I have lived in Northern Ireland my whole life. I’ve never really seen a reason to leave. It’s got the most amazing scenery, the most amazing people and the most amazing weather. Ok – so I lied about the weather. But – NI really is the best place in the world to live. I happen to live about 15 minutes from the famous A2 – coast road and often will drive up from Larne past Carnfunnock, on to Ballygalley and then to Glenarm and beyond. I will put together some thoughts on this route some time soon on this blog – but for now I wanted to concentrate on what is easily my favourite place in NI. This list is made of the places where I just like to be. They are places that I am quite content just to sit and soak up the atmosphere. To bathe in a place and often just to sit and take in the sights, sounds and scenery.
Ballintoy is a tiny former fishing harbour that is found between Bushmills and Ballycastle on the North Coast of Norther Ireland. You get to it by making your way down a twisty wee road that gradually brings you down to sea level. Its been made famous for its role in Game of Thrones but I’ve been coming here for many, many years.
My first memory is from when I was a really young lad and having picnics here. Back in those days you could nearly have the place to yourself. Not anymore, the place is hiving with people wanting to paddle board, swim in the harbour or just to park up their campervan in one of the seafront spaces. As a Geography teacher (my day job) – I have taken many, many field trips along this stretch of coast and tried to get lots of pubescent teens to see the beauty of nature. Even today, anytime I am in the area – I just have to take a wee drive down the harbour road for a bit of an explore and just to check that everything is still there.
The harbour itself is close to some of the other NI top tourist spots such as Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, White Park Bay beach and of course – the Giant’s Causeway. The name Ballintoy – means ‘town of the North’. It was built around the harbour which was used mostly for the export of sett stones that were dug out of a local quarry. A lime kiln sits towering over the public toilets at the bottom of the road. Fishing was also an important industry in past times and boats would often have been pulled up into the big cave for shelter and mending.
There are more than a few things that can be done in the local area – as long as you like to explore a bit and to get your feet a little damp and dirty.
Walk 1: If you park up near the White Church of Ireland church (you can’t really miss it) there is a nice walk up along the top of the cliffs where you get a really good view of the ever-eroding limestone and on a good day you will get the best view of Sheep Island and over onto Rathlin Island. If you keep going on long enough you will get round to Carrick-a-rede rope bridge. When you come back – I recommend the Red Door Cafe for a quick stop – especially their Irish Stew or Seafood Chowder.
Walk 2: Go right on down to the bottom of the Twisty Road and park in the car park. Then, walk back up the road and go to the ‘wee’ beach on the right. There are quite a few limestone features and landforms to explore around the limestone pavement and the massive stack that is surrounded by a mighty wall of Basalt. Look out for what my kids call the eroded ‘murder holes’.
Walk 3: In the car park go and explore the big cave and then follow the path on the sea front round past the houses and continue on past the fossil beach, over the styles, through the old seaweed retting beds and the emergent stream (it emerges out of the rock) and then look out for the Ballintoy elephant. Take a few moments to explore the rocks in the sheltered beach and if the tides are ok – you can make it round the corner and onto one of NI’s best kept secrets – Whitepark Bay beach.
I’ve been here in stunning sunny days and I’ve been here on miserable winter days when you could not see 2 feet in front of you and I’ve been here to watch the sea swell and roar over the barrier rocks with such a force that we worried that they would be moving the stones. Its such a special place to explore – yet every time you come there is something new and different to look at.
One of the things I used to love to do was to bring school groups. We would get the school bus to leave us at the White church and we would walk down the twisty road, stop at the ‘wee beach’, eat our lunch on top of the Lime Kiln in the car park and then make our way round past the fossil beach to the Elephant beach and finish off with a brisk walk along Whitepark Bay until the rather tiring climb up into the car park where the bus driver would be waiting for us. You can do something similar if you time your trip with the timings for the Translink Causeway Rambler.
Take the time to soak in the atmosphere. Sit down and listen for the wildlife, the birds and the gently lapping water in the little inlets -this is a great place to explore and get away from traffic/driving and the busyness of life. Just don’t be there when I am there – if you don’t mind . . . . I don’t want to lose my parking spot.
(c) T Manson, 2021. All images copyright by the author