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Wish you were here -Portstewart-style

 

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Annie and baby Esmae Havlin from Donegal

It was once the favoured holiday destination for Victorian middle-class Northern Irish families... and little has changed for Portstewart. These days, the summer months transform the town into Belfast-on-Sea, with just as many people from the Lisburn Road as from Lisbon flocking to the beach, visiting the quaint ice-cream shops and meandering along the pretty, historic promenade.

Portstewart Strand is a stunning National Trust Blue Flag beach, with over a mile-and-a-half of golden sand, hugged by rocky headlands and ancient dunes full of wildlife in the shadow of Mussenden Temple.

As temperatures rivalled Spain yesterday, people from across Northern Ireland visited there, some of them having forgone Spanish holidays this year for an Ulster staycation.

Patsy Breen (81) is a retired headmaster from Coleraine. He and his wife, Rosemary (73), say they love nothing more than strolling along Portstewart Strand.

"We live close by," says Patsy. "So, we just get into the car, drive down and we are here in no time. We love to walk along the beach and then head up to Morelli's for an ice-cream. We love nothing more than to take a seat and just watch the world go by. It's the perfect spot for people-watching.

"We would go to Tenerife quite a lot for our summer holidays. This beach would definitely rival any in Tenerife, with the views of Castlerock and the roar of the ocean. It is breathtaking - simply spectacular."

Former journalist Ned Thacker (69), from Sheffield, moved to Portstewart with his Belfast-born wife nearly three years ago after retiring from the BBC in England. He says there is no place like Portstewart Strand on a sunny day.

"I love it here," he says. "When it's like this, you couldn't beat it. We moved from England to here. This place was perfect.

"We live at the far end of the beach, so I just dander out and walk the length of the beach. It's a three-mile-round walk and you can go up to Harry's Shack for some lunch or a coffee. It's perfect.

"I come down here first thing in the morning for a walk. There are very few people around bar some joggers and dog walkers. It is spectacular."

Donegal-born Annie Havlin (36) has just returned from living in Melbourne with her husband and 18-month-old daughter Esmae. She says, although Donegal has arguably some of the best beaches in the world, she wanted to show her visiting Australian friends "something different" - and brought them to Portstewart.

"We've done all the Donegal beaches, so I thought I'd bring them here today," she says. "It is really stunning. We were able to walk along the beach, go for lunch and then splash in the water. The weather has been amazing.

"I'm a Donegal woman and we are well-known for our fabulous beaches. If you asked me which I'd prefer, I'd obviously say our Donegal beaches, but this is spectacular, too."

Eighteen-year-old Paddy Wilson, from Magherafelt, came down to the beach with his friends to celebrate the first official day of the school summer holidays. He is enjoying a carefree summer before heading off to university in September.

"I haven't been at this beach in years," he says. "It really is a good job. There are a lot of massive sand dunes I spent a good bit of time jumping on. We have been down here since around 10am, swimming, running around and eating up at the shack. It's a great place."

William Cunningham (72) and his wife Elizabeth from Carryduff say they wanted to take advantage of the good weather and come to the beach for an ice-cream. "We would come down here often," says William. "Sometimes, we stay overnight in a hotel just to come to the beach - we love it that much. We would walk along here all year long. It's just beautiful.

"We are going to Portugal later this month and Spain in September, but this beach is hard to rival. I'd say it was the best beach in the world.

"The roar of the ocean is something else and the atmosphere is just so relaxing."

Cookstown woman Sabrina Curry (41) is on holiday with her husband and children in Portballintrae. She spent the morning bodyboarding with her 14-year-old son Ethan. She says, although they normally go to Spain, a staycation worked out to be much more affordable this year, not to mention a little more sunny.

"We are staying here for a week," Sabrina says. "It is beautiful. We've been on the beach since we arrived and it has been amazing to walk along, get into the water and just chill out.

