Friday 18 April 2014

Ballintoy Harbour To Portrush: Out and Back 38 Miles Coastal Run

The North Coast of Ireland

I headed up to Ballycastle last weekend with a view to running the causeway coast from Ballintoy to Portballintrae. I'd run it once before last year and it truely is a run you will never forget.

First thing you want to check before running this route is the tidal times as you run the beaches and if it's high tide you may find it hard to get across the rocks which link the beaches to the trails, as they'll be under water. With high tides at 6.30am and 6.30 pm I set off to start my run at 7.30am and starting to run about 8am. I figured no matter how bad things went I should make it back before the next high tide. 

So all geared up with a Nathan Hydration Vest and a small running waist bag I carry a map in, some money, car keys and my trusted inhaler, yip I am an asthmatic, I started my run...real real slow. The first 5 miles I don't think I ran quicker than 13 min mile pace. I was feeling rather tired and by the time the first 5 miles were gone I'd already gone through half my stash. Not good. I'd had porridge and toast before leaving...well fueled up but for some reason I just couldn't stop eating...I did finally stop around mile 6. 

Causeway Coast Looking towards Fair Head

Once you make your way out of Carrick a Rede Rope Bridge carpark you follow the trails for approximately 2 miles, which brings you to Harbour Road  leading down to Ballintoy Harbour.  You'll pass the Ballintoy church which dates back to the 17th century and also a most peculiar house called the Bendhu House. It was designed and built by a Cornish man, Newton Pengrase in 1936. He built it from materials he found around him on the coast and it is now a listed building. The church and Bendhu can be enjoyed and appreciated as you descend the long steep road down into the harbour. Enjoy this because the next time you see these buildings you'll not be in such an appreciative frame of mind.

Bendhu House: Harbour Road, Ballintoy Harbour.

Once you get down into the harbour you just continue to run along the coast until you eventually make your way unto WhitePark bay via the short outcrop of rocks which are easy enough to traverse as long as you don't go mad.You then hit the most beautiful beach for about 2 miles to continue your journey. The day I ran it, it was a beautiful sunny morning. At this stage your only 2 or 3 miles into your run so you can really enjoy the long sandy beaches. Once you get off the beach though things begin to start in earnest. This is all like a long beautiful warm up. If you find time, pick yourself a rock as a trophy. I always try find that special rock myself. Small though. You wouldn't want to be carrying a big rock 20 odd miles.

The rocks leading you unto WhitePark Bay in the distance.

As you come to the end of Whitepark bay there is another section of rocks to negotiate, slightly trickier than the ones at the other end of the bay. But don't be a fool and try to run them. If you do enjoy your time recovering from a broken leg.

Coming off Whitepark Bay you reach Portbraddan, an old fishing hamlet. Here you'll find a small cottage dating to the turn of the century offering bed and breakfast. So if your done by this stage you can check in here and rest your weary legs.

Portbraddan overlooking Whitepark Bay

So now things start to get a wee bit more complicated. We are about 4 miles in. Only 4 miles run but it's the start of this run that is more complicated and trickier than the main run itself. The main run follows the Ulster Way trails, that are as easy to follow as the nose in front of your face. Well easy to depends on your fitness levels as it's a bit of roller coaster run. But this next wee part, about 2 miles in length, can get you into a right muddle of you're not careful. It's mainly down to the fact the trails have been closed for repairs as the steps got destroyed in a storm. So if you prefer you can run up the Portbraddan Road unto the Whitepark Road, taking a right here and continuing on up that road until you take a right unto the Causeway Road. You continue on down this road about 1 mile until you reach a small carpark. At the back of this carpark you see a sign pointing you back unto the causeway trails.

However, if like myself you climb over the trail closed sign and continue on, be prepared for some further climbing. I guess this part you just use instinct. You look for trails that have been walked and you run them. Pick a point ahead of you and work out the best way to get there. You'll eventually find yourself climbing the steep bank where the steps were destroyed in a storm. Once you climb this though the hard work is done, as regards working out where you're going. You'll come to a small  pier and a narrow path climbing in front of you. You continue up this path until you reach the Causeway Road and continue up this road a short distance to rejoin the trail at the back of the carpark.

The Trail Closure Between Portbraddan and Dunserverick and the Bank to be Climbed

So you are now about 5 miles into your run and on the main Causeway coastal trails. It's then about another 5 miles until you reach the Giant's Causeway main attraction. The only real attraction for myself is the steps you run there. You can stop here at the Causeway Hotel for a coffee if you like. It's always nice to know on these long runs there are points along the way you can have a break.

Once on the main Ulster Way trails again the first sight you'll come to is Port Moon. A small cottage is visible in the bay far below you, which is used these days by scientists. It was once an important fishery for salmon, cod and plaice fishing. As well as crabs and lobsters, seaweed in the form of kelp was gathered from the shore, dried along the stone walls and then hoisted up the cliff and used for winches and later as fertilizer and processes ranging from photography, glass manufacture and even ice cream. Port Moon having originally been used by the vikings back in the 8th century ground to a halt in 2002 and for the adventurous there is a small trail that will bring you down from the cliff tops to the bay below. I may just head down it next time.
Port Moon Fishery: Causeway Coastal Trails

As you continue on around the coast you come to the location of the Spanish shipwreck of  La Girona, Lacada Point. Back in 1588 only 5 men survived out of 1,300 on board as the Spanish fleet of 130 ships retreated from a battle with the English. Many ships came to their end along this part of the Irish coast. 

 Lacada Point and the Girona Shipwreck site.

 So besides all the history and coastal views, what are the trails like. Well they are as spectacular.

The coastal trails from Dunserverick to the Giant's Causeway

These trails will test the fitness of any runner. Very rarely level you're always either climbing or descending. It's maybe wise to go easy on the out and conserve as much energy for the return, although I have always found the return slightly less challenging. There's no reason really, bar the fact I know I am running towards the finish, instead of running away from it. As you run it's hard not to keep stopping to take pictures but maybe after running it a few times you can finally just concentrate solely on the running. As you continue around the coast you eventually come to the Giant's causeway. You take the red trail down the steep steps descending the Causeway face and then run up the road used by the public and also small bus run that's provided for tourists. I call this part of the run, the Americas, as it's full of American tourists.

The Steps and Trails along the Cliff Face of the Giant's Causeway..The Red Trail 

Once you have run the fairly, or should I say surprisingly steep climb of the road up towards the Causeway Hotel you keep to the back of the Hotel/Causeway side and follow the trails towards Portballintrae. 

The trails from the Gaint's Causeway to Portballintrae

So you are now about 11 miles in and running towards Portballintrae. This brings you past Runkerry House and eventually unto the beach at Portballintrae. At this point I decided to keep running on towards Portrush. The easiest route to take is to run the length of the beach and then head up unto the coastal road, Dunluce Road, to Portrush. You run along this road for about 3 miles past Dunluce Castle until you see the sign leading you to Portrush Beach. You then have about another 2 miles to run along the beach before you reach Portrush town centre.

 Runkerry House: Giant's Causeway to Portballintrae

 Dunluce Castle: Dunluce Road heading towards Portrush


Portrush Beach 19 miles completed 

Here, 19 miles in, I treated myself to a coffee and a nice pastry. I checked in on my Dailymile friends and visited the surfboard shop. Once I felt refreshed I started the journey back. I took it easy and to be honest it was only maybe the last couple of miles I was starting to be looking forward to it being done. It stayed dry the whole day and the sun shone for most of it. I must have ran about 10 miles of beaches but as long as you take it easy you can run for a long long time. Took me about 8 hours to complete 38 miles. A great way to spend the day. Oh and remember on the way back you have to head back down to the Giant's Causeway and run up the trails and steps along it's face. Don't be chickening out and just running straight'd only be fooling yourself...and believe me at about 28 miles already completed you are questioning your sanity as you run back down towards the Finn Mac Cool stepping stones..:)