erosion you were told about in school geography lessons, a few minutes standing here would easy confirm it all. Amazing!!

Whitepark Bay, North Coast, County Antrim

White Park Bay (also spelled Whitepark Bay) is a bay and three-mile long beach located near Ballycastle, County Antrim on the north coast along the Giant’s Causeway Coastal Route.

Whitepark Bay hosts a great display of Ireland’s geological past with many fossils scattered at the Southern end of the beach which can be found pretty easily. On the day we were there, we found 7 rocks within 15 minutes containing fossilized remains. The cliffs on both West and East sides of the bay are composed of Upper Cretaceous (Santonian- lower Maastrichtian) chalk. The chalk itself is a form of limestone composed almost entirely of Calcium Carbonate. This chalk formed late during the Cretaceous period, a time when many marine transgressions took place, and much of the continents were under water- as was Ireland. The cliffs at White Park Bay are rich in fragments of the belemnite, a form of early squid. You can spend hours here combing the white beach and examining the little white rocks (the fossils only seem to be in those). The sound is amazing as they roll in and out with the waves.

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The first sign we saw after parking our car in the car park.

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Across the meadow to your left is Portbradden in the distance.

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As you saw on the sign above, this used to be an 18th Century “Hedge School” for young gentlemen. Based on the sign on the building now though, it seems some non-gentlemen damaged it in the past. I’m not really sure however what the sign is referring to (to be honest) as the building looks as if its been a ruin for a very long time. Anyway, you’ll pass it on your way down to the beach.

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More information on this special beach on the North coast

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Reflections of the dramatic Winter sky on the wet sand at Whitepark Bay. Portbradden (again) in the distance.

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The pictures here probably don’t do the place justice, but when the sun comes out, the beach just glows white. And any one of those stones you see here could contain a real fossil.

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This is a picture of a few we took home. Maybe not the greatest fossils ever, but we found these while hardly even looking. And that shell at the back is actually completely fossilized, its solid stone, (even though it looks just like a normal shell). Amazing stuff!

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Youll see this sign as you leave Whitepark. I expect it only means you cant take the sand or fine gravel away (not one of the millions of rocks) as the tourist info for the Bay encourages hunting for them. We cant wait to go back.

Whitehead, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

Whitehead, on the opposite side of Belfast Lough to Bangor, actually used to be one of Northern Irelands premier seaside resorts in the early to mid 20th Century. In a lot of ways its hard to imagine that now but the current reinstating of the famous “Gobbins Path” along the Blackhead cliff edge here could well bring thousands more visitors to the area as in its heyday the path drew crowds from across the country.

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The path (seen above on a postcard from 1902) gradually fell into disrepair and crumbled into the ocean, and its been closed for decades now. But back in 2013 work began to rebuild it where its expected to reopen again later this year. The tubular section above was replaced a few months ago and can be seen here: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/northern-ireland/54-ton-bridge-craned-in-to-cliffhugging-gobbins-coastal-path-near-larne-30685152.html Whitehead is the home of the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland, and in the mid 1970s Sting (aka Gordon Sumner) from The Police lived here with his ex-wife Frances Tomelty, a Northern Irish actress. Its a quiet and not unattractive little town with some nice walks along the lough shore.

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The colorful houses along the promenade.

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Looking towards Whitehead from the small beach. If you look really closely to the far left you can see a steam train heading for Belfast.

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A plane descends along Belfast Lough for the city airport.

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An early Winter morning at Whitehead.

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A panoramic view of the bay.

Tyrella Beach, County Down, December 28th 2014

Like most, we sat in the house over Christmas, eating, drinking, watching (terrible) TV, with some eating, and drinking (sorry, did I say that already?) and by the time the 28th of December came we decided we just had to get the hell out of the house as we felt like stuffed pigs. Luckily, the weather was amazing (though cold) so we headed off in the direction of Castlewellan (near Newcastle, Co.Down) to explore a little. After a few well needed coffees, and about a 40 minute drive, we followed the sign for Tyrella beach…

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Tyrella is situated in an “Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty” within Dundrum Bay. It is backed by a great sand dune complex with winding pathways where you can enjoy a sheltered walk.

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Our view from the car park as we arrived.

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Looking like Kilimanjaro, this is a relatively uncommon shot of Slieve Donard (part of the Mourne Mountains) sprinkled with snow on a blazing sunny day. It is the tallest mountain peak in Northern Ireland.

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A whole galaxy of rag worm sand casts at low tide Tyrella beach.

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The deserted sands at Tyrella, just 3 days after Christmas 2014.

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A rider and horse the only other living thing we saw that morning.

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A beautiful scene.

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Our final view before we headed back to our car for the trip to Castlewellan Forest Park, just a few miles up the road.

Benone Strand and Magilligan Point.

Pretty much at the end of our trip along Downhill and Binevenagh now with just these last two places to visit before the drive home. We had a great time, and to see an area so lovely within your own country is amazing. So many things to view around here, and a cool November couple of days changed nothing. Who needs the summer? Hopefully this collection of pictures from a designated area of outstanding natural beauty will entice you to visit too.

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Our car on Benone beach. Winter Sun creating a stark contrast between sky and sand.

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Looks like a horse trotted along here.

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If you look really hard you can see Mussenden Temple in the distance back at Downhill.

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“Nobody on the road, nobody on the beach, a feeling in the air, the Summers out of reach…”

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The Point Bar at Magilligan. You can get the ferry across Lough Foyle from here.

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(From Discover NI Website):

The Martello tower at Magilligan is a well known landmark, built between 1812 and 1817 during the Napoleonic Wars, to guard against possible French invasion.

It was one of 74 constructed in Ireland, 40 or so survive. They were placed at strategic points all around the coast and designed to fire on any invading fleet or withstand lengthy sieges. This tower marks the end of a long tradition in Ireland of defensive buildings stretching back over 3,000 years to Bronze Age forts.

The walls are over 9ft thick and built of imported stone. There are three floors. The top floor housed a twenty-four pound gun able to swivel and shoot in any direction. A small furnace was used to heat the shot in order to set wooden ships on fire. The middle floor was the living quarters for one officer and twelve men. Below is the cellar. This is reached by a spiral staircase. There is a water well and storage rooms for gunpowder and food. The entrance to the tower has been changed. An iron staircase now replaces the original wooden ladder.

Living History events take place here at the Tower during the summer months.

Martello Tower lies within Magilligan Point Nature Reserve which is the tip of Northern Ireland’s largest sand dune system. The ever changing tides and storm events constantly change the profile of the beach, dunes and shape of the ‘Point’ itself. The mature or ‘grey dunes’ have established populations of various mosses, lichens, grasses, herbs and higher flowering plants providing a good nectar source for a variety of bee, butterfly and moth species. The rare Scarce Crimson and Gold moth, which is only found on the North Coast, has been recorded here.

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Sun sets before our drive home.

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Throw your TV away and get out and explore. 😉