My recent adventures backpacking in Northern Ireland have surprised and inspired me more than I could have believed. While staying at the magnificent Whitepark Bay Hostel (which overlooks Whitepark beach and is a few miles from the village of Ballintoy), I took the walk west from the beach, working my way over the sand and rocks to uncover yet another gem. The hamlet of Portbraddon.
This small settlement is as uncommercial and untouristy as they come. I was in backpacker heaven when I walked up to the main (and only) street in the village/hamlet. Make no mistake about it – Northern Ireland’s North Antrim Coast is one of the finest spots on the planet. Portbraddon typifies the hidden beauty here.
Arrival in Portbraddon is tranquil, exposed and delightful. There is a road down here you know but no public transport of course. To get there, obviously I backpacked across the beach from Whitepark Bay. If you have hired a car, you can drive down the solitary road to Portbraddon.
There are less than 10 houses here and a population of less than 20, it will rise in summer months, as some people have “second houses” here for the purpose of summer holidays only.
As a backpacker walking along the beach and rocks to discover Portbraddon is nothing short of paradise.
So what is in Portbraddon? There’s no school. There’s no local shop. But there is one absolute must see here.
On the main seafront street, up a shy driveway there sits a remarkable church.
This is Ireland’s smallest operational church. It’s called St. Gobban’s Church.
However there’s a real story behind this “church” here in Portbraddon. Yes, strictly speaking it is the smallest operational church in Ireland. However, it wasn’t built as a church. It’s a bit of a red herring! Looks like a church to me though??
So there’s a bell, a cross, a name plaque saying it’s a church. Inside Bibles and hymn books and an altar, but this was not originally a church. A local myth states that Portbraddon contains the smallest church in Ireland, but St. Gobban’s “Church” was actually built in the 1950s as a small cow shed. The government listed it (which means it can’t be touched/knocked down) assuming this was Ireland’s oldest church. Yes, it is a church but it was once a cowshed! Have a visit and decide which story you believe.
Also when you are in Portbraddon, there is a pier, a yacht club, great views over the Atlantic Coast and a small “local pub” which may well open in Summer months. It’s called the Braddan!
Get onto the Ulster Way, and walk round the coast to discover Portbraddon Cave as well and really my friends, this is Portbraddon in a heartbeat. It is an absolutely wonderful experience to visit such a remote settlement here on Northern Ireland’s North Coast. I left on my merry way back to the hostel at Whitepark Bay, knowing I had uncovered another travel gem to tell you all about. This won’t feature in too many blogs or guidebooks but that’s the beauty of travel. There are still hidden gems out there and I loved it.
Please, please try and visit Portbraddon. It’s a special place and backpacking in Northern Ireland is full of surprises.
Here are my videos from Portbraddon:
9 thoughts on “Backpacking in Northern Ireland: Exploring Portbraddon and Visiting Ireland’s Smallest Church”
A cowshed? That’s hilarious!
Ray recently posted…World Cup Fever – Ecuador vs. France
Indeed Ray though I have no idea if the story is entirely true. Irish myths as they say have been around for generations, but it seems like it should be a church! Safe travels. Jonny
Visited this with the wife and daughter, would never have if I hadnt read about it on here,sadly it was pissing down as we had planned to park at the youth hostel and walk along the rocks and into Portbraddon, but we ended up driving and parking (albeit there is only a handful of parking spaces so I would recommend anyone driving parks at the youth hostel and makes the short walk), sadly the church was closed on Sunday, a church closed on a sunday huh but it was nice seeing it and would recommend anyone visiting the area to do so as well.
Another highlight for me was port ballintoy, I have never visited this spot before but what a beautiful little spot, parking again is limited and I could see it being a nightmare getting down those wee windy roads in the height of the summer.
North coast really is one of the most beautiful spots in the world.
Hi Michael, Thanks for the comment. The craziest thing about Northern Ireland is there are parts that even locals don’t know about (myself included). Like there’s an old windmill in Ballyholme, a CS Lewis Wardrobe in East Belfast etc. Totally agree – Ballintoy is ace. I walked a lonely path there and watched the sun sink over the green fields past the white church and it was amazing. Even just the Antrim and Atlantic wind blowing rain on your face is worth it. I hope to have more stuff on Northern Ireland in the next few years. Safe travels. Jonny