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Walk of the Week: Portstewart Strand Sand Dune & Estuary Trail

Life’s a beach on this sandy Blue Flag strandSome of Ireland’s tallest sand dunes are to be found overlooking Portstewart Strand, one of Northern Ireland’s most popular beaches.

The beach holds the European Blue Flag award for its water quality and beach/dune management and is very popular with families in the summer months and with walkers throughout the year.

The towering sand dunes behind the beach have been declared as an Area of Special Scientific Interest, together with the adjoining Bann Estuary. From here the River Bann — Northern Ireland’s longest river — ends its journey on entering the North Atlantic.


The Strand lies one mile west of the resort town of Portstewart and is well signposted with brown tourist road signs. Parking is permitted on the beach in a designated car parking zone, close to the Beach Visitor Centre.

Starting from the beach entrance, the first section of the walk is a one-mile stroll along the magnificent strand, heading in the direction of distant Mussenden Temple, a folly perched on the cliff edge.

After one mile you will arrive at a line of wooden posts strung out across the beach, and at this point the walk heads into the sand dunes.

The exact point of entry into the dunes is marked by a lifebuoy station with a No 10 highlighted on it — head for this and climb the wooden sand ladder.

At the top of the sand ladder take the right forked sandy path (narrow) and keep an eye out for white waymarker posts — these posts will lead walkers through the dunes to the estuary.

Points of interest will include an active rabbit warren, with closely nibbled dune grasslands rich in wild flowers.

Look out for marram grass, as well as rare pyramidal and bee orchids during the summer months, along with colourful ‘carpet displays’ of plants such as bird’s-foot trefoil, wild pansy and thyme.

Fairly quickly, you will then come out at the river edge and the different world of the Bann Estuary awaits.

A major feature will be the birds of the estuary — an identification book would be handy. One to look for is the handsome shelduck.

Walkers at this stage should turn right on arriving at the river edge and follow a well-worn path along the edge of the estuary.

After about a quarter of a mile, the path leaves the river edge very briefly and climbs onto an old railway line embankment. Walk along this old disused railway track for another quarter mile, until reaching the river edge again.

At this point the path follows a small sandy embayment for about 200 yards (still going right), before climbing up a number of stone steps (still close to the river edge).

From here the path continues along the river edge, only with a bit more height, due to the towering sand dunes rising up.

Views really start to open up of the Barmouth, where the River Bann enters the Atlantic, with the headlands of Donegal in the background. Look out for the relatively unspoilt Victorian seaside resort of Castlerock across the river.

After a short distance the undulating path returns once again to the same beach where you first started out, the only difference being that you now have to walk the entire length of Portstewart Strand to get back to your starting point.

further information

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

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: Portstewart Strand Sand Dune & Estuary Trail.

Area: Binevenagh Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Nearest big town to start point: Portstewart.

Distance: 3.5 miles.

Terrain: Suitable parking for all on level beach and footpath with ramp access to beach for pedestrians. Two miles of sandy beach (no rocky sections). Waymarked trail in dunes has some steep sandy paths with steps & damp, soft underfoot sections along the estuary.

Access Restrictions: Not suitable for wheelchair users.

Refreshments/facilities: Beach Visitor Centre including toilets and disabled toilets, showers, refreshments and retail, beach parking; pedestrian access path ramp; events & staff on duty (March to October).

Publications: National Trust Walks information leaflet.

Walk Developed By: The National Trust.

Map: Sheet 4 of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discoverer Series, available from Land & Property Services Map Shop, Lincoln Buildings, 27-45 Great Victoria Street, Belfast BT2 7SL, lpsni.gov.uk.

Belfast Telegraph