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Northern Ireland's famously rugged cliffs give way to golden sand


Sand Dunes
Portstewart Town
When it comes to Northern Ireland's Atlantic Coast, most people have heard of the rugged cliffs to the east - but quite often this 2-mile stretch of perfect beach comes as a surprise. The country isn't known for its seaside resorts, but Portstewart rivals anywhere in Britain.
The facilities are of good enough quality to earn the Blue Flag Award. This is a worldwide standard ensuring the cleanliness of both sand and water. Everything's well organised too; groups such as swimmers and water sports enthusiasts are each given their own section of water to use freely. The strong waves flowing straight in from the Atlantic are particularly popular with surfers.

Portstewart Strand.
Photo Northern Ireland Tourist Board
Unusually, even cars are given their own piece of sand. This seems like an unusual gesture from the National Trust but, by the time they became owners in 1980, the convenient parking system had already been in place for years. It was allowed to continue, and so today's motorists continue to have unbelievably convenient access. You can practically step straight out of the car and onto your beach towel.
Nearly 200,000 sun-bathers arrive here every year. This popularity, though, isn't a new thing. Ancient tools and pottery have been uncovered, suggesting that even the Romans came here to catch a few rays.

Portstewart Beach.
Photo Northern Ireland Tourist Board
Back in those times, the scenery was just as spectacular as it is now. Leading off from the beach are a selection of nature trails, where both walkers and horse riders can enjoy the views. This is actually an Area of Special Scientific Interest, so it's protected by law. The most important natural features are the sand dunes. There are 180 acres of them, towering up to 30 metres tall. They're another unexpected feature of Northern Ireland's landscape, and another reason why this small nation is sometimes said to have a more varied landscape than the rest of Britain put together.

Portstewart Golf Club

Portstewart Golf Club is one of the World's oldest and toughtest courses. The first 9 holes are recognised as a true test for any golfer with astounding views across the atlantic to Donegal.
Photo Northern Ireland Tourist Board
Observant users of the nature trails might spot the rare butterflies and flowers that live there. Strangest of all is the Bee Orchid, a plant that disguises itself as a honey-loving insect. Nearby, wading birds migrate in their hundreds to the nature reserve at Barmouth. Keen birdwatchers can contact the National Trust to borrow the keys to their bird hides.
The Trust's other contributions to the area include clean facilities like showers and changing rooms. There's also a shop, selling buckets, spades and other essential beach equipment. Any profit is used directly for their conservation work.
The Strand takes its name from the town of Portstewart, just to the east. Most visitors to the beach pass through here, making it a popular weekend destination. Victorian families were particularly keen holidaymakers, and their influence can still be seen around town. In modern times, the students from the nearby University of Ulster have infused the place with a lively social scene.

Portstewart Town.
Photo darrylkc
Portstewart is the start point for the North Antrim Coast Path, the famous walking route that passes by most of Northern Ireland's famous landmarks. It runs for 40 miles, past the Giant's Causeway and on to Murlough Bay.

Anchor Bar Complex

Photo Northern Ireland Tourist Board
Situated within easy access to Portstewart's picturesque promenade and all of the town's amenities, the Anchor Bar Complex, incorporating the Anchorage Inn, Skippers Wine Bar and Club Aura, is known throughout Ireland for its convivial atmosphere, friendliness and of course great Guinness.
Visitor Information
Portstwart Strand is managed by the National Trust. Charges apply when facilities are open (March to October), £4.50 per car (NT members FREE). Tel: 028 7083 6396

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