Who went – me, my two boys Jack (9) and Tom (7) plus we took our Canadian friends Sonya with her two boys Evan (9) and Cole (7)
Where; Ballycastle, North Antrim Coast, Northern Ireland
How we got there – We flew BA from Heathrow to Belfast City
Car – Hired a 7 seater car from Sixt
I travel lots on my own with my children, not taxi to airport, airport to resort but in the car 200 miles to ferry terminal, overnight train, day train, rubbish airport cheap flights hanging around waiting for hours sort of travel. I mean we drive to the alps to ski. Not this time however. I hopped into my Addison Lee car which whisked us through the London traffic to Heathrow terminal 2 where it was a pleasure going through security and we had a delicious stress free lunch at Eat before boarding our plane and arriving 55 minutes later in Belfast City Airport. A moment on the flight when I reached for my wallet to pay for the apple juice and bag of crisps the lovely flight attendant looked appalled and said no need to pay! Sometimes half the fun of holidays is the adventure of getting there and sometimes it is so traumatic that you arrive a quivering wreck needing a further week to recover but enough of the journey to Northern Ireland. I did take the lesson that if your travel there is relatively stress free it is great start to a holiday.
This write up should come with a weather warning. I have been going to Ballycastle for over 15 years. My husband’s family have a wonderful old house on the beach just outside the coastal town of Ballycastle about an hours drive from Belfast. In all the years I have been going there we always have a lovely time but when the sun shines your holiday turns into a mega holiday. These periods of hot weather become enshrined in some sort of holiday folk law which you can look back on when the rain is horizontal and hitting the windows and muse “remember when it was so hot the ice cream van melted into the car park” or “remember when Granny went swimming in the sea”. Somehow they propel you into booking it again and again year after year in case you get a fabled year of heat. This half term it was sunny, 20 degrees and I didn’t see a cloud in the sky the whole week, bliss.
There is lots to do throughout the area and we do a combination of one day at home having a golf or tennis lesson in town followed by an enormous ice cream and body boarding on the Ballycastle beach followed by an excursion day. This keeps it interesting for the boys and gives us Mums a break from loading/unloading the car. Ballycastle has a tennis tournament in the first few weeks of August and the Ballycastle Tennis Club boasts 6 hard surface courts and 5 grass courts, there is an excellent tennis coach and the boys would have a 45 minute lesson each morning wearing them out before stuffing them full of sugar from the ice cream shop (either Maud’s or Morelli’s) then onto a 30 min golf lesson at Ballycastle Golf Club.
The North Antrim coast is owned by the National Trust and over the past few years its popularity has boomed mainly due to HBOs Game of Thrones which is filmed throughout the area. There are now placards in even the most remote place detailing what was shot where. This stunning coastline is full of secret coves, beautiful wide open beaches and geological wonders. The first of these is the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge. This is about 7 miles outside of Ballycastle and is a suspended rope bridge high above the Irish sea. It was build by fishermen in 1755 (don’t worry it isn’t the original bridge) to get across to Carraig a ‘Raid island which sat bang in the middle of the migrating path of salmon heading home to the river where they were spawned. You have to keep a hand on any young children and my Tom gets scared of heights so we were the shore party as the big boys and Sonya went across. There are lots of sea birds and you can sometimes see dolphins plus if you go at night it has been designated a “Dark Sky Discovery Site”, we haven’t got star gazing yet but I’m sure the boys will at some point. Sonya was really excited as the car park was used in Game of Thrones always a bonus.
Around from the rope bridge is the little harbour of Balintoy. This is picture postcard and is a great starting point for a lovely walk to White Park Bay. I would love to say that we did this but actually we drove to the car park, noting more Game of Thrones sites, parked and headed straight for the tea room. This tea room has the most incredible range of homemade cakes. On a table in the middle of this tiny cottage there are probably 20 different cakes and puddings, the boys were immediately drawn towards the Nutella, Kit Kat cake with M and Ms on top, I had an apple pie with whipped cream and Sonya ate a very abstemious slice of lemon drizzle cake, Cole had a bag of crisps. We then got back in the car without walking more than to and from the car.
The next stop on the coast is the Giants Causeway, this is a designated UNESCO world heritage site. The visitor centre was rebuilt and opened in 2012 it has lots of interactive displays plus an animation of Finn McCool they enjoy watching and a national trust café, thank goodness as we were in need of emergency sausage rolls when we went. It sits about 1km from the famous hexagonal shaped basalt stones, there is a bus down or you can walk along the road and back up again. The stones are really amazing to see and the children love climbing along them down to the sea. This is an excellent 2-3 hour filler activity which the children enjoy doing again and again.
Murlough Bay can be quite difficult to find but it is well worth persevering to get there. It has been voted a top secret beach by the Sunday Times travel section. It is a little beach that is tucked into the hillside next to Fairhead. Follow the signs for Fairhead, then Murlough Bay you drive down a precipitous road down to the shore where there is an obvious clearing for a car park, keep driving on past a tiny bothy and through a gate and cattle grid to a single house on the rocky shoreline. There is a path past the front of the house and you keep walking (with you picnic/kit) for about 7 mins until you get to the beach, you will see it. Each year the beach changes so sometimes it is beautiful sand and others it is a pebbly beach depending on the winter storms. It is getting more popular but if you are lucky you get the place to yourself on a sunny day. Take buckets and spades as there is a stream running down to the sea and my boys (including Dads) are really happy to make dams. There is no mobile phone reception so if you are meeting someone there bear this in mind.
This year we managed to do the pools of Dunseverick. These are natural pools along the shoreline that fill up with sea water and if the weather is good they get lovely and warm (for Northern Ireland). It is a great place to swim, your dog to swim or sail little boats. The rocky outcrops also provide shelter from the wind and good places to sit and read a book or watch the children play. To find the pools drive towards the Dunseverick harbour and before you reach the harbour there are some steps and a stile leading down to the pools. If its lovely weather you won’t be the only person so look for the cars parked by the side of the road.
Each year we add to the things we do over this coast so I’m sure to write something else. There are lots of way of getting there and if we go for longer than a week we take the ferry from Liverpool. It is very comfortable and you have your car/dog with you for your trip.
NB: This is a guest post by Emma who just wanted to let you know about this wonderful place.