Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Walk of the Week: White Park Bay

The spectacular sweep of sandy beach at White Park Bay looks out over the Atlantic Ocean, forming a white arc between two headlands on the North Antrim Coast.

Its secluded beauty would put many a Mediterranean strand to shame. The walk takes you along the beach backed by ancient dunes and species rich chalk grasslands, which are carpeted with rare plants, including many orchids, and returns by the same route.

Tackle the sands on your own or join Northern Ireland Environment Agency’s final geology walk for International Year of the Planet, which heads off at 11am on September 13 and is called ‘Rocks, Seastacks and Springs’. See nienvironmentlink.org for details.

Directions

Train service from Belfast or Londonderry to Coleraine.

Bus: Causeway Rambler (Ulsterbus no. 376) Bushmills to Carrick-a-Rede; or Ulsterbus no. 252 is a circular route via the Antrim Glens from Belfast. Both stop at White Park Bay if requested.

Cycle: NCN route 93 runs past White Park Bay.

Car: on B146, 6.5 miles from Bushmills, 7.5 miles from Ballycastle. Drive time: Belfast 1.15 hrs, Giant's Causeway 10mins.

Exit the car park and be careful not to trespass into the youth hostel grounds. From the view point above White Park Bay, descend a number of steep stone steps and then follow a twisting rough laneway until arriving at an old derelict whitewashed building — the old White Park Bay Youth Hostel.

At this point keep an eye out for the remains of an old ‘hedge summer school'. This 18th Century ‘school for young gentlemen' included on its roll call a certain Lord Castlereagh in his early education years.

From here continue along the laneway until you hear the Atlantic breakers, and then you know you are nearing the beach. Once on the beach, turn right and walk for just under a mile to the eastern end of the bay. Retrace your steps for the return leg of the route.



White Park Bay has been in the care of the National Trust since 1938, when it was donated by the Youth Hostel Association, and it remains one of the most natural coastline sites in Northern Ireland.

At one end of the beautiful bay lies the small fishing hamlet of Portbraddon (home to one of the smallest churches in Ireland) and at the other end a myriad of basalt islands known as the Parks, which shelter the harbour of Ballintoy.

White Park Bay was one of the first settlements of man in Ireland and evidence of these Neolithic settlers is continually being exposed on the raised beach and sand dune system. It is now known that axes and arrow heads were manufactured here and exported, as the limestone cliffs were a rich source of flint nodules.

Three passage tombs stand on the high points of surrounding hills overlooking the bay, the most striking being the dolmen known as the Druid's Altar, which was placed on the highest point above the shore.

The ancient dune system is a declared Area of Special Scientific Interest that — together with the chalk grassland, undercliff scree and scrub — provides a wide range of habitats for flora including orchids, bird's foot trefoil, sandwort and sea spurges.

Bees, ants, grasshoppers and molluscs are among the many invertebrates which thrive on the coarser grassland and brambles, hawthorn, elder and hazel scrub provide important nesting sites for willow warbler, linnet and stonechat.

Don't be surprised if you encounter the odd sheep or cow, as the site is grazed under a nature conservation management agreement. The grazing of farm animals helps the resident rabbit population maintain a short grass sward, which is rich in wild flowers.

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

CAAN and the National Trust 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: White Park Bay.

Area: Causeway Coast & Glen Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Nearest big town to start point: Bushmills (6 miles) and Ballycastle (8 miles).

Distance: 2 miles.

Terrain: Golden sands with steps down to the beach and short stretch of rocky shoreline.

Refreshments: There is a tearoom at Ballintoy harbour and the National Trust’s Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede nearby. Refreshments also in Bushmills and Ballycastle.

Walk Developed By: National Trust.

Ordnance Survey Map: Sheet 5.

ATLANTIC BACKDROP: White Park Bay

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