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Walk of the Week: Blackhead Path

By Linda Stewart

This walk takes you meandering along the coast from Whitehead Yacht Club to Sunshine House, high on the cliffs.

The town of Whitehead on the Antrim coast, six miles north of Carrickfergus, lies among hills and cliffs looking across Belfast Lough into the Irish Sea. On sunny days Scotland can be seen clearly.

The Blackhead Coast Path runs northeast from Whitehead and is lined by interesting wildlife habitats including grassland, woodland — known locally as the ‘magic forest’ — and rocky shore. The Lough itself is an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI), famed for its bird population.

Directions

Whitehead can be reached by train and bus from Larne or Belfast. Contact Translink, tel: 028 9066 6630 or visit translink.co.uk. By car take the A2 from Carrickfergus or Larne.

This short walk starts at Whitehead Yacht Club and leads along a coastal path and up some steep steps to Blackhead Lighthouse. From here walkers descend some more steep steps back to the coastal path and back to the car park.

The backdrop

Looking south from the Yacht Club, walkers can see the old quarry, where peregrine falcons are known to nest. Peregrines can reach up to 200mph in a dive, catching birds such as sparrows or ducks in mid-air.

The female usually lays about four eggs but due to inexperience in hunting and flying, 60% of the young are dead the next year (the birds can live for up to 18 years). The main threat faced by the birds is illegal hunting and egg collection, though some problems due to pesticides in the food chain remain.

In summer, the small woods and grasslands surrounding the quarry are home to butterflies such as the small tortoiseshell. This is one of the most common butterflies in the UK and can be found in almost any habitat. It feeds on many plants but the common nettle is a frequent stop.

Passing the old swimming pool, the car park and slipway as you head northeast, you will find grassland embankments leading away from the sea. They are covered in places by common gorse, recognised by its yellow flowers and spiny green body. In dense areas the flowers’ coconut scent can be quite strong.

To the seaward side, the shore is covered in stone with short stretches of sand. The underlying rock is largely black basalt, ejected as lava from ancient volcanoes. Different types of seaweed can be found among the rocks. The brown oarweed/tangleweed is a common example, growing up to 2m in length. A type of kelp, it is divided into thin finger-like straps.

The ‘magic forest’ at Port Davy offers an enchanted world of streams and narrow trails bounded by the old estate walls of Port Davy House, where trees and bushes such as the blackthorn grow. This thinly branched spiny bush produces white blossom in early spring. Its bitter plum-like bluish-black fruit, the sloe, is used to make sloe gin.

At the edges of this woodland habitat in damper areas or lying under a hedgerow we may spot lesser celandine, a bright yellow flower of the buttercup family, blooming from March to early June. Also here a small spring runs from the trees to the sea. Look closely into the water between April and June and you may see tiny elvers, juvenile eels, struggling upstream having made the arduous journey across the Atlantic from the Sargasso Sea.

At the top of the rocky outcrop of Blackhead sits the old lighthouse — now a museum — and Sunshine House, well known for its solar paneled roofs. Should the sea be calm and the weather clear you might be fortunate to see harbour porpoises, though you might need binoculars.

The harbour porpoise grows up to almost 2m in length and is grey in colour. It has a low triangular dorsal fin while also lacking a beak. Living in small groups of two to five, the animal lives on fish. It has a distinctive movement as it rolls slowly through the water.

Further information

For further information on walking or any other outdoor activity, contact Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN) at, tel: 028 9030 3930 or walkni.com.

CAAN in association with Belfast Telegraph have provided this information. Every care has been taken to ensure accuracy of the information. CAAN and Belfast Telegraph, however, cannot accept responsibility for errors or omissions but where such are brought to our attention, the information for future publications will be amended accordingly.

Walk Name: Blackhead Path.

Area: County Antrim.

Nearest town to start: Whitehead.

Distance: 2.4 miles.

Time: This walk should take approximately one hour to complete.

Suitability: Most of this walk is on a level, surfaced path — however there are some steep stepped sections, making this route unsuitable for those with limited mobility.

Facilities: The nearest public toilets, including disabled access, can be found on the Kings Road next to the tennis courts. Car park and toilets cost 10p. There are also several shelters along the walk. Whitehead also has a number of cafe facilities and public toilets.

Publications: Whitehead Wildlife Trails and Whitehead Highway to Health. Contact Carrickfergus Tourist Information Centre, tel: 028 9335 8000.

Walk Developed By: Carrickfergus Council.

Map: Sheets 15 of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discoverer Series, available from Land & Property Services Map Shop (lpsni.gov.uk).

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