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At Benone Strand, it is Downhill all the way ...

By Linda Stewart

Tired of slogging through oceans of mud and splattering your clothes every time you set foot out of the door? Head to the North Coast for some fresh air and sweeping ocean horizons.



As we near the close of Walk This Way, we’re highlighting the most popular walks we’ve found in each county, as measured by hits on the WalkNI website.

One of the biggest hitters is Benone Strand, which forms part of one of Ireland's longest beaches. The Blue Flag beach lies on Ulster's breezy north coast, with magnificent views to the Inishowen peninsula in Donegal and as far away as Scotland, and is popular throughout the year for a variety of outdoor activities and events.

The beach stretches for seven miles from Downhill to Magilligan Point, backed by sand dunes and 750ft (229m) cliffs and is a popular area for the study of botany, entomology and shells.

Directions

Benone Strand is located off the Seacoast Rd (A2), 12 miles north of Limavady and four miles west of Castlerock. A regular bus route runs from Limavady to Coleraine.

Park at the entrance to Benone Strand or on the beach if the area is busy and continue eastwards along the beach with views towards Downhill and Mussenden Temple.

Retrace your steps to Benone for a longer walk. The area has a seasonal dog-free policy from May to September. Boardwalks in duneland may be used for dog walking to reach the open beach. The military firing range to the west of beach entrance has restricted access.

Be aware of the various activities on the beach such as shore angling, kiting, horses etc throughout the year.

The backdrop

Benone Strand and Downhill fall within the Magilligan Special Area of Conservation, a site of European importance and one of the largest dune systems in the UK and Ireland. The beach, duneland and shore play host to a variety of wildlife.

Following winter storms, a variety of seashells including scallop, Icelandic mussel and razor clam shells will be strewn across the shore. Watch carefully for pods of harbour porpoise tumbling through the waves off the shore. Visitors can enjoy magnificent views to Islay and Jura on the west coast of Scotland, Inishowen and the North Coast.

There cannot be a more wild and dramatic place in Northern Ireland than the nearby landscape park of Downhill. The mansion reflects the personality of its flamboyant creator, Earl Bishop Hervey.

Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry, he created an elegant mansion which became one of the most renowned in Ireland containing treasures from throughout Europe. It suffered a disastrous fire in 1851 which destroyed most of the contents. The building was rebuilt and lived in until shortly after World War II when the roof was taken off and it is now in ruins.

Hervey also spent a vast fortune on the grounds. He erected a mausoleum in 1778 dedicated to the memory of his brother, the 2nd Earl, the top of which collapsed during a storm in 1839. He also built the Lion Gate which stands beside the remains of a double-walled garden with dovecot and ice house still intact.

On the nearby clifftop the Earl Bishop built the circular Mussenden Temple as his library, modelled on the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli.

However, over the years the erosion of the cliff face at Downhill has carried Mussenden Temple ever closer to the brink, and in 1997 the National Trust carried out cliff stabilisation work to prevent the loss of the building.

Given Mussenden Temple's precipitous location, the inscription around its dome presents a challenge to nature and the elements, reading: ‘Tis pleasant, safely to behold from shore, The rolling ship, and hear the tempest roar.' The inscription is by Lucretius, translated by Dryden.

Now part of the National Trust property of Downhill Estate & Mussenden Temple, the grounds are open to the public all year from dawn to dusk.

A walk through nearby Downhill Forest will allow you to view one of Northern Ireland's fattest Sitka spruce trees (in 1962 the girth was approximately 6m), an Early Christian Promontory Fort and an old water powered sawmill. The forest is located directly beside the Downhill Tourist Hostel if you plan on staying for more than a day.

Further information

For further information on walking or any other outdoor activity, please contact Countryside Access and Activities Network, tel: 028 9030 3930 or www.countrysiderecreation.co m.

Countryside Access and Activities Network (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: Benone Strand

Area: Binevenagh Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Nearest big town to start point: Village of Drumavalley, Magilligan

Distance: 2.5 miles / 4km

Terrain: Sandy coastal walk

Refreshments: Morelli’s in Portstewart has always been a favourite for visitors to the area

Publications: Walk the Bann & Roe Valleys — Landscapes from stone, Route 4. You can pick up a copy of this at Limavady TIC 028 7776 0307

Map: Sheets 4 of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discovery Series

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