“I don’t know what tune that the orchestra played, but it went by me sickly and sentimental ” – Neil Finn.
It was yet another sentimental return to Portballintrae for me in August 2023. This calm Northern Irish seaside resort was a common place for my early travel days. With my family, we would spend countful colourful summers here in the 1980s and 1990s. Those were my first summer holidays. My exposure to backpacking and living my life out of a rucksack all came here on the streets, campsites and beaches of Northern Ireland’s North Antrim Coast. Of the towns and villages along this coast, I swallowed many, but Portballintrae was always something special. Back then, we’d have slept in tents, caravans and rented houses during either July or August. It was just whatever time Dad had off work. We had a family car since I was young. First a Datsun. Then a Mazda 626. We would fill the car with everything we’d need for a 5 to 7 day holiday. I don’t have many photos from those days but I will share some for the first time here.
From about 1981 until 1997, most of my summers would involve at least a few days on the North Antrim Coast. We would vary it between Portrush, Portstewart, Portballintrae, Coleraine, Limavady, Ballintoy, Carrick-a-Rede and Castlerock. I slept in them all (except Carrick-a-Rede), toured them all and have vivid memories of those days, if not photos and definitely not videos. As for Portballintrae, Portstewart and Portrush, I term them my Port Hattrick. This photo below, I believe was in Portrush…the first time I fed (or probably even saw) a horse.
Here in Portballintrae, we used to sleep in either a tent or a caravan. It was usually in the wee caravan park down a lane. From there you could walk to the beach, the coast, the local shops and the village’s hotel brace. Namely, The Bayview Hotel and the Beach House Hotel. I preferred the Beach House Hotel as it had these futuristic slanted frontal windows and overlooked the beach. It just had better views and was more modern. Here in the photo below, is how it looked in the 1980s, when I hung around Portballintrae…
The Bayview Hotel however was an old school pub style venue. Rooms there would be more carpetricy, homely and poky. There was a public bar as well as the restaurant and the hotel. Mum and Dad always liked the Bayview best. But actually we never actually stayed in those two hotels. We would be camping🏕 and on the trip we’d be treated to dinner one night in either The Beach House Hotel or The Bayview Hotel.
Here in August 2023, Mum and Dad had the idea to head up to the North Antrim Coast with my nephew George, their grandson. It was a great idea and I scheduled my work to somehow fit around it. So my Mum, Dad, brother Marko and nephew George all set off from Bangor, with Portballintrae our first stop of the “Port Hattrick “. Portballintrae here was the first stop, then we would head to Barry’s Amusement Arcades in Portrush, and finally to eat ice cream at the legendary Morelli’s in Portstewart! It was all so sentimental. We even reminisced on a day when we were in Portballintrae and Richard Branson fell into the sea off his hot air balloon or glider and we watched it from the bay! On arrival in Portballintrae here in 2023, when I saw the Bayview Hotel, I expected it to be as it had always been. Same place, same facade, same old same old. But it had changed – it is now modern…I felt sad. I felt old.
When we turned the corner onto the coastal road, it was clear that my once beloved Beach House Hotel’s slanted windows had also lost their fight with existence. They were gone. Banished to the dustbin of history. For sure, this made me sad and sentimental and I definitely felt very old. The Beach Hotel too, had gone completely – there wasn’t even a new Beach Hotel there. But two constants still remained. The car park and the beach.
Pristine and unchanged, as they were 30 years ago. I actually did visit Portballintrae once after the 1990s. It was in October 2008 on a trip home where Dad and I visited. On that trip, we didn’t go to the actual beach in Portballintrae as it was a windy wet day and we just had a short walk to savour the views. Here in 2023 was my first trip there in two decades and I found a short video of my 2008 trip.
Mum and Dad had packed the car as usual as they had done in the 1980s. We had sandwiches, crisps, water and coffee all prepared. George had his bucket and spade and a line for catching crabs. We had beach towels.
Marko, George and I built a “sandcastle”. I dipped my feet in the ocean and Dad went to catch crabs whilst Marko and Mum relaxed on the rocks.
Dad is a crab catching expert, he likes to pass it down the generations and so he wanted to catch a crab for George. Dad finds a shell on the rocks, attaches it to the crab line and yings into into a rock pool. George and I wait and Dad, is the expert he always was. He catches a crab and we put it in the bucket. Dad asks why there is no water in the bucket, it’s because George wanted to pour it out, so we have to fill the bucket up. This is a big crab…
George gave his crab the name Jake, whilst his previous crab was Gregory and we released the crab back into the ocean, via the sand.
As the crab crawled back to its kingdom, we packed up and walked away and I couldn’t help get sentimental. It was a very emotional visit for me. I felt really old as I had been here 40 years ago, the same place, the same spot, probably the same rockpool. Nothing had changed except I’d got so old. The kids here were so young and so vibrant. Maybe that was me 40 years ago. I hoped it was. As we packed up to go back to the car, after a few hours on the beach, I did ponder would it be another two decades before I return here. I didn’t want to think about it. This place held many memories for me and I won’t ever forget little Portballintrae. In its Northern Irish coastal innocent splendour, this is as good as travel and freedom ever gets. For you, for me, and for the crabs.
“All of your dreams are washed away in the sand” – Noel Gallagher.
Here are some videos of my sentimental return to the Northern Irish coastal seaside village of Portballintrae: