With the shorter days now upon us, getting out and about for some family adventure can without a doubt become more of a challenge. During the winter months I feel like I am constantly chasing the light, getting out of the house as early as possible and staying out until sunset in order to make the most of the day. It’s no easy feat getting a family out the door in the mornings, complete with all the clothing required for our changeable weather here in Northern Ireland as well as enough snacks to fuel them for the day along with a picnic lunch. To make sure it happens, I find that laying all the clothes out the night before, preparing sandwiches and having the flasks by the kettle ready to fill increases the likelihood of us leaving the house before lunchtime.
Then, there’s the decision of where to go…! With so many great forest walks, mountain trails and coastal paths to explore we really are spoilt for choice here in Northern Ireland. And the joy of living in such a small country is that nowhere is really too far to travel for a family day out (kids bickering in the back of a car for hours on end is no-one’s idea of fun!).
One walk that we return to do over and over again, and particularly when short on time is Ballintoy Harbour to White Park Bay. Used as a Game of Thrones film location, it is a stunning section of the Causeway Coastline, and despite its starring role in the hit TV series, it is rarely crowded during the colder months.
Last weekend, we decided to go on a bit of a road-trip around the Causeway Coast, stopping off for a very cold swim at a little secluded bay, followed by some hot chocolate to warm-up! We then spent a few hours hunting for fossils in the rocks at White Bay and had a picnic while overlooking the sea. Fossil hunting is a favourite hobby of our middle son, the budding palaeontologist, and seeing as he is in the middle of transfer exams, we thought it only fair to let him choose a fun activity to take his mind off test papers for a little while!
With the weather being so mild, I decided to enjoy some time wandering barefoot over the rocks and savouring our stunning coastline. I’ve been trying barefoot walking a little bit recently and would love to build it up to the point that I could hike barefoot in the Mournes once the springtime comes. There’s just something very liberating about the foot to earth contact that I’m keen to explore further!
After discovering lots of belemnites in the rocks and taking a few photographs, we left them back so that others could enjoy them and drove further on round the coast, past the vanishing lake. The boys love checking out the level of the water, sometimes it’s completely dry and at other times it’s full to capacity – it’s a total mystery!
We arrived in Ballintoy around 2pm, plenty of time to take the coastal path around to White Park Bay to watch the sunset. There are lots of rocky mounds to climb over on the route around towards the beach which makes this walk really interesting and a lot of fun for children, and big kids too!
Once over the stile, you will cross a field towards the sea, and if you’re really quiet and tiptoe gently you will see hundreds of little rabbits bouncing around and nibbling on the grass. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you will immediately recognise the setting of the Iron Islands; the a large, striking rock formations jutting from the sea. Follow the beach or the grassy trail on around, providing the tide is out, and you will be greeted by the beautiful, expansive mile and a half long sandy beach of White Park Bay.
We more or less had the entire beach to ourselves so it was an idyllic spot to enjoy a leisurely stroll while the sun set. My husband and I were able to enjoy an almost romantic walk arm-in-arm while the boys ran off to make the most of the wide-open space!
Once the sun set, we turned to walk back the way we had come, and had a lovely encounter with a man out walking his dogs. We simply cannot resist stopping to say hello to every dog that passes us whenever we are out and about! This man and his two dogs, it turned out work for a rescue team and we stood for well over half an hour hearing about the rescues they’ve been involved in. Call-outs have taken him all over Northern Ireland – to the Mournes, County Fermanagh and even out to sea, where one of his dogs is trained to pick up scents in the water. The boys were the quietest they’d been all day, enthralled by the tales of the rescue operations and the amazing work that volunteers and their special dogs do. That’s one of the things I really love about Northern Ireland; no matter where you go, people are always willing to stop for a chat and share a story or two. It’s so lovely and that particular conversation was so inspiring for us all. By the time we had finished nattering, it was completely dark! A crescent moon glistened above the silhouetted cliff-line as we wandered back to the car, exhausted but exhilarated from our day spent exploring on the Causeway Coast.
If you enjoyed reading this and are in need of further family-friendly walking inspiration, check out this article I wrote for WalkNI on my Top Tips for Walking as Family in Northern Ireland. It includes some of our recommended routes as well as advice on what to wear and what to bring.
GETTING TO THE START-POINT
The best place to park for this route is Ballintoy Harbour.