Sunday, 24 June 2018

JOURNEY'S END


In January 2011 I set off on a virtual blogging journey around the British coast, and this month I finally ran out of coast to blog about.  “Why?” I hear you cry.  Well, I have always had a fascination for the idea of travelling around the entire coast of Britain, preferably on foot, but for various reasons I have never had the time, money or energy to do it.  I also enjoy writing, however, and one dark winter’s morning as I was lying in bed I suddenly had an idea: “I know, I’ll blog my way around the coast”.  Added to which, the British coast has given me a huge amount of pleasure over the years, and I just wanted to give something back.



So what have I discovered about the British coast?



-          There’s always something going on!  Music festivals, food and drink festivals, sea shanty festivals, literary festivals, sailing events, surfing events, marathons and half marathons – the list is endless.  Although I have stopped blogging, I will continue to list selected events for each week, so if you want to find out what’s going on, check in from time to time.



-          Every single place, no matter how small, has a story to tell, and there is so much history everywhere.  When I came to Charmouth on the Dorset coast, I wondered how much I would find to say about such a small place, and then I discovered that it was the scene of a succession of bloody battles against the Danes in the 9th century.  Moreover, that Catherine of Aragon had once stayed there in a building later to become a pub, after which Charles II turned up in disguise after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651.



-          Our coastline is one of the most varied of any country in the world.  From the towering cliffs and pounding seas of Cornwall or Pembrokeshire, the islands of the Hebrides, some doing an imitation of the Caribbean with their pristine white sand beaches, interesting rock formations and sea stacks, dunes such as those at Camber, the marshes of North Norfolk, the rias of the South Cornwall and South Devon coasts, the risky mudflats of Morecambe Bay.



-          There is one recurring theme which strikes me as particularly sad, and that is the amount of industry that has disappeared from our coasts.  The most visible example of this is in Poldark country, my home county of Cornwall, where everywhere you go there are reminders of a long-lost tin and copper mining industry.  In Combe Martin, Devon, it is lead and silver mining which have bitten the dust.  Other places have lost their coal mines, and in North Yorkshire it was ironstone which ceased to be mined.  Strontian in West Scotland lost its lead, zinc, tin and silver mines.  Another disappearing industry in many places is shipbuilding, and numerous ports have become shadows of their former selves due to the decline in export activity.  As for fishing, although it continues in many places, there are countless places where the fishing has given way to more leisurely pursuits.



-          The amazing people who selflessly give of their time for the benefit of the coast and the people who enjoy it.  First and foremost, the brave people of the RNLI who risk their lives to save others, and the folk who work for the Coastguard, doing their best in the face of brutal cuts.  The people who give up their weekends for beach cleans, wildlife surveys and other activities.  The people who organise the aforementioned events and festivals and who raise money for charity.



And finally, I would like to dedicate my blog to its biggest fan, my lovely mother Barbara, who will be 90 in a few weeks’ time.  You can see some of her paintings in the Cornwall section of my blog.

Friday, 15 June 2018

RATHLIN ISLAND


And so to the last island on my coastal blogging journey.  With its distinctive boomerang shape, Rathlin Island has the distinction of being the only inhabited island within the jurisdiction of Northern Ireland.  The island is easily accessible from the mainland, being linked to Ballycastle by means of a ferry service for passengers and vehicles, the maximum crossing time 40 minutes.  Most of the signs of civilisation, including a bar, accommodation and shops, are to be found next to a small west-facing harbour, the departure point for the ferries.  Among the historic sites on the island are a Kelp House, where kelp used to be stored prior to being sent to Scotland, a standing stone and the site of a Neolithic settlement, a reminder of the earliest human presence on the island between 4000 and 2500 BC. 



There is a well-known story about the Scottish king Robert the Bruce, in which he is taking refuge in a cave after being driven from Scotland by Edward I of England.  He observes a spider persevering in repeated attempts to bridge a gap with its web, and the spider’s efforts inspire him to return to Scotland to regain his crown.  As is often the case with such stories, there are a number of places where this event is claimed to have taken place, but a few years ago one of Robert’s descendents claimed that it happened on Rathlin Island.



Another notable event from history was the Rathlin Island Massacre in 1575.  At that time there was a castle on the island, and the MacDonnells of Antrim took refuge there and used it as a base for their resistance to the Enterprise of Ulster.  Their leader, Sorley Boy MacDonnell, also decided to send a host of women, children, elderly and sick to the island for safety.  However, this proved to be a bad move when Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Norreys, acting for the 1st Earl of Essex in his campaign to subdue Ulster, attacked the castle, and even went as far as seeking out the more vulnerable folk who were hiding in caves.  The result was 600 dead, including over 400 civilians.  The dead included the entire family of Sorley Boy MacDonnell, who was forced to watch helplessly from the mainland.



Rathlin Island had a mention on the last episode of this year’s Springwatch, when it was announced that the corncrake has returned to the island, making it the only place in Northern Ireland where the bird has been heard in recent years.  According to the island’s RSPB  page, as well as the corncrake, the island is home to Northern Ireland’s only breeding pair of chough, while other birds to be found there include puffin, guillemot, kittiwake, razorbill and fulmar.


Rathlin’s liveliest week of the year comes in the first half of July when Rathlin Festival Week takes place.  For a list of events on the island follow this link.

Map of the area.

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Church Bay. Photo by Anne Burgess, via Wikimedia Commons


Monday, 4 June 2018

CULMORE


Culmore is at the mouth of the River Foyle, a short distance downstream from the city of Londonderry, or Derry, slightly further inland.  This geographical location proved to be of strategic importance in May 1600 when Sir Henry Docwra, 1st Baron Docwra of Culmore, landed here with his army prior to taking Derry in an attempt to quash a war against the crown in Ulster.  The 17th century Culmore Fort on Culmore Point played a part in another event a few years later when Sir Cahir O’Doherty captured a supply of arms from there before launching what came to be known as O’Doherty’s Rebellion.  A more recent claim to fame for the village is that Amelia Earhart completed her solo translatlantic flight in 1932 by coming down on Culmore. 



Just beyond Culmore is the border with the Republic of Ireland, making it the last mainland coastal settlement on my blogging odyssey around the British coast.  However, there is one last place to blog about: Rathlin Island.  Watch this space.


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Culmore Point. Photo by Kenneth Allen, via Wikimedia Commons


Thursday, 24 May 2018

MAGILLIGAN POINT


Well, I am nearing the end of my blogging journey around the British coast, and this is the last headland before the border with the Republic of Ireland.  Poking out into the mouth of Lough Foyle, Magilligan Point is a short distance from the Republic and there is a year-round ferry to Greencastle on the other side.  A short distance from the ferry crossing point is a Martello tower built during the Napoleonic Wars to protect the lough from those pesky French, but also as a defence against American privateers.  Group tours of the tower can be undertaken by arrangement.  The tower stands within the Magilligan Point Nature Reserve, distinguished by its extensive system of sand dunes, the largest in Northern Ireland.  The flora growing among the dunes attract a variety of insects such as bees and moths, including the rare Scarce Crimson and Gold Moth, a variety of moth only found along this coast.


File:Martello Tower, Magilligan Point - geograph.org.uk - 583940.jpg
Photo by Ross, via Wikimedia Commons


Friday, 18 May 2018

CASTLEROCK


The kilometre-long stretch of sandy beach stretching to the west of the mouth of the River Bann belongs to the small resort of Castlerock.  The beach is adjacent to the Castlerock Golf Club and its dunes continue upstream to a National Trust bird sanctuary.  Wildlife enthusiasts should keep their eyes peeled when eyeing the estuary as harbour porpoises and seals can sometimes be seen feeding there.  Castlerock’s celebrity claim to fame is that the actor James Nesbitt called the resort home when a teenager. 



Another famous name associated with Castlerock is the author C. S. Lewis, who used to holiday there when growing up in Belfast.  Lewis used to visit the nearby Downhill Demesne, and was so captivated by the site that it provided inspiration for some of his work, including The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  The Demesne is run by the National Trust and includes the ruined 18th century mansion Downhill House, a Mausoleum, a Dovecote and an Icehouse among its points of interest.  For nature lovers there are The Bog Garden, The Black Glen, and there is a Walled Garden which nowadays is home to sheep and apple trees.  Another attraction within the Demesne is the clifftop Mussenden Temple, which is based on the Temple of Vesta in Italy, and which, along with the beautiful beach it overlooks, featured in Game of Thrones as Dragonstone.  By the way, the word 'demesne' is used in Ireland to mean a piece of land attached to a manor.


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Mussenden Temple overlooking Downhill Beach. Photo by D LN, via Wikimedia Commons


Thursday, 10 May 2018

PORTSTEWART


In a dramatic scene from series 5 of Game of Thrones, Jaime Lannister and Bronn are seen duelling with the Dornish guards on a stunning beach.  The beach in question was the Strand of Portstewart, just across the county border from Portrush, in County Londonderry.  The timing of the filming, which took place in 2014, was unfortunate, being in August, the busiest time of the year, as the beach had to be completely closed for it.  However, there was significant payback for the resort, which gained valuable exposure as a result of its starring role in the series.



The Portstewart Strand, which holds Blue Flag status, stretches out from the mouth of the River Bann, with the Portstewart Golf Club at one end.  The beach is popular with surfers, and in the town there is a Dive Centre for divers at Aquaholics, where boat trips can also be booked.  One the opposite bank of the river and inland a bit is a bird hide run by the National Trust (as is the Strand itself).  The hide offers the opportunity to observe waterfowl, waders and nesting birds.  The built up part of Portstewart lies to the other side of the golf course, occupying an area surrounding a small rocky peninsula, and it has a range of cafes, restaurants, pubs and shops for visitors to choose from.  There is a promenade leading to the Strand, taking in a small harbour. 


File:The Promenade at Portstewart - geograph.org.uk - 1322701.jpg
Photo by Des Colhoun, via Wikimedia Commons


Thursday, 3 May 2018

PORTRUSH


Portrush, which has signs of human habitation going back to around 4000 BC, started out as a fishing town, but the arrival of the Ballymena, Ballymoney, Coleraine and Portrush Junction Railway in 1855 paved the way for its development into a resort.  Attractions such as Barry’s Amusements and Waterworld make it a hit with families.



The big attractions at Portrush are its wonderful beaches, the windswept location making them popular with surfers.  Horse riders and dog walkers are also attracted to the golden sands, though these should be aware that restrictions apply from May to September.  Whiterocks Beach, so named because of the limestone cliffs and rocks dotted about the beach, which were formed around 150 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period, lies to the east of the town, bordered by the Royal Portrush Golf Course.  The East Strand, meanwhile, is managed by the National Trust, so parking is free for members.  



For offshore activities, Portrush Sea Tours offer boat trips and charters, and the town has a Yacht Club.  The town itself is built on a peninsula called Ramore Head (the name Portrush comes from the Irish Port Rois, meaning “promontory port”.  On the east side of the peninsula is the Blue Pool, which is popular with divers.  Golfers are well catered for, with a second golf course, Ballyreagh Golf Course, to the west of the town.  The Coastal Zone is a visitor centre with an exhibition space covering aspects of the area’s history and natural attributes.  A group of small offshore islands called The Skerries are home to seabirds such as kittiwake and eider duck as well as more exotic marine species such as the cotton spinner sea cucumber.



Portrush  hosts a number of prominent events every year, including an Air Show in September, the North West 200 motorcycle race in May and an RNLI Raft Race.  For a list of events in the resort follow this link.



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White Rocks Beach. Photo by Albert Bridge, via Wikimedia Commons