It has been a day of what we have come to regard as weather typical of Northern Ireland, one minute sunshine, the next showers. The local people are indeed even more pessimistic about the weather than we are back home where living on the edge of Dartmoor everything comes our way often in just a few hours. However, what we have come to appreciate is the roads, they are well maintained and it is wonderfully easy to get around, take any journey distance in England and halve the time it will take to make in Northern Ireland.
A diversion from our most direct route ‘home’ is not therefore regarded as an issue. Signposting however is patchy and we fly past the tiny turning and even tinier sign and have to make an about turn in the main street and head back to Ballintoy Harbour.
Picturesque does not cover it. The harbour nestles under a cliff of white chalk whilst a headland of Giant’s Causeway like basalt points out to sea. However, the bays either side of the headland are encircled by other islands of basalt creating two almost perfectly sheltered lagoons. One bay has the quays that make up the harbour the other a sweep of fine white sand. The whole is finished off with a bright blue sky streaked with trailing clouds through which the sun occasionally peaks to send silver trails glittering over the sea. It is stunning, no other description will suffice.
The sand gives softly under my feet and there is barely a noticeable divide between sand and water so much so that the ripples I create wading in are bigger then the waves lapping the shore.
The seabed shelves so slightly that I set off swimming in just a few feet of depth of water, but here beyond the action of any waves the sand is whirled into a mosaic landscape of worm casts, fading down into the depths until they are replaced by current rippled sand amongst blocks of rock. As well as palmate fronds of kelp the rocks have been colonised by dead men’s bootlace seaweed which grows in strands that reach to the surface where they lie together in mandala patterns of intertwined coils and spirals. It is not easy to swim through as it wraps around arms, neck and legs.
Above the water line the black basalt rocks also twist in fractured coils capped with yellow lichen if they are above the reach of waves. Beyond the shelter of these encircling rocks is a different sea. A deep swell rides waves up onto the rocks. In places the water finds a gap and fountains into the shelter of the lagoon, but elsewhere it slides up the black rock, foaming as it climbs and then cascades back in an avalanche of spray and bubbles.
Returning to the beach I paddle on my back to take in the changing patterns of the setting sun and then, as I am towelling off, the sky lights up with a display of crepuscular rays that lance into the blue sky or sweep like searchlights across the water.
Two days later we stop briefly but there is a gale howling in off the sea, the shore is lined with foul smelling tatters of seaweed and a seal bobs in the water. Given my bite-hate relationship with seals I decide not to swim.