Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Python's Michael Palin falls for magical Northern Ireland rail journey

Mussenden - the enchaning journey

An Ulster train journey has won the ultimate stamp of approval — the praise of Michael Palin. .

The Python turned travel writer has described the railway line between Derry and Coleraine as “one of the most beautiful rail journeys in the world” — and he may just have a point.

Translink is making the most of this accolade with a special leaflet outlining what you’ll see if you take the train along the spectacular north coast — everything from vast beaches to great flocks of wildfowl to soaring cliffs.

The journey could kick off in the historic 6th century city of Derry which has won its own set of accolades as Ireland’s only completely walled city. It has a spectacular riverscape which unfolds as the train follows the River Foyle and heads into the surrounding lush green countryside.

The first stop is the small station of Bellarena where you can still see the 19th century station, which is now owned privately. The stretch passing Limavady and up to the north coast commands beautiful views of the Foyle estuary stretching away to Greencastle in Co Donegal and the bay is a well-known hotspot for wildlife.

Route manager Frank Moore says: “You can see waders and seabirds and it’s quite possible that sometimes you might see the odd porpoise breaching the water.”

The railway soon travels past the golden sands of Benone Strand stretching like a ribbon with the rolling waves of the Atlantic Ocean crashing onto the shore. The track itself runs alongside the sand so you have spectacular views of one of Ireland’s most unspoilt beaches.

Next stop is the popular seaside resort of Castlerock, close to Downhill and the Mussenden Temple, and the 45-minute journey is almost over as the train skirts the River Bann on its sweep into Coleraine. The line crosses the Bann estuary on a swing bridge. The town of Coleraine is steeped in history — in fact the archaeological remains at Mountsandel are the oldest known human settlement in Ireland, radiocarbon dated to between 7010 and 6490 BC.

The new Translink publication ‘One of the World’s Great Railway Journeys’ is now available in local bus and train stations. For further information click www.translink.co.uk or call 028 9066 6630.

Three unmissable stop-offs along the way

BENONE STRAND — a multiple recipient of the European Blue Flag and Seaside Awards, Benone has seven miles of golden sand and a magnificent backdrop of mountain and cliff scenery, along with stunning views across to Donegal. It’s one of Northern Ireland’s longest beaches and commands impressive views.

DOWNHILL — Now in ruins, the magnificent mansion at Downhill was built by Earl Bishop Hervey and became one of the most renowned in Ireland. On the nearby clifftop the Earl Bishop built the iconic Mussenden Temple as his library, modelled on the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli. During the building of the railway, two tunnels, named Castlerock and Downhill, were cut and blasted. These remain the longest railway tunnels in Ireland, measuring 668 and 307 yards respectively.

CASTLEROCK — The small John Lanyon-designed station of Castlerock dates back to 1875. The popular seaside village is perfect for a beach picnic or exploration of the nearby National Trust properties such as the Mussenden Temple. The construction of the railway played a key role in the growth of Castlerock after its arrival in 1853. In a bid to boost the development of the village, the railway company set up a lucrative ‘Villa Tickets’ scheme which would run from 1880 to 1930 — anyone who built a villa in Castlerock was entitled to free first class travel for a 10 years.

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