As people enjoy these lazy days of summer, British Food and Travel is thinking of sand between our toes and wading through rockpools in search of crabs and starfish. Britons are spoiled for choice with so many miles and miles of stunning coastline. Wherever you are in the UK, you are never more than about 70 miles from the sea. Whether you prefer sandcastles and ice cream on a hot day, or rugged winds and waves in the middle of winter, there’s a part of the coastline that is perfect for you. So this week, we’re exploring some of the nation’s wonderful beaches, starting with a few in Northern Ireland.
Located in County Londonderry and an hour from Belfast, Portstewart is the perfect spot for a beach daytrip. The town itself is a popular resort throughout the year and visitors have an abundance of hotels, B&Bs, and campgrounds to choose from. Portstewart Strand is a two-mile long stretch of pristine beach that has won multiple awards including the prestigious Blue Flag. You can drive directly onto the beach to find that perfect picnic spot, and toilets, first aid facilities, souvenir shops, etc. are all within easy reach.
The more active beachgoer will enjoy surfing, sailing, horseriding, or a coastal walk. Meanwhile, nature lovers will want to keep an eye open for fritillary butterflies fluttering around the wild pansies and orchids that bloom among the sand dunes. The nearby nature reserve in Barmouth is a haven for birdwatchers.
The small town of Ballycastle lies along the northernmost coast of Northern Ireland. Close to the Giant’s Causeway and Rathlin Island (famous for its puffin population), the town was named the best place to live in Northern Ireland in 2016 by The Sunday Times. The sand and shingle beach runs three-quarters of a mile with the promenade and pier at the western end. The eastern end, once part of a coalfield, is now popular with fossil hunters who discover all sorts of remains among the layers of rock. The water quality is good for swimmers, although it should be noted that there are no lifeguards on duty. Dogs are allowed, and wheelchair-friendly bathroom facilities are available.
Murlough Nature Reserve
British Food and Travel has previously explored the beautiful Mourne Mountains. If visiting the region, be sure to also visit the neighbouring Murlough Nature Reserve. The National Trust manages this 6,000 year-old system of sand dunes. In addition to offering magnificent views of the Mournes and the sea, the reserve is ideal for nature lovers who come to see the seals, birds, and butterflies. Families with young children can also enjoy the five miles of golden beaches. The Nature Reserve visitor centre can provide activity sheets for kids, ranging from plant spotter guides to beach treasure hunts. The Reserve is open all year but the visitor centre and some facilities are closed from November to March.
Portrush is a traditional seaside town with funfairs, boat rides, and lots of activities. Its proximity to Giant’s Causeway means it is a busy tourist destination, Ireland’s oldest whiskey distillery, Old Bushmills, is just 20 minutes away. Just along the coast from Portrush are a series of limestone cliffs and Whiterocks Beach. Explore the caves and arches carved into the rock by centuries of waves and now given such names as Elephant Rock and the Lion’s Paw. Enjoy a walk along the sands and take in views of Dunluce Castle, or sit and watch the water sports enthusiasts.
Cliffs, waterfalls and rocky outcrops provide a dramatic landscape for the nearly seven miles of Downhill Beach. Game of Thrones fans may recognise it as the site of Dragonstone but there is lots more to discover here. Mussenden Temple is a striking part of the landscape upon the cliffs. Built in 1785, the temple was designed to be a summer library for the Bishop of Derry. The temple and gardens are now operated by the National Trust. Downhill is an Area of Special Scientific Interest and home to a wide variety of birdlife. The town of Castlerock is nearby, as are Portrush and Portstewart. All three locations have restaurants and lodging options.
Come back tomorrow for more of Britain’s best beaches.