Come rain or shine, we do like to be beside the seaside
Ivan Little finds Newcastle thriving despite the dismal summer weather
Stop press. Hold the front page. For the breaking news is that a strange object spotted glowing in the skies over Newcastle yesterday afternoon at 2.59pm has been positively identified by experts as... the sun.
After a washout of a wearisome July and early August when it never rained but it rained again, the appearance of the UFO - the Unusual Fiery Orb - above the Mournes was fleeting to say the least.
Indeed the sun was a bit like the hokey-cokey - one minute it was in, the next it was out. But no one was shaking much about, apart from sodden umbrellas - which has been the norm so far in Ulster's sad, soggy shocker of a summer.
But contrary to expectations, and some would say common sense, the weather hasn't dampened Newcastle's tourist business much. In the Newcastle Centre, with its refurbished fitness suite and its summer schemes, visitor numbers have been up on previous years, possibly because the sun quota has been down on previous years.
Yesterday, heavy rain in Belfast in the morning sent day-trippers scurrying to Newcastle where the weather forecasts foreshadowed more clement climes.
They were wrong.
Arriving at Murlough Cottage caravan park I was caught in a cloudburst, sadly the first of many. Park manager Adrian Truesdale said, however, that business appeared to be booming in Newcastle's seven caravan parks despite the daily downpours.
"We have three generations of the same families coming here and they all brave the elements most days. We have 216 static caravans, including a residential section, plus 25 touring pitches which have had steady bookings all summer."
In their caravan, Dollingstown woman Allyson Ervine, her three daughters and their grandfather Andrew Owens weren't exactly singing in the rain, but they had a very definite sunny disposition as they ate lunch in front of misted-up windows.
"We don't worry about the weather," said Allyson. "Obviously we would like to have wall-to-wall sunshine like it used to be in my younger days but we don't let the rain stop our fun."
Nicole (13) said: "We have lots of friends and we just go about and play or shop. We also go to the beach. If it's too wet we have plenty of games for inside the caravan."
Shania (4) added: "If it rains, I love to go outside in my swimsuit. It's great."
Danielle (11), who's a promising hockey player, said: "There's an all-weather AstroTurf pitch near our caravan and we can play all sorts of sports on it."
Andrew, who's had a caravan on the site for 45 years, said: "There's rarely a day goes by that we don't get out and about, no matter what is happening on the weather front. We are near the town and we can also head across to the beach at Murlough. What more could you want?"
I was tempted to say a heatwave. But I kept my powder dry, though that was about the only thing that hadn't been drenched.
However, it was shortly after heading back into town that the unbelievable happened. At one minute to three, the clouds parted and though it wasn't the second coming or anything like that, it was still something of a miracle to witness what happened next.
The empty streets were quickly chock-a-bloc. And almost drawn by an invisible hand, many people descended on the town's plentiful ice-cream shops for tubs, cones and sliders which showed they wouldn't be licked by whatever the weather threw at them.
And, of course, the gods didn't disappoint. Or rather they did. For at 3.43pm it was a case of wish you weren't here as torrential torrents returned and the 21 hardy souls who'd been relaxing on the beach were sent running for cover again.
"That's just Newcastle for you," said Claire Braniff, vice-chairman of the town's Chamber of Commerce. She added that Newcastle businesses had had a surprisingly good season, possibly because the conditions hadn't been ideal. "A typical sight here is the holidaymaker walking about wearing shorts and carrying an umbrella just in case."
Sharon and Des McVeigh were just two such plucky visitors. They'd come down on a whim from Belfast after the rain had come down on them there. They were swiftly engaged in Newcastle's oldest pastime - dodge the deluge.
"We've taken shelter in a number of cafes but there have been the odd spells of sun to enjoy," said Des as he and Sharon scoffed their ice creams under a massive brolly.
Carryduff-based Trevor Ferguson, his partner Heather Strain and their extended family didn't know what to expect in Newcastle.
Said Heather: "You can never tell what the weather is going to do. On our way into the town it was pouring but just a few hundred yards along the road, it was dry. But we are all having a good time reminiscing about Sunday School outings and the rowing boats in the park."
At Maud's ice-cream parlour and café which affords spectacular views over the Mournes - if they aren't shrouded in clouds - there was hardly a spare seat in the place yesterday.
Owner Patricia Pell (left) said: "I suppose from our point of view the bad weather does increase business. But people tend to sit on a little longer if it's teeming down outside. However, it's not the same atmosphere in here on the bad days. People are more depressed and you can sense them cheering up if the sun pops up."
At the Golf Links guest house just outside Newcastle, the Irish Open golf brought a ray of sunshine even before any little white balls were hit.
Proprietor Eileen McPolin said: "Eight of our 17 rooms were occupied by Sky Sports teams for eight nights in a row. But overall, we've hardly had an empty room this year. The majority of our guests are old faithfuls who have been coming for the past 37 years and the rain doesn't stop them. I've never heard a complaint."
Just up the road the Slieve Donard Hotel and Spa has had the house full signs up repeatedly over the summer. General manager Stephen Meldrum said: "There really is no better place to be when the rain is bucketing down than in our vitality pool taking in the views of the sea and the Mournes."
Not far away, a shop in the town has a name that reflects the unpredictable weather in Newcastle. It's called Four Seasons. All of which were on show yesterday.
But near the harbour, a spa which offers seaweed baths cleaned up in the seasonal game of the names. It's called… Soak.