"We normally go to Spain for our holidays, but we decided to stay at home this year. It's great, because you can just throw everything from home in the car and off you go. We can take half the house with us.

"We normally go to Spain for our holidays, but we decided to stay at home this year. It's great, because you can just throw everything from home in the car and off you go. We can take half the house with us.

"It's a lot cheaper to holiday in Northern Ireland than it is abroad. And with the fantastic weather here, we are over the moon."

Magherafelt man Aidan Kelly (28) was on Portstewart Strand with his brother Phillip (24) to enjoy his day off. Aidan works in HR in Dublin and travelled up for a day at the beach.

"It's my day off and we decided to come here," says Aidan. "It's my first time to this beach and it is unbelievable. We brought the hurleys with us and played on the sand and we were just saying that it would be a great place for a run. So, we'll have to come back.

"I lived in Toronto for many years before moving back home. I've seen a fair few beaches on my travels, but this is one of the finest you would get anywhere. And the fact that you can jump in the car and head home after being here is something else."

Carrickfergus minister Peter Lawther (42) is holidaying in Portrush with his family. He says his girls - Josie, Molly and Ruby - are loving the great weather and the waves.

"It's a great way to start the summer holidays," he says. "We've been down here every day, going on long walks, playing up on the sand dunes, paddling in the water and just generally taking it easy.

"It's amazing to be able to holiday in Northern Ireland, at an affordable price, with this amazing weather. What's the point in paying to go anywhere else?"

Dental nurse Jill McAllister (39), from Ballymena, rents a house in Portstewart every year with her parents, who hail from Bangor. She insists there is no better place on earth than Portstewart Strand in the summer.

"There literally is no better place when the sun shines and even when it's raining," she says. "We come here every year and I've seen us out here on the rainiest of days in the water. The kids want to be out on the waves - they don't care about the rain.

"We love our week away here to kick off the summer holidays and it's not overly expensive. We used to own a caravan down here and then, when all the children started coming along , we outgrew that and had to rent a house. We love it so much."

Kevin O'Malley (55) is a retired hotelier, who has lived in Portstewart all his life. He says he uses the beach at least four times a week to walk his dog Bonnie, not to mention baby Shay.

"The beach is on my doorstep, so I am out here most days with the baby and the dog, running and walking," he says. "I know people say that, if something is on your doorstep, you might not appreciate it, but I appreciate this beach. It's breathtaking.

"I have travelled a good bit around the world, but I'd say it is up there with the very best of them. I'd obviously have to say that, being a local."

Portstewart teacher Siobhan Heneghan (32) was on the strand to celebrate the very first official day of the school holidays. "I live very close to the beach, so I just walk down," she says.

"I'm here walking up and down the beach maybe four times a week. It's so pretty. It's easy to take such a gorgeous spot for granted, because it's just there, right on my doorstep, but every time I walk down the little path to the beach I'm blown away by its beauty."

Magherafelt GP Maureen Stevenson (54) is holidaying in Portstewart for a fortnight. She says the strand is "just what the doctor ordered".

"I rent a holiday home here every year," she says. "It really is glorious. Why would you go anywhere else in the world when you have this stunning beach on your doorstep? I don't get out very much in my day job and I just spend two weeks here walking on the beach, regardless of the weather.

"If I can walk and sit down for a spot of reading, I am happy. I can't think of anywhere more relaxing. It's a great de-stresser. I would say it is just what the doctor ordered."

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Annie and baby Esmae Havlin from Donegal
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Rosemary and Patsy Breen from Coleraine
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Ned Thacker from Sheffield
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Paddy Wilson from Magherafelt
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Elizabeth and William Cunningham from Carryduff
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The Lawther family from Carrickfergus
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Sabrina Curry and son Ethan from Cookstown
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Brothers Aidan and Phillip Kelly from Armagh
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Kevin O’Malley, Angie Logan, baby Shay and dog Bonnie, from Portstewart