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White Park Bay

Whether you travel the Antrim Coast Road from the West or from the East, the first glimpse of the outstanding beauty of WHITEPARK BAY rarely fails to stop the tourist with a gasp of admiration. So breathtaking is the panorama, it is little wonder that some of Irelands earliest inhabitants made their homes here, using the myriad of little streams that traverse the landscape to polish axe heads mined on nearby RATHLIN ISLAND. Then, some 5 - 6000 years ago, the geography was little different to that which will delight you here today. The same belt of low dunes fringe the same stretch of sand, the same soaring limestone cliffs back this natural amphitheatre. To the west, the fishing village of Port Bradden nestles below the cliffs, at the eastern boundary the rock formations of BALLINTOY stagger lazily around and in between the sea folds upon this window to the past, like velvet curtains with white lacy tops.

Despite the obvious beauty this area receives relatively few visitors, this may be partly due to the offshore conditions which render the beach unsafe for bathing, but whatever the reason as the saying goes - ' ones mans food is another mans poison' - so enjoy the peace and tranquillity while it lasts .The bay is a rich area for naturists as faults, landslips and raised beaches are all clearly visible while archaeologists find their particular interests well served. Fossils though not abundant are nonetheless common and fine examples of Spiral Ammonites and Oyster like Gryphea have been given up by the processes of time here. In fact, from a cave on the raised beach to the east, a Lias clay figurine believed to be the only 'mother goddess' type figure ever found in Ireland, was unearthed by an archaeological excavation in the 1930's. The large mound in the centre of the bay is actually a Burial Chamber, one of many in the area that serve to evidence the Neolithic and Bronze Age occupation of this coastline. There are good examples of the 'kitchen middens' associated with the settlements here and these give interesting insights into the diet and lifestyle of the peoples of the time.

The 73-hectare site was acquired by the NATIONAL TRUST in 1938 and is not only of significant archaeological interest but also supports a broad range of wildlife. Plants and birds depend on the habitats such as scrub, calcareous and natural grassland, cliff grassland, duneland, freshwater flush and salt marsh here and shrubs like Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Elder, Gorse, Willow , Sycamore and Hazel are plentiful. Butterflies are bountiful in the area and include the species Small Heath, the Dark Green Fritillary, the Orange Tip, the Common Blue and the much more rare, Wood White. The skies above surge constantly with motion as large populations of breeding birds vie with each other for flight space. Willow Warblers, Stonechats and Chaffinches defend the grasslands while Oyster Catchers, Ringed Plovers and Eider Ducks rule the shoreline. On the cliffs high above Fulmars, Starlings, Swifts, House martins, Jackdaws and the occasional Kestrel, glide and soar endlessly. On a good day you may be lucky and see one or two buzzards or perhaps a Whitethroat and maybe even the shy Grasshopper Warbler who visits in summer.

There is little architecture in the Bay but the small lone standing white building is the original youth hostel and the ruins nearby are the remnants of an 18 th Century school house where the children of the local gentry were educated. Notable gentlemen who received early instruction here were Edward McNaughton (Lord of the Treasury), Sir Francis McNaughton (Chief Justice of Calcutta ) and The Hon Robert Stewart who later became Lord Castlereagh.

No visit to WHITEPARK BAY should be ended without taking time to walk on the beach. Don't be surprised if you encounter grazing sheep and cattle as the Trust encourages the easy ramblings of these animals that serve important ecological needs for the area. The dunes, once threatened by sand removal and erosion, are stable now and home to the massive rabbit population. First introduced in the late 11 th Century, these animals ensured that the trees which man systematically cut down over the generations have never regrown. But midst all of this, the quiet trickle of streams as they journey endlessly overland to the sea and the waves washing onto the beach are the sounds that will live with you forever.