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Ballintoy Harbour

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Ballintoy harbour is situated on the north coast of Ireland approximately five miles west of Ballycastle and immediately east of Ballintoy Point. The small shallow harbour located at the western end of Sheep Sound offers the possibility to anchor in the outer harbour area or immediately outside the entrance. Small shallow draft vessels may come into the harbour and take a stern line to the shore.

Ballintoy harbour is situated on the north coast of Ireland approximately five miles west of Ballycastle and immediately east of Ballintoy Point. The small shallow harbour located at the western end of Sheep Sound offers the possibility to anchor in the outer harbour area or immediately outside the entrance. Small shallow draft vessels may come into the harbour and take a stern line to the shore.

Ballintoy provides an exposed anchorage where the rock stacks and islands afford limited shelter in settled or offshore conditions but an entirely comfortable overnight stop would be unlikely. In northerly conditions, the Atlantic Ocean rolls directly into the harbour with formidable force and a groundswell batters the harbour area. Access requires attentive navigation preferably in daylight as there are islands, stacks and covered rocks on one side of the entrance path. The direction and velocity of the tide should be the central feature of any navigation planning in this area.
Please note

It is totally unsuitable from November to March when a heavy swell makes this section of the coast untenable except for the briefest of landings in certain circumstances.

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Keyfacts for Ballintoy Harbour

Aerial footage of Ballintoy

About Ballintoy Harbour

Ballintoy’s name is derived from Irish Baile an Tuathaigh ‘townland of the ruler of the tuath’. The word tuath signifies a petty Irish kingdom but the history of the name is uncertain.

The coastal area around Ballintoy is not only visually striking but of great geological interest. For volcanic basalt and sedimentary limestone are found here in unusually close proximity and this attracts large numbers of geologists to Ballintoy. White Park Bay, situated immediately east of Ballintoy, is also remarkable and of special geological interest. In geological terms, it is known as a 'raised beach'. Historically the ocean would have washed into the raised curved cliff face and Ballintoy harbour would have been submerged. As the ice age came to a close the land mass gradually rose creating the sweeping curve of the existing bay. Several carbon dated Neolithic sites and arrowheads have been found by observant walkers who pass through this ancient sand dune system which is rich in flora and fauna.

The flat-topped Sheep Island immediately offshore of Ballintoy is also a remarkable feature. With steep cliffs on all sides, it could more accurately be described as a large sea stack. It derives its name from a time when sheep were taken out by boat and grazed on its high grassy slopes during the summer months. It was bought by the National Trust in 1967 and, after the island’s rats were exterminated, it was left to birds to colonize. This has been very successful and it has since become an important nesting site for Puffin and Cormorant. Landing is possible by dinghy on Sheep Island at a couple of points, although a visit may require an exposed climb to get to the high grassy area. This should not be underestimated as the rock is loose and the slope steep depending on the approach and it is advised that you take local advice if you plan a visit.

The superb blackness of the basalt and the white cliffs also speak of treacherous waters here during the winter. Though utterly beautiful in the summer the area is just as interesting a location to visit in the winter but without a boat. For here a visitor can truly apprehend the power of an Atlantic storm as it pounds into the natural defences that protect Ballintoy harbour. The area of rocks between White Park Bay and Ballintoy harbour, known locally as the Park End, pick up some of the biggest swell waves along the north coast. Add to these strong tidal currents and rips between the islands that break the waves, and the basalt receives constant wave action with even the tallest stack getting washed by winter storms.

The pretty little Ballintoy Harbour set into the middle of all this goes back to the eighteenth century. It was originally constructed by a reputedly slippery character called 'Graceless' Stewart, to enable low-cost coal to be shipped to Dublin. In the late 19th- century, it subsequently developed a trade in sett stones that were used to pave streets. At peak production, more than one hundred men were employed at ‘Brockie Quarry’ near Larry Bane hewing and shaping sett stones. A small rail track moved the processed stones and limestone to the quayside for transport to Irish cities such as Dublin, Wexford, Cork, Limerick and across to Scotland. Evidence of this industrial past can be seen in the lime kiln that still stands today in the harbour along with the limestone blocks from which the harbour itself is constructed. Indeed Ballintoy has shaped the district as its burnt lime was used in the construction of numerous stone cottages and rural halls in the area.

This includes Ballintoy Parish Church