The Coastline and Beaches in Mid and East Antrim Borough
Down at sea level is the Antrim Coast Road, winding in synchrony with the headlands for 40km. It was built 1832 – 1842 and the rock had to be blasted away to make way for it. We also have the gentle shallow tidal inflow to Larne Lough which habitat is a great attraction for an incredible array of migrating birds – a few examples are brent geese and redshank which come from the Arctic Circle, and goldeneye which comes from Northern Europe. For many migrating birds, it is a stop-over en route to further rich pickings at Strangford Lough.
The Gobbins cliff experience is the newest and bravest visitor attraction to come to this area. Following in the footsteps of an inspired creation by the talented engineer Barkeley Deane Wise in the 1900s,12 new bridges have been designed to copy the old ones but meeting today’s modern standards.
If you want to experience something new and exhilarating or test your ability to withstand dizzying heights over a deep sea, this is the place for you! The newly built Visitor Centre is near the Rinkha at the southern end of Islandmagee and this is where your journey will start, provided you have booked…
The historic town of Carrickfergus, has a dramatic and unmissable visitor attraction right on the coast. The building of Carrickfergus Castle was begun by John de Courcy in 1180 and completed by Hugh de Lacy in 1205. It is one of the best preserved medieval structures in Ireland, and was even used as an air raid shelter during WWII. Today it is maintained by NI Environment Agency and is open to the public.
Another Castle, Ballygally Castle, dating back to 1625, was built by the Agnew family and is today an intriguing part of a luxurious hotel owned by the Hastings Hotel Group. The ‘ghost room’ in the tower of the original castle, is a big hit with residents!
The daily P&O Ferries route between Larne and Cairnryan in Scotland facilitates thousands of business and visitor trips. At vantage points from Whitehead towards the city, cruise liners and cargo ships can be seen coming in and out of busy Belfast Lough – a feast for shipspotters and a view pleasantly bedecked with the scenic backdrop of the North Down coast.
The smaller harbours and marinas at Carrickfergus, Whitehead, Larne, Glenarm and Carnlough each have such amazing historic pasts and today attract sea-farers in yachts and motor cruisers from all over the world as they drop by to explore the coast of Northern Ireland.
The East Coast Canoe Trail, developed by Outdoor Recreation NI, identifies numerous places for paddlers to land and depart along the coast. A fold-out publication made from waterproof material, provides paddlers with information necessary for safe and enjoyable journeys. It is available from ORNI. The East Coast section extends from Waterfoot to Strangford Lough but other canoe trails are in place for the whole of Northern Ireland, both coastal and inland waters.
A railway line extends from Belfast along the coast to Larne Harbour passing by the spectacular Valentine’s Glen viaduct and beside Larne Lough where birds can be seen feeding when the tide is out. There are 13 stations and halts between Larne Harbour and Belfast Central.
Carnfunnock Country Park, owned and managed by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council is a 191ha park with a feast of things to occupy adults and children, for example an outdoor adventure playground with zip wire, a mini railway, giant chess and a maze to get lost in (but find your way out of too!). The café is open during the summer. The entrance is on the Antrim Coast Road just 6km north of Larne and is identified by a pyramid feature beside the road.
Touring and club cyclists enjoy Route 93 of the National Cycle Network managed by Sustrans. The routes are carefully chosen along the best country roads and off-road trails where possible.
Knockagh monument is an imposing and distinctive obelisk WWII memorial and landmark on the coast near Carrickfergus, sitting 390m above sea level. At 34m high, it is the largest in Northern Ireland.
Larne promenade is beside Waterloo Area of Special Scientific Interest. The rock formations here are internationally recognised as being of significant geologic importance. The rocks date to the early Jurassic period which is 200 – 145 million years ago and the exposures at sea level show excellent succession.
An ichthyosaur fossil was found here in 1999 and after careful extraction was transported to and prepared for exhibition in the Ulster Museum in Belfast. It is the best of its kind ever found in Ireland even though the bones were in disorder when the fossilisation process began. An ichthyosaur is an extinct dolphin-shaped marine reptile that gave birth to live young. Ammonite fossils can also be discovered if you look carefully. Information panels about the geology are positioned along the promenade which is a pleasant 1km walk between Larne Leisure Centre and the Antrim Coast Road.
On a good day, the mainland of Scotland being only 40km away, is clearly visible. The lighthouses on The Maidens and at Whitehead keep the mariners safe and if you are really lucky you might be at the right place at the right time to see a pod of dolphins and porpoises leaping over the waves as they swim north or south on their travels.
When this happens don’t be surprised to see dozens of cars stopped at the side of the road with all the passengers looking out to sea watching the delightful spectacle. Often the dolphins and porpoises look as if they are putting on a show for their audience, leaping completely out of the water again and again. Eventually they disappear from view, but move on to enthral others in another part of Northern Ireland.
Nestled snugly in between all of this magnificence are five beautiful sandy beaches at Carnlough, Ballygally, Drains Bay, Portmuck and Brown’s Bay. They each have their own unique qualities and characters but one thing is common to all – a fabulous coastline no matter which way you look.