The North Down coastal path is a popular spot for walkers and families out for a gentle stroll but on the other side of Belfast Lough lies an equally beautiful stretch of the Northern Irish coast. For Mother’s Day my parents, sister and I took to Whitehead, north of Belfast, to take a walk along the Blackhead Path. The walk brings coastal views, a lighthouse, steep steps and in spring/summer lots of wild flowers and greenery.
Starting from the car park the path runs along the bottom of the Blackhead cliffs where you’ll come across McCartney’s Cave (also known as the Schoolmaster’s Bedchamber) and the fascinating story of it’s namesake. Thomas McCartney, a school teacher in the district in the early 1800s, lived in this cave… yes actually lived in a cave… a learned man living… in a cave. The large cavity in the right side of the cave was his bedchamber safe from the incoming tides below. McCartney was well respected so in his later years parents of his past pupils built him a little cabin where he died in 1855.
The path along the bottom of the cliffs is a little similar to the Gobbins Path (which you can read about here) although it hasn’t had the £7.5m investment of County Antrim’s latest attraction. The rails are rusted and broken and provide little to no safety from the tides below so this is definitely not a path suitable for children.
From the bottom of the cliffs the ascent begins to the lighthouse. In operation since 1902 the lighthouse has of course now been converted from manual operation and its adjacent lightkeepers’ cottages have been lovingly restored. These cottages providing spectatcular views over the lough are available for holiday rental through the Irish Landmark Trust. To find out more about the lighthouse and it’s history check out The Great Lighthouses of Ireland.
Following the path around the lighthouse you’ll begin your descent down the many steps back towards sea level. During the spring and summer months the hedgrerows here will be dotted with colourful wild flowers although you will most likely find a few rogue flora species dispersed in the winds from nearby gardens.
Back to the car park we enjoyed our picnic whilst surveying the beautiful scenery surrounding us.
After refuelling we continued our exploration of this part of the Antrim Coast as we drove further north to Portmuck in Islandmagee. A quaint little harbour, Portmuck makes for a delightful coastal walk. Take the path to the right and follow the wooden steps onto the rocks over the spongy grass and onto the white pebble shore.
The tombolo of the Isle of Muck may be tempting to explore, however access to the island, which is an Ulster Wildlife Trust nature reserve, is not permitted. You can still admire the feathered wildlife such as kittiwakes and guillemots flying overhead.
This area is steeped in history, a monastery and fortress were once situated here, the sheltered bay was a haven for smuggling and the harbour was originally built to aid the export of Islandmagee limestone.
Both the Blackhead Path and Portmuck were blissfully quiet at this time of year so if you fancy a coastal walk only half an hour away from Belfast city then put Whitehead on your list. For more information on routes check out the Walk NI website.
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