Already we have covered the better-known route of the North Down Coastal Path from Bangor to Holywood, where the path leads from the Pickie Pool side of Bangor’s seafront, and passes various forest parks, beaches, and seascapes, to reach its eventual end at Holywood. Which I would forever recommend for those looking for a quieter and more serene walk along these rather scenic coastlines. But this time I actually jumped over to the opposite side of Bangor, as I followed the North Down Coastal Path from Bangor to Groomsport, right up to its further point around Orlock. A route that follows a more residential and pedestrian pathway, yet still shares some rather unexpected scenery and landscapes along the way. As I would soon find out. Because this was my first ever time walking this side of the coastal path, given I never really knew it existed. But, unlike the coastal path to Holywood, there are no train lines following this coastline, meaning it’s either a trek out and back, or possibly jumping onto a local bus for the return from Groomsport (bus timetable here). Anyway, check out our awesome video below:
The Long Hole
The best start for the Bangor to Groomsport coastal path would be Bangor’s Eisenhower Pier, where there’s a free and not-so-busy car park found at the entrance. So it is easy enough to turn up and find spaces (given there are no major events at the time). And the pier itself is a worthwhile attraction, along with the small harbour at the beginning of the pier, known locally as the long hole. As this would be the usual start to the coastal walk, where there are some handy signposts and information boards sharing information on the coastal path ahead. This includes stories of the old Kingsland rollercoaster site from back in the 1890’s, and further to the Royal Ulster Yacht Club, as well as some suffragette or something who once lived nearby (the tourist board clutching at straws here). Otherwise there are some nice seafront views along the pier and harbour, and you could probably walk end to end of both in a few minutes or so. Our full bit on the pier here.
Running parallel to the long-hole is then Seacliff Road, a road I have driven and walked along many times before, yet never realised until taking photos from above that it actually curves around an outcrop. As it almost loops in an S-shape, where it turns back again towards Ballyholme. So, on the near side to Bangor is the Seacliff Road, which is lined with old Victorian housing, including a number of Bangor’s better budget Guesthouses and B&Bs. Then at the point of the outcrop there is a Boat House of sorts (below right) found pretty much opposite the Jamaica Inn, which is easily one of Bangor’s better bars and restaurants. Then it is the old site of the Kingsland rollercoaster from the 1890’s (although no real remnants remain) as well as public car parks and a kid’s play park on the opposite side of the outcrop. The Royal Ulster Yacht Club (the posh yacht club of Bangor) is then found on the right here, as well as Ballyholme Yacht Club which is further on the left. Before reaching Ballyholme Beach.
Ballyholme is Bangor’s most central big beach, although I can’t say I have ever used it, and I would certainly never swim at it. It’s Northern Ireland, and the waters are “baltic”. But were I ever to swim or just kick back on a beach it would definitely be Crawfordsburn Beach found on the opposite side of the coastal path. Or maybe Helen’s Bay. Both which are found near enough to train stations. Otherwise, I don’t see why anyone would be in Northern Ireland for the beaches. So Ballyholme is a surprisingly massive sand beach, approximately 1.3 km in length, where the first half runs alongside a seawall and a suburban esplanade/promenade along the Ballyholme area. It’s a nice enough place to explore. But I personally prefer the far end of the beach, escaping the residential surrounding, as this is when the coastal path becomes more wild, and scenic. For those driving as well, there is a rather handy (but easily missed) car park just off the Groomsport Road at the end of the beach. Found at the bottom of Bank Lane (google map here).
I actually forced myself out to this part of the coastal path, for “research purposes”, but it was no doubt worth it, as this walk along the Ballymacormick side of Ballyholme Beach is by far the nicest on this side of the coastal path. And while it is a bit off-the-beaten-track and rough and rugged at times, it is an exciting walk otherwise (I wouldn’t recommend it for prams or cycling). Otherwise it’s a labyrinth through grasses and Gorse bushes, with sneaky lanes leading out towards the coastline, as the path leads along the craggy outcrop past Ballymacormick Point. And there’s a few nice pebble beaches and occasional scenic park benches, along the way. But to draw comparisons with the opposite more familiar side of the of the coastal path, the scenery is more rural with fields and farmlands, rather than woodlands and forest parks.
The next arrival is Groomsport village, which is about as close as you’ll find to a traditional Northern Irish fishing village along the North Down coastal path. Although it is no longer an active fishing port these days (unlike villages futher along this coastline) and the old fishermens’ cottages, known as Cockle Row Cottages, now open as a museum-of-sorts through the summer months (June – September) with a gift shop and local crafts. Next to the old cottages is then a paddling pool, in case, for some weird reason, someone wanted to go paddling in cold waters. Otherwise Groomsport is just a charming wee village, with nice enough cafes, bars, and restaurants. And The Stables restaurant would again be one of the better (if not the best) restaurants along the entirety of the North Down Coastal Path.
Leaving the beaches of Groomsport, the next part of the coastline is still fairly new to me, and I’m still a bit confused by it. As the coastal path continues past a new residential area, called Cove Bay, before a right of way cuts past the front of a caravan site (Windsor Holiday Park) and Orlock Point. The path then continues until a sandy beach, known as Sandeel Bay, where you then have to cut up onto a road, and walk towards and past the house at the far end of the street. The path should then continue right through to Portavoe. But I did have to ask locals about this part of the coastal path, as I was confused when driving there, given the land says it’s owned by the National Trust, yet there are also signs saying it’s private residential property (Sandeel and Coastguard). Anyway, it’s all a bit fishy. And (potentially trespassing) I followed the “private roads” to the coastline, to find pretty much no parking, so I’d avoid it anyway. As it’s a lot easier to just park further up along Portavoe, where a small lay-by carpark is found just past the water tower, on the left.