Friday, 23 June 2017


Looking at the map of County Down, the eye is naturally drawn to a large body of water to the south-east of Belfast.  This is Strangford Lough, a large sea loch, and the largest inlet in the British Isles.  At the southern edge of the mouth of the Lough is a peninsula called Killard Point, which includes the Killard National Nature Reserve.  The reserve is reachable from Ballyhornan, a village to the south, via the Lecale Way from which a lane branches off to the right. 

The reserve is rich in both flora, bird life and marine life.  The flora includes wild orchids and an array of other wild flowers, while birdwatchers will see skylarks flitting around in the sky above, and other birds such as terns and sand martins.  The crystal clear waters off the reserve’s sandy bays are home to seals and starfish.  The wild orchids are best seen in June and July.  During World War II RAF Bishops Court was located just outside Ballyhornan, and Killard Point became an outpost of the airfield when radars and height finders were installed there.  Little remains of these facilities today, as the area was returned to a greenfield site. 

About half a kilometre out to sea at Bendberg Bay is Gun’s Island, so named because a French ship called the Amity, which was carrying arms for the 1798 Irish Rebellion, was wrecked just north of the island.  Only one crew member survived.  On the seaward side of Gun’s Island there are colonies of breeding gulls, cormorants, guillemots and kittiwakes.

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Bendberg Bay. Photo by Michael Diamond, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 14 June 2017


The name Ardglass comes from the Irish Ard Ghlais, or ‘green height’, the feature in question being the hill known as The Ward to the west of the town.  The harbour is an important fishing port with Northern Ireland’s third largest fishing fleet, a major exporter of fish to Europe, including some of the continent’s finest langoustines.  More leisurely activities include golf at the Ardglass Golf Club in Downpatrick and yachting from the Ardglass Marina, also known as the Phennick Cove Marina.  Walkers can head out onto the Ballyhornan Coastal Path, part of the longer Lecale Way.  The ruins of Ardtole Church can be found just outside Ardglass.   Dating back to the 1300s, it is one of the oldest churches in the area, on a site founded by St Patrick.  The church is on top of a hill, with views over the countryside and out to sea.  When the church was excavated in 1914 one of the finds was some of the oldest stained glass in Ireland, now housed in the National Museum of Ireland.

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Ardtole Church. Photo by Albert Bridge, via Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, 1 June 2017


The lighthouse at St John’s Point is striped like many lighthouses, but is distinctive in that the stripes are black and yellow in the manner of a bumble bee.  It is the tallest onshore lighthouse on the Irish coast, having been extended to a height of 40m in the 1880s, and it was automated in 1981.  In 2015 the locals in the area were up in arms about a proposal to replace the six-ton antique lamp with a cheaper LED version.  The headland was immortalised in song by Van Morrison when, in his song Coney Island, he talked of  “stopping off  at St John’s Point”.  Its other claim to fame is that the ill-fated Titanic did her sea trials in the waters off here.

The village of Killough, formerly named St Ann’s Port, lies on the west shore of an almost-enclosed bay.  The present-day name comes from the Irish Cill Locha, meaning “church of the loch”, the church in question being long since gone.  The harbour was built in the 18th century and became an important departure point for the export of locally grown cereals.  However, by the 19th century the port was going into a decline due to the collapse of grain prices.  Around the same time the village became popular as a seaside destination, not least for its attractive tree-lined main street lined with low-rise cottages and pubs.  Killough and Coney Island, facing the village across the bay, had their moment of Hollywood fame in 2012 when they featured in the short film The Shore, directed by local lad Terry George, which won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film.

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St John's Point Lighthouse. Photo by Ardfern, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 18 May 2017


Heading along the coast from Newcastle in a northeasterly direction, we come to a narrow channel leading into Dundrum Bay.  The route takes in Murlough National NatureReserve owned by the National Trust.  A boarded walkway leads to a wide sandy beach backed by dunes, with sensational views of the Mourne Mountains.  The animal life on the reserve includes rabbits and pigmy shrews, and common and grey seals can sometimes be seen hauling themselves onto the beach. 

The small town of Dundrum lies on the west shore of the bay, which is dominated by the ruined Dundrum Castle.   The castle is believed to have been built in 1177 by the Anglo-Norman knight John de Courcy, just after he invaded Ulster.  A National Trust car park to the north of Dundrum marks the start of the 2.5 Km Dundrum Coastal Path, which follows a disused railway line and forms part of the longer Lecale Way.  The path takes in a variety of habitats supporting birdlife, for example saltmarsh and marshy tall herb stands.  Dundrum Inner Bay is visited by wildfowl and waders in winter, while Green Island in Dundrum Inner Bay attracts oystercatchers, lapwing, redshank and curlew.

The S. S. Great Britain, which we last met in her final resting place in Bristol, ran aground in Dundrum Bay in 1846 during one of her voyages to New York, an accident which caused her engines to be ruined.  She was refloated, but the expense of the operation forced her owners to sell her to Gibbs Bright and Company, who put her to work on the Australian run.

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Murlough Beach. Photo by Laureljade, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 20 April 2017


Not on the Tyne, but at the foot of the Mourne Mountains, Newcastle is the first place which can be described as a resort when heading north from the border with the Republic.  We once stayed the night in a pub in Newcastle while exploring the coast of Northern Ireland.  It was quiz night, and we were persuaded to join in what turned out to be a very entertaining evening.  We shared a table with an elderly gent who sounded a bit like Ian Paisley, and who had a crush on the female quizmaster and was trying to get us to play matchmaker.  Looking at Google Streetview I can’t see the pub, so I’m not sure if it’s there any more – pity.

Newcastle’s backdrop is spectacular, dominated by the aforementioned mountains and with a 3-mile crescent of golden sand arranged around Dundrum Bay.  When we were there, there were signs of impending regeneration of the seafront, and now, £14m and several years later, the revamp is complete.  It has styled itself as an activity resort, with mountaineering and canoeing among the activities on offer.  For more relaxing pursuits, the resort boasts the UK’s only seaweed bathhouse for those in pursuit of the physical and mental benefits of soaking in seaweed.  There are two outdoor alternatives for bathers, at the Tropicana which has heated water and slides for the kids, and at the 1930s era Rock Pool for hardier souls, being unheated.  Fans of Game of Thrones should head out to Tollymore Forest Park, the Haunted Forest of the series.

Newcastle gets a mention in the medieval chronicles known as The Annals of the Four Masters, where it is referred to as New Castle.  The castle in question, this being 1433, was presumably a forerunner of the later castle which was built by the Magennis clan in 1588 at the mouth of the Shimna River, and which was demolished in 1830, having changed hands several times following the 1641 Rebellion.  One of  the most tragic events in the town’s history occurred during a storm in January 1843.  14 fishing boats from Newcastle and Annalong were caught up in the storm, resulting in 76 deaths, 46 of them men from Newcastle. There is a row of cottages in the town called Widows' Row, built to house the widows and orphans of the dead fishermen.

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Photo by Albert Bridge, via Wikimedia  Commons