North West

Summer Solstice sunrise over Lough Foyle

9th April 2021 by Mary Coyle Share

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My sunrise walk didn’t take place at the top of a high mountain or in a famous part of the local landscape. It took place in a quiet part of the coast that I have readily come to recognise as my sanctuary over this past year.

Land along Lough Foyle is sheltered by a sea wall that runs for miles along several stretches, one being close to Eglinton village and one stretch accessed from Ballykelly. Lough Foyle is Northern Ireland’s biggest estuary and lies between counties Derry and Donegal. It is a haven for birds and RSPB have a nature reserve along the Ballykelly and Ballymacran banks with several bird hides and information boards for keen bird watchers.

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Of most importance to me is the fact that these walks are very local to where I live and have become incredibly important to me during the lockdowns.

Following the strange and fearful period of time in Spring 2020, my daughter and I decided that we were going to get up to watch the sunrise on the morning of the summer solstice, which was on 20th June 2020. One of us was sensible and went to bed for a few hours before getting up at 3.30am . The other stayed up all night … (oh what it is to be young and need no sleep!).

We had been watching the weather carefully and it was risky – the forecast showed cloud and the night had been rainy so we were crossing our fingers as we left the house and headed a short distance in the car before parking to start our walk. The sky was getting lighter but it was hard to tell if our early start had been worth it.

One of the features of this walk is that you do have to climb up the banking to the sea wall itself to be able to see the water itself. We walked a short distance along the trail and then my daughter climbed up onto the wall ahead of me and just stopped at the top and turned round to smile at me. So I followed in her footsteps to be greeted by the most amazing sky. The cloud was still there but the early rays of the sun were reflecting off the water in the most amazing golds, pinks and oranges. The water was incredibly still and silent and it was just the most peaceful and serene sight that I have witnessed on a morning walk. We sat and just let the morning come to life around us.

This was an amazing morning to walk this shore but during the pandemic, I’ve come here in rain, snow, blazing sun and high wind and it is always different. It has provided me with a place that I felt that I could just breathe fresh air , get away from it all and hear and see the sea and nature all around me. The sunrise walk was definitely a walk of darkness into light but many times when I’ve come here over the past year, I have felt anxious or tense when arriving and have come away just feeling… better.

The trail from Ballykelly is accessed from Station Road in the village and runs for 2.6 miles miles along the Ballykelly bank.

Start of the Ballykelly bank trail

It is possible to see many seabirds on the shore and in the water including Brent geese and whooper swans in winter (you will hear them before you see them!). On one memorable occasion, I even saw a seal that had climbed up onto the shore.

At low tide, at the end of the Ballykelly bank it is also possible to see the wreck of a Vough Corsair aircraft that crashed into the sea in 1944. The pilot did survive thankfully but the plane is unable to be moved due to the mudflats.

WW2 plane in the Foyle

Heading east along the trail there are fantastic views across to Binevenagh.

Binevenagh in the distance across the inland ponds

At the end of the Ballykelly bank there is a short path along the Burnfoot river before crossing a footbridge that was installed in 2015.

Footbridge across the Burnfoot river

Heading back along the other shore of the river, the walker now comes to Ballymacran bank. This section of the walk now runs for another 2.6 miles following the sea wall on one side and water ponds on the other. It is possible to climb up and walk on the wall itself – as always take care in windy or wet conditions.

Inishowen across Lough Foyle from the end of Ballykelly bank

From here, the whole of Lough Foyle is in front of you stretching across to Donegal across the water and further out to the Atlantic itself. There are a few unexpected areas of beach, most noticeably around the “horseshoe” and then at the end of the bank itself where the trail eventually runs into a dead end at the railway line just before the Roe railway bridge.

Walking on top of the sea wall towards the “horseshoe”

Here, if you climb onto the seawall, you will be able to see where the River Roe joins the sea and you can climb down onto the the lovely stretch of sand along this part of the wall.

Looking towards the Roemouth with the Railway bridge visible in the distance

The path is linear but parking is available at Ballymacran and Myroe also if you don’t want to walk the full length. There are limited spaces at all parking areas so be courteous and sensible when parking here.

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There is something incredible about a sunrise walk – it signifies a new beginning, a cycle of light and dark and hope at the hardest of times. Wherever you watch the sunrise, I wish you joy and peace in your experience.

Grace and I at sunrise on 20th June 2020

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