National Trust Portstewart Strand, Visitor Centre, 118 Strand Road, Portstewart. BT55 7PG
Portstewart Strand, known locally as ‘The Strand’, has long been infamous for its golden sands, tall dunes and panoramic views of the north coast.
Proudly ranking among the top 10 most popular visitors’ destinations, the scenic beach attracts 180,000 visitors each year.
A favourite destination for families and walking enthusiasts alike, the two-mile long beach in Portstewart, is nestled on the northern ocean coast of the island of Ireland.
Situated between the popular seaside resort of Portstewart and the mouth of the River Bann, Portstewart Strand was purchased in 1981 by the the National Trust.
It has been awarded the European Blue Flag beach status for its high water quality and beach management.
One of its well kept secrets is that its dunes are among the tallest in Ireland, with its 6,000 year-old 180 acre dune system reaching astounding heights of up to 100ft.
Conservation is also an important tradition associated with the history of Portstewart Strand, and is officially designated as an area of Special Scientific Interest and Conservation.
In 2000, the dune system was installed in the Bann Estuary Area of Special Scientific Interest, due to the fragile habitats and wildlife that it supports. A variety of species of butterflies and orchids including the rare bee orchid have been recorded, and can be viewed from the waymarked trails.
A portion of the dunes are owned by Portstewart Golf Club, again providing a spectacular backdrop to a day of relaxing recreational activity.
On April 28, 2008, a new visitors’ facility was opened at the beach by the National Trust following £450,000 investment, part funded through the Northern Ireland Tourist Board.
Cars and pedestrians can access the beach from the Strand Head Road just past the golf club and pedestrians only from Port Path from the town.
Life and Legend
The river Bann once entered the sea where the entrance to the beach is, but over the years, since the last ice age, the sand has migrated westward. Now the river Bann reaches the sea 2 miles to the west of this famous beach, contained by two massive sea walls, which can complete a walk, ending right out in the Atlantic. All of the beaches on the North Coast have a river to the west, except White Park Bay and Portrush where the sand is stopped in its tracks by massive rock headlands. The dunes themselves were completely formed about 6,000 years ago and now they are up to 30 metres high.
The west end of the strand is called the Barmouth because the sand crossing from Portstewart to Castlerock caused a hazard for ships coming up the river, bound for Coleraine. Both the Barmouth and Grangemore at Castlerock are important nature reserves with a unique combination of salt marshes, freshwater marshes and sand dunes, a home to many waterfowl and waders.
Prehistoric people lived here, at Portstewart and across the Bann in the sands at Castlerock. They exploited the salmon and trout, cod, mackerel, flatfish, shellfish and eels that abounded here. The Bann is still an important salmon and eel river.
In Victorian times gentlemen searched for flint tools, beads and pottery to try to understand their early ancestors but to their surprise they also discovered Bronze Age and Roman ornaments.
Holidays on the beach have a long history. Gentlemen with other interests ran their thoroughbred horses in races until the 1930s. It must have been quite a sight, these real seahorses, given their head, thundering along the strand and kicking up the shallows of the whispering waves. Wide and glorious, it is one of the few beaches where cars are allowed but it is the joy of a walk to the estuary of the Bann that attracts most people.
On the basalt cliff beside the beach, there is a holy well, Tubber Patrick which was the source of fresh water for prehistoric people and became legendary as a cure for all ills. The people who came here washed their wounds or took a sip of the water for a cure.
A Celtic legend says that this is the place where the first Irish harp was invented, when the Bann estuary was called Inverglass. A man and his wife were living contentedly on the banks of the Bann but suddenly one day, the wife took a fit of rage. She railed against her husband and ran away to the seashore at Portstewart. Sometime before, a whale had been washed up on the beach and all that was left of it was its skeleton with some sinews stretched between the bones of its ribs. When the wind blew, it stirred the sinews and made sweet sounds that lulled the wife into a deep sleep. Her distressed husband was out looking for her for days and eventually found her asleep on the sand. He realised that it was the music of the whalebones and sinews that had calmed her. Later she awoke and her husband took her gently by the hand and led her home. The next day he went into the woods, cut down a bent branch and strung it with animal sinews. After that, when his wife was distressed, he played on his new instrument and all was calm again.
This might seem like a lovely legend, but a whale was washed ashore on the strand in 1992 and who’s to say that another whale wasn’t the inspiration for the symbolic instrument of Ireland, two thousand years ago?
Video produced by Ambient Light Productions