From Northern Ireland with love ... the top places to set our hearts racing
After the Giant's Causeway and the Dark Hedges made it into a Mills & Boon poll of the Top 20 romantic locations in the UK, Karen Ireland asks local people to name the Northern Ireland destination they think has all the right ingredients for love
Andrea Montgomery (52), a theatre director and playwright, lives in Belfast with her husband, singer Anthony Toner. She says: Northern Ireland will always be the most romantic place in the world to me, as it is where I met my husband. I had travelled over from my home in Canada to put on a theatre show in Coleraine.
The organisers picked me up from the airport and said they would show me around the town. The first person they introduced me to was Anthony.
We didn't get together until the next time I came over for a visit and on our first date he proposed to me.
We were at Dunluce Castle, which I think is a truly romantic backdrop and he just casually said 'You know, you could marry me'.
I was completely shocked and said that I could, but we would need to have a date first.
A few weeks later we moved in together and then got married. I have lived over here since 2002.
Apart from the north coast, which will always be special to us because it is where we met and where Anthony proposed, to us Mount Stewart is one of the most romantic locations in Northern Ireland.
It is just so magical there and that is where we always go to spend quality time together. I love places which are full of history and magic and Mount Stewart is where we go to discuss things together and to make plans for our future.
There is nowhere else like Northern Ireland on Earth."
Katie Stephens (27), from Holywood, owns online Beaux Baby Boutique. Her partner is Neil Work (34), an oil and gas engineer, who lives in Australia. She says:
My boyfriend Neil and I have a long-distance romance and I have just got back from nine months in Australia. I’d a lovely time, but being away for so long really made me appreciate home and the beauty we have on our doorstep in Northern Ireland.
Neil and I met in Greece on holiday more than five years ago — and then neither of us heard from the other for a couple of years until I randomly added him on Facebook one day.
We talked for about nine months and then we got together. Now, we have been dating for two and a half years and are planning to move together to Aberdeen soon.
Neil is originally from Orkney, but works in Australia. However, he loves Northern Ireland and we have had some of our most romantic dates here — there is so much to see and do on a day out here.
One of our favourite places is Mount Stewart, the National Trust property a few miles outside Greyabbey in Co Down. It is just so romantic, with all its hidden walks and beautiful scenery and swans and bridges.
After a stroll through its grounds we always call into the tearooms for a cuppa and a scone. It truly is a wonderful day out and you really feel like you are transported to another world.
We also love days out on the north coast; we’ve enjoyed staying in the Bushmills Inn and going to the Giant’s Causeway — which was one of the most romantic places in the Mills & Boon survey — as well as Bushmills Distillery. As Neil comes from Orkney, which is so small, he is constantly surprised by how much there is to see and do here. He loves going for coastal walks around Holywood, which is where I grew up, and I love showing him different places and exploring with him.
One of our favourite things is to go for a walk and then call into a restaurant along the coast for dinner and a drink. It is a really relaxing and special time.
Having travelled a lot and lived in different places, I can honestly say the most beautiful and romantic places are right here at home.”
Amanda Witzer Rankin (29) is a stay-at-home mum who takes drumming workshops in schools. She lives in Dromore, Co Down, with her husband Chris Rankin, a teacher, and their two daughters, Acacia (4) and Annabelle (2). She says:
I moved to Northern Ireland from Philadelphia 10-and-a-half years ago. One gap year led to another and then I met my now husband Chris and ended up getting married and staying here.
I think this is a very romantic country with lots of interesting spots, particularly along its coastline. In particular, Murlough Bay in Newcastle is very special to both of us as that is where Chris proposed to me.
When we were dating we went there a lot so it had become a very special place, but Chris’s proposal didn’t quite go according to plan.
He had taken me to Malin Head to see the Northern Lights a few days prior. It was the middle of the night and pitch black and unfortunately we couldn’t see a thing. Worse, we were the only two people around and I got scared and made him take me home. Little did I know that he had a flask of hot chocolate packed and had planned to propose to me in front of the Northern Lights.
He then decided to do it the following day on a beach on the north coast but when we woke up it was freezing cold and the rain was pelting and I refused to go to the beach.
So you could say I ruined two proposals.
I remember on the way home in the car I made some remark to Chris along the lines of ‘if you would ever propose to me...’ and he muttered something like ‘if you would ever give me a chance’.
We had talked about getting married and I knew he did intend to propose at some point. I realised that somehow I had ruined the surprise.
