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) 🙂

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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. 🙂

 

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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.

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.

 

 

 

 

Helens Bay, Co.Down 10th January 2016

I haven’t posted anything in a while with a few personal things going on, but new year brings new intentions to get things going again, and as ever, the idea is to show just what Northern Ireland has to offer beyond its troubles of the past and its big ship that sunk in the night. There’s much more to our tiny country than those black taxis around tainted murals, or even the wonderful Giants Causeway. Have a look and see what has lay hidden for decades from most travellers eyes, and where most sights are never more than 120mins apart.

All photos were taken with only my Sony compact camera, so my pictures actually are of what you will see (no hyper-realistic SLR pix here as I prefer to show reality). Heres to a great new year of 2016 and I hope it brings each and every one of you much happiness 😀

 

 

HELENS BAY – SEAHILL Coastal path, on the evening of January 10th 2016

 

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The weather in the north of Ireland (in fact all of the UK and Ireland) has been the wettest ever on record this winter, so we’ve barely seen the sun in weeks. Last night however there was a little glimmer of gold as the day began to fade so we went out for a walk along the shores of Belfast Lough and grabbed a few pics.

 

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You cant really see it here, but this is looking across the lough towards Carrickfergus from Helens Bay

 

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A rocky beach between Helens Bay and Seahill

 

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You might just be able to see a little bench to sit on to the left here, but we decided not to given it was very, very cold!

 

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After all that rain, much of the path was muddy and puddled, but it made a nice feature in this picture.

 

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Daylight almost gone now, the last embers of light fading into a January night.

Kinbane Castle, Ballycastle, County Antrim

Kinbane Castle isnt really a place many seem to know about here, even though it lies between Ballintoy and Ballycastle and is quite well signposted from the main road. We had never stopped here before ourselves and we really didn’t expect much as we pulled into the car park but all I can say is… wow!….. once you discover what this place looks like I reckon you’ll be back. The area is stunning and we were kinda ashamed that some American and German tourists were already here (when we arrived) given we had never even seen the place. Not too much is known about Kinbane, but it didnt last very long after being constructed it seems. The castle was built by Colla of the MacDonnell clan, the clan who also built many other castles and buildings in the area including Dunluce and Dunseverick. The English laid siege to it within a few years of its completion in 1551 as they were getting a bit concerned about the strength of the ruling MacDonnell Clan (and their friendly connections with Scotland just across the water), but the castle prevailed at this point. Another attack took place in 1555 however where the castle was partly destroyed by cannon fire but it was rebuilt afterwards.  The hollow below the castle is known as Lag na Sassenach (Hollow of the English) and it was allegedly during the 16th century that a garrison of English soldiers laying siege to the castle were surrounded and massacred. Fires lit on the headland as calls for assistance were answered by clansmen who came from all directions and surrounded the garrison rolling rocks onto the English below crushing their advances. Game of Thrones for real eh?

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Hopefully you can read the information on the 1st picture here (click for large high def) and this second photo is your 1st glimpse of the castle.

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When you arrive at the castle car park you’re pretty high up, and the surrounding area and views are just amazing. Just look at those cliffs (and the beautiful June weather). Thats Fair Head in the distance btw.

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The view of the castle taken from about halfway down the descent to sea level, and when you reach the bottom you’ll come to another sign with more information and a further sign warning of your possible doom haha (erm, and I wouldn’t take it lightly either, if you’re going out to the end of the headland be very careful!)

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A stunning location for a castle though it was placed here (of course) for strategic reasons. The second picture was taken from inside the tower looking out, and the third picture is of one of the remaining “gun loops” – ie. where they placed the huge cannons (you can see some of the steps down to the castle in the last picture).

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Just below the castle are the ruins of what looks like some old fishery, Im not sure of the history of this, but I expect its a few hundred years old rather than several (like the castle). It provides a nice backdrop to the area however.

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The first two of these pictures were taken from the cliff top behind the castle and in the first one (if you look closely towards the right) you might be able to see some people standing beside the old fishery shown in the pictures above. This will give you a sense of the scale of the place and the heights involved. The people in the second picture are sitting right at the very tip/end of the precipice shown on the third pic. Honestly, this is only for the brave and likely very dangerous in Winter!

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Kinbane Castle, still projecting its dominance 500yrs later. You really should visit here.

Slieve Gullion, Giants Lair, Ring of Gullion, County Armagh

Best laid plans eh? We set out for Slieve Gullion pretty early in the morning but on arrival found that not only was the drive around the 9KM “Ring of Gullion” closed due to tree felling, the entire visitor center and restaurant was closed too due to a burst water pipe, they wouldn’t even let us use the toilets (after quite a long drive from home). What a disaster.  Anyway, we parked up the car and took a walk around “The Giants Lair” trail which is a signposted trek through the lower part of the forest featuring, among other things, little fairy houses carved into the trees and many exhibits children can interact with. The pictures probably don’t do it justice as its better than it looks here, but if you have younger kids I think theyd really enjoy spotting all the cute features hidden among the trees. Theres also a really excellent adventure playground before you start the trail which has rides for older children as well. And, best of all….. Its all FREE!

 

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The sign before the entrance to the “Giants Lair” forest walk.

 

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The start of your fairytale adventure.

 

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Dotted all over the trail are fairy houses fixed to the trees. Keep your eyes open as there many to see and many slightly hidden, they could be at floor level or up high. Children will love finding them though.

 

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Red doors to where? The first one you can walk through, the others you cant (unless youre fairy sized).

 

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At many of the elfin doors people have left coins for luck and wishes (I expect). The wooden house in the last picture was just completed and this will be a place where children can go to have magical stories read to them. There are two of these in the Giants Lair part of the forest.

 

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As you make your way around, you’ll see little signs telling you what the next sight will be and how many steps it will take to get there (its never as far as they say though, maybe these are for fairy sized feet haha).

 

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A few more of the magical fairytale items around the Giants Lair walk at Slieve Gullion. For a free day trip for kids its really worth seeing, and the adventure playground is very good too with picnic tables and places to sit and enjoy the sunshine. hopefully we will get back soon to do the drive around the actual Ring of Gullion but we liked our walk around the fairy infested route.

 

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More information can be found here: http://www.ringofgullion.org/things-to-do/slieve-gullion-adventure-playpark/

 

 

 

Fair Head aka Benmore, County Antrim

Fair Head is a rocky headland about 3 miles East of Ballycastle and is the closest part of Northern Ireland to Rathlin Island. It is a popular rock climbing area and it is believed to have the largest climbable area of rock in the British Isles. If its your first visit (it was ours) it can be pretty hard to find. Its very easy to see Fair Head (either from Ballycastle town or Murlough Bay – posted earlier) but after following the road signs you’ll come to a small group of old cottages that look like a farmyard and it will seem like you can go no further. Theres a car park to your right as you drive past the cottages, which isnt even marked as a public car park until you actually drive into it, and there is no mention of this being the start of the Fair Head walk (again, until you drive into the unmarked car park using your guesswork). Someone really needs to sort the area out as it looks as if its just been left abandoned, and given its reasonable to assume tourists might want to come here, then could we maybe invest in some further signs? That would be helpful. Thanks Mr Antrim Coast & Glens man 🙂

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So when you find the car park among the (seemingly empty) white cottages, drive in and park up and youll see this sign hilariously hidden behind a wall lol. The sign says there are “yellow circles” marking the route to Fair Head but good luck with that as we found only one which had been bleached white. Maybe they repaint them now and again but we just wandered about like lost sheep (across marshy bog land) and only found the edge of the cliff by trial and error.

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The area up to Fair Head was pretty expansive. The car park from this point is further away than that lake you see in the distance.

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Our first view from the edge. It was hard to keep the horizon straight for the pictures as we couldn’t see it, it was quite a hazy morning. The second bay in the distance is Murlough Bay where the big white house is I posted earlier. The sign says you can walk from here and it takes 90mins, but I really imagine its much more.

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Its always hard to convey exactly how high up a place is in photographs, no picture can really do it justice. The highest point here is 196mtrs above the sea, and quite a bit of it is near vertical. If you have a fear of heights beware! In the distance (in the first picture) you can see Rathlin Island.

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We saw this climber about to descend the huge wall of rock at Fair Head. This picture will give you some idea of the size of the rock face. In the second picture is a little dog who followed us up from just after the car park. She seemed to be alone as no one else was around, and the climber we came upon didn’t know who she belonged to either. When we were leaving she simply disappeared again. Maybe it was some doggy spirit of the Fair Head moors haha woof!

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We made our way back to our car (across wet and squelchy fields) and on passing the lake took this photo of the island on it. The lake is called Lough na Cranagh and the island, known as a “crannog” was man made in the Iron Age by extending a small natural island and surrounding it with a stone wall. It was likely a place of refuge. The entire area of Fair Head is now owned by the National Trust in NI. Hopefully they can invest in some nice signs soon up there then. 🙂

Murlough Bay, County Antrim April 2015

Its not often, though its happened for a few years now, where we actually get great weather in April in NI. And given this was Easter week, all the schools were closed and many people had taken to their cars to head to the seaside. With that in mind, we set out pretty early from home and arrived at Murlough Bay around 9am. At this point I need to say that there are essentially two “Murlough Bay” in Northern Ireland, one in Co.Down and this one in Co.Antrim. Make sure you locate the correct one haha. The bay in Country Antrim is likely a little harder to find but in many ways that makes it all the more peaceful when you finally get there. There are 3 car parks at the site and my view is to totally ignore the first one (you come to) unless you want to stop there first and take a photo of the view below before you descend (the first picture here shows that view). Move on then to at least the second car park along the (pretty narrow) road and park up, or take the route of the brave, past the subsidence warning sign, to the last car park no.3 – which is the most perfect stop but many may not want to risk it. From here you will have no climbing to do back to your car however. Murlough Bay sits between Fair Head (posting that next) and Torr Head, near Ballycastle.

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This is the view if you stop and walk a little down hill from the first car park. If you look towards the centre of the picture you should be able to see a white van, that is in no.2 car park. From there you can see the (tiny) road cutting diagonally away heading for the last car park. Be advised that all 3 are quite small so you should arrive early or you might have some reversing to do. You can see a small part of Rathlin Island in the distance to the left of the picture.

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Theres a road that extends beyond the third car park but dont drive any further. It leads to a private cottage so just walk along here instead. On your way you will pass an old lime kiln still in good condition. They put alternate layers of limestone (from the hills above) and coal in it to burn and produce quicklime used in cement etc (the quicklime was raked out of the arch at the bottom after burning).

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Look up here, about 200ft high above you are the limestone cliffs used in the kiln, hard to believe these were once under the sea. The little cottage is called a “Bothy” an old labourers cottage used either for kiln workers or fishermen I suspect. Sometimes these would be left open as a refuge, but this one is locked.

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Over to your left are the remnants of some long lost building foundations, and part of a wall. Maybe a fishery or some ancient cottage. After that you will come to this private house. I reckon it must get a lot of photographs taken of it, as it adds a great focal point to the entire area. The bay and Torr Head lie before you.

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A place of natural beauty. Fair Head pointing towards the sky in the first picture. Torr Head in the second. You might just be able to see the shadow of Scotland on the horizon here.

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Like a land that time forgot. Murlough Bay, County Antrim,  10th April 2015 🙂