As a Larne-born man I’m no stranger to the wonders of the Antrim Coast. As a youngster I remember family day trips to Portrush, the entertainment mecca of Northern Ireland in my youth and the closest many of us could ever get to a Disneyland or an Alton Towers.
And as I have got older I have appreciated the beauty of our scenic coastline more and more, proudly introducing it to visiting friends over the years.
But it had been a few years since my last visit to the north-west, so I was looking forward to refreshing my memory as I showed it off to my in-laws on a recent trip.
Technically the Causeway Coastal Route covers 80 miles of coastline across two counties, beginning in Belfast and ending in the Walled City of Derry. And certainly if, like me, you are treating visitors to the best sights our country has to offer, then if you have the time it’s worthwhile going through Carrickfergus with its fine castle en route.
But as any Larne man will tell you, the Antrim Coast proper starts from the town, as you pass under the Black Arch and head up through a host of picturesque villages such as Ballygally, Glenarm, Cushedall and Cushendun.
There’s too many to list, you are spoilt for choice for lovely little places to grab food and
drink and an ice-cream to marvel at the view of Scotland on a clear day.
Our destination was the amazing Cromore Village cottages just outside Portstewart — a holiday haven set in lush, peaceful surroundings.
Cromore Village is a courtyard of unique stone cottages providing self-catering holiday accommodation — the core of the complex is formed from converted stables.
There are six two-bedroom and two three-bedroom properties and all the houses are fabulously furnished inside and kitted out with the best of gear.
No two cottages are alike in their decor and layout but each has an open plan living space great for kids and mod-cons include free WiFi, oil fired central heating, a fully equipped kitchen and a 32” plasma TV with digibox and DVD player.
Outside there is large gardens, picnic tables and a brilliant dedicated barbecue
area, the perfect tranquil setting where you can enjoy a relaxed dinner outside in the good weather.
Ambitious owner Andrew Bradley was also overseeing plans for a trout fishing lake and a cookery school in its vast grounds at the time of our visit.
We found it was the perfect base from which to explore the rest of the north-west area, where there are countless sights and activities for everyone to enjoy.
From great golf courses, pubs and restaurants, to coastal rambles, mountain-biking and hill walking, there is an embarrassment of riches in this part of the world.
And that’s before we even mention the world-class attractions, led, of course, by the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, both of which everyone from Northern Ireland should experience at least once in their lifetime.
On the North Coast you’ll find SIX Blue Flag beaches: Benone/Magilligan, Downhill, Portstewart Strand, Portrush West, Whiterocks at Portrush and Castlerock, not forgetting Whitepark Bay in Ballintoy, which is owned by the National Trust.
In my opinion Portstewart is home to the nicest promenade in Ulster, but there’s also a brand new promenade at East Strand in Portrush where you will also find a watersports centre — East Strand is a paradise for surfers.
Deserted ruins of castles, churches, cairns and forts pepper the coastline, with Dunluce Castle being the most spectacular example of a castle ruin. And Mussenden Temple, which bisects Castlerock and Downhill beaches, is a preserved building which deserves closer inspection.
Other attractions in the area include the seaside village of Portballintrae, the historic Old Bushmills Distillery, the seaside town of Ballycastle, from where you can take a ferry to Rathlin Island, and if you fancy a good walk you can also tackle the Causeway Coastal Way, a 52km walking route.
More and more of us are enjoying ‘staycations’, holidaying at home, in these austere times — but many more of us don’t realise or simply forget what delights are right here on our doorstep in ‘Norn Iron’.
I, for one, was glad to be reminded — I’ll make sure I don’t leave it as long for my next trip to the north-west and I recommend you do the same.