The next day it was raining again but when Chris suggested going to Murlough Bay I didn’t hesitate. Even though the weather was dreadful I wasn’t going to spoil it again.
So, we went to the beach and Chris gave me a letter to read.
It said that a male penguin walks the beach until he found the perfect pebble. When he found it, he gave it to a female penguin and if she accepted the pebble they became mates for life.
When I looked up he was waddling towards me like a penguin and he had a perfect pebble in his hand. He held it out and I accepted.
We had been over to the States at Christmas and he had asked my dad’s permission.
Everything in that moment was perfect. Even the weather didn’t matter — it was a beautiful day to us and a very special place.
I accepted the proposal with a pebble and we picked the ring a few weeks later together.
With two young daughters and busy lives, it is difficult to plan romantic dates but we made a pact this year to go on a date once a month and take it in turns to surprise each other with a plan.
So far this has worked really well; we have been to the Gobbins coastal walk, we’ve been on Segways and sometimes we just play Monopoly in our local coffee shop.
We have also discovered another favourite place which is also called Murlough Bay, though this one is in Ballycastle. You have to drive along all these small, intricate, winding roads to get to it — it’s like being on a roller coaster — and then it opens up into a gorgeous lagoon. It’s a real oasis and it has become more popular now due to Game of Thrones.
We love nothing more than gong out for a drive and discovering new and interesting places together. We always have an adventure.”
Eleanor McGillie (42) is the owner of Live It Experience It and lives in Calendon, Co Armagh. She says:
I am a singleton but I am still a hopeless romantic and to me Northern Ireland has some of the most romantic landscapes. We have very dramatic landscapes, from the Mourne Mountains to the north coast and all of it is just waiting to be explored.
I am very lucky, because as part of my job I get to travel around and visit parts of this country that not so many people get to explore — and then I write about it.
There are so many rural roads with beautiful spots throughout Co Tyrone and Co Antrim and lots of hidden gems. Many people are not even aware that some of these places actually exist unless they travel along them and find them for themselves.
One of the most romantic spots I’ve discovered on my travels was on a drive in Fermanagh when I chanced upon the Lough Navar Forest Scenic Drive. It is absolutely stunning and I remember thinking this would be the perfect place to have a date.
There is a long drive up into the mountains through a 200-hectare forest.
At the top you reach a stunning point where you can look all over Lower Lough Erne. On a clear day you can see the Sperrin Mountains and the west coast of Donegal.
For as far as the eye can see, the landscape is beautiful — and it would be the perfect spot for a date, especially with a picnic full of Northern Ireland produce. As you drive up to the top there are lots of stop-off points, with picnic tables made from granite.
If I was on a date there I would stop off at all the viewpoints including Magho Viewpoint and take in the rugged beauty of the area and the splendour of the lough.
It is honestly one of the most romantic places I have ever been — and now I have found the perfect spot I just need to find the perfect man to share it with.”
Anna Kissick (29) is married to Niall. They live in Waringstown with their three children, Emily (2½) and twins, Tilly and Isla, who are 14 months old. She says:
To me, Northern Ireland is very romantic and full of hidden gems. People just need to get out and about and discover them for themselves. We have many special places, both as a couple and now as a family of five.
One of my favourite places is Niall’s mum and dad’s house in Ballinderry, as that is where he proposed to me, so it will always be special. I was lying on the sofa sleeping, of all things, and he came up to me and started playing on his guitar and singing Snow Patrol’s Just Say Yes.
When I woke and realised what was gong on, of course, I said yes. It was a very romantic moment between the two of us and something I will always treasure. So that house and that exact spot in it will always be one of my favourite places.
Date-wise, I think one of the most romantic spots in Northern Ireland is the rockpools at the foot of Slieve Donard.
We have had many romantic picnics there and then gone for walks up the mountain.
We now take the girls there and Emily loves playing in the rockpools with her dad. It is a beautiful part of the world and it is like being transported away to another land — it is magical and truly beautiful.
With a young family, we try to get out and about as much as possible and make memories for us now as a family. Another favourite place to go is the Fairy Glen in Newry. The girls love it there and it is very wild and romantic. Again, it is another of our picnic spots and Emily’s imagination runs wild as there are lots of fairy doors on the trees and she can go exploring.
There are so many places in Northern Ireland just waiting to be explored. With a young family, life can be hectic, but we still try to make time for romantic dates and picnics.”