When Trek NI approached me to write a piece for their website my thoughts immediately went to the North Coast – a place I spend a lot of time, just wandering and taking photographs.
My name is David Benson, a 41 year old with a love for the North Coast and photography. From family holidays years ago to more recent times discovering the lesser known areas, I’ve loved the coastline, the sea, the cliffs and even the odd waterfall. It’s the best coastline in the world (maybe I’m biased)!
Come with me as I share what I believe to be the 5 locations that show off the North Coast best!
1. Mussenden Temple
Perched 170ft high above the Atlantic ocean the temple was built in 1785 as a summer library by Fredrick Augustus Hervey, Bishop of Derry and Earl of Bristol. It was named after Hervey’s cousin Frideswide Mussenden.
As you turn off the main road through “lion’s gate” (which are really two snow leopards), you will notice the ample car park. This is a National Trust site so there is a charge. Park and make your way through the gate towards the impressive looking Downhill house.
You can go through the mansion or continue round the side. I always get excited when walking down the path and I start to see the temple come into view! What a sight from the top of the path looking down towards the temple and seeing it against a backdrop of sea and sky!
Continue down the path and you get up close and personal to the temple and if you’re lucky the front door will be open and you can wander in! Look over the wall and see the views over Downhill Strand towards Magilligan Point and County Donegal to the west and Castlerock beach towards Portstewart, Portrush and Fair Head to the east. I cannot put into words the feeling you get when standing beside this great piece of architecture peering over the cliff edge to these spectacular views.
From here you can continue back the way you came or take the path to the left or the right of the temple offering great views whatever way you choose. After getting back to the car park why not finish off your visit with a trip to Al’s coffee. Great coffee, chat and treats!
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2. Portstewart Strand
This 2-mile stretch of golden sand is one of the top ten visitor attractions in Northern Ireland. It’s not hard to see why. Visitors flock every year to this National Trust managed blue flag beach for watersports, paddling or just lazing on the sand and soaking up some rays!
Great views here towards Portstewart town on one side and past the river Bann to Mussenden Temple and the spectacular cliffs beneath it on the other. You can really clear your lungs and breathe it that fresh, clean sea air.
There are some walks here along the beach itself, up into the dunes and along the Bann Estuary where between the months of September to March you can see cattle grazing. Be careful! I have photographed here a few times and the place never ceases to amaze me. The conditions can sometimes be challenging with spray from the sea and the odd rogue wave that leaves you with wet feet and laughs at your wellies but I’ve witnessed some dramatic sunsets here and you soon forget about your wet feet!
I thoroughly recommend you visit here and allow yourself to loose track of time as you bimble along the sand!
3. Lacada Point (rather, the view of Lacada Point)!
I deliberately left out the Giant’s Causeway but just past the it there’s a view that sometimes gets overlooked and I think it’s particularly spectacular and shows off our amazing coastline.
From the car park at the Causeway Visitor Centre you’ve got two options, either take the path down past the causeway stones or take the upper path over the visitor centre roof. Both offer jaw dropping views of the causeway and the surrounding cliffs. On the lower path continue on past the causeway following the path as it starts to rise and you’ll notice another path come from the right. This is where you’ll join if you took the upper path.
On the upper route continue on until you come to the Shepherd’s steps. Take these steep set of steps until you join the other route. Follow this path and you’ll pass the organ. It looks like a giant set of organ pipes, like something from Beauty and the Beast! Continue on until you literally have to stop. You’re now looking at Lacada Point or the Chimney Stacks! The cliffs to the right are know as the Amphitheatre. It was here on the night of 26th October 1588 that a galleass of the Spanish Armada foundered on rocks and sank resulting in the loss on 1300 lives.
What a view this is, looking at the huge cliffs with the sea battering against the rocks below. The amazing North Coast!
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4. Ballintoy Harbour
This little harbour is a popular spot and for good reason! Having been a filming location for HBO’s massive hit “Game of Thrones” it has increased hugely in popularity.
Turn left off the main road just before Ballintoy village and you’ll pass the famous Ballintoy Church, the subject of many a photograph! The road continues to wind it’s way down to the harbour itself. Be careful, some of the turns are tight and you can meet other traffic on the road.
Once down at the harbour there are plenty of car parking spaces and toilets also. You’ve got some options here. You can stay and enjoy the surroundings of the harbour or you can wander – I recommend both! Follow the path at the far end of the car park past the cave and you’ll come to a small house that can be rented out. What a place to stay!
Continue past and through the gate or over the stile. It feels great to be wandering here away from the crowds and beside the water. Eventually you will come to small beach and straight out in front of you is a large rock known as “Elephant’s Rock”. It’s called this because, well, it looks like an elephant! There’s a nice sea arch here also.
In the other direction head up the hill out of the car park and just as you get to the first sharp corner to the right there’s a path leading off to the left. Follow this past another house and onto a beach. You can walk onto a some rocks and there’s a lifebouy ring here for your safety.
To the right of these rocks is the “Secret Beach”. The fact that I’m telling you this means it’s not that secret! This a lovely small stretch of golden sand that is in stark contrast to the large black cliffs beside it. You’ve got great views here over to sheep island and beyond.
You can certainly spend a few hours here exploring and there’s a coffee shop down by the harbour to quench the thirst of the busy explorer!
5. Kinbane Castle
Through the small town of Ballintoy and past the entrance to Carrick-a-rede rope bridge you’ll come to a small road on the left with a signpost to Kinbane Head. The small windy road continues all the way to a car park at the cliff edge. There are toilets here and you’ll notice the path leading away from the car park. Follow the path and you’ll soon notice two things – the impressive Kinbane head and the ruins of the castle jutting out into the sea and the steps, the dreaded steps! Just take your time and the steps aren’t too bad.
Once down at sea level you can explore round the castle ruins and even go out to the edge of the headland itself. Be very careful here as there are no guide ropes or barriers and it’s a big drop either side to the sea below. I’ve spent a few evenings down here trying to shoot sunsets. It’s a great place to photograph but it’s even good to explore with or without a camera. A great place to take a picnic too.
Kinbane castle is becoming more popular as more people discover this gem but it’s still relatively quiet down there. Built in 1547 by Colla MacDonnell the castle was beseiged a few times by English forces and MacDonnell died at the castle in 1558.
I hope you enjoyed reading these five must-see spots on the North Coast. I want it to inspire you to go out and see these places for yourselves. There are loads more breath-taking views and walks along the coast – what’s your favourite?
You can follow David on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, or email him at: email@example.com