The North Coast of Northern Ireland is a particularly popular place for tourists and locals to visit, as when the weather is good, the scenery is difficult to beat. The North Coast is also a mecca for both walkers and surfers as there are numerous beaches, and places to get away from it all. One such place that we walked last year whilst at the North Coast was along the River Bann to the Barmouth, starting at the beautiful harbour town of Portstewart.
Starting where we did, which was actually in the Crescent area car park in the town of Portstewart, the round trip measured around 6 miles. This is an easy route, and as long as you have sensible footwear, you don't need to be ultra fit to walk this route and enjoy the beautiful scenery, well away from any crowds. Most of the path is actually on path or beach. If you would like a shorter walk, you could always park on the actual beach at Portstewart strand, although there is a charge by the National Trust to do so, whereas if you start from the crescent car park area there is no charge, and you can leave your car all day if you like. The crescent area of Portstewart is just off the busy promenade, and once you park the car you head left towards the castle path, that leads you round some steep rocks beside Dominican Convent school, which was once home to a castle, which is why you will no doubt hear locals refer to this area of Portstewart as the Castle Walk. You will follow this path for quite a while as it twists and turns, and then levels out past some new apartment buildings, and some new housing overlooking the sea, and the path itself follows the shoreline the entire way to the beach known as Portstewart Strand. This is likely to be the busiest part of the walk, once you get to the path that runs alongside the River Bann, you will get the peace and quiet that you may be looking for.
As you approach the beach, you will be rewarded with some outstanding views looking out onto the Atlantic OCean and over towards Inishowen in Donegal. If you get a clear day, you will also be able to see the beautiful historical Mussenden temple perched at the edge of the cliffs at Downhill, beyond the barmouth.
Not far beyond this point are steps down to the actual strand, where you walk for a further 2 miles or so, dodging the cars in the heat of the summer (if you decide to go then) or the joggers and walkers at other times. At the very end of the strand lies the Barmouth, where the River Bann flows into the sea, separating the beaches of Portstewarts and Castlerock. As long as it isn't blowing a gale or the waves aren't treacherous you can actually walk out along the pier.
If you follow the path the whole way to the Barmouth, where you will already have left any crowds far behind you, you can then turn to your left and climb up the sandhills that will take you alongside the River Bann, wher you will be rewarded with peace and quiet, and even your own personal beach at one point. It is often difficult, due to the marshey conditions, to walk right beside the river, but there is a well trodden path a little further inland that you can walk along instead. This path runs along the route of an old railway line. At certain times, parts of the path alongside the river may be inaccessible, and you may have to cut across the sandunes to get back to the beach, however a lot of the time you can continue to follow the path, which takes you through quite thick scrub, and eventually you will see a path to your left, which will take you back through sandunes to the beach. You can then return to wherever you parked the car by the way you came.
My favourite part of the whole walk, is alongside the river, as you are only likely to meet the odd person, and on a peaceful day, the riverside setting offers a sense of tranquility, and you feel you are away from the crowds that often come to the beach when there is any sign of dry or sunny weather. It is also lovely to watch the odd boat sail down towards the barmouth, and most of the locals will always give a wave as they pass. If you like the crowds of the beach, you don't have to walk the part alongside the river, and even walking the length of the beach and back is rewarding on a beautiful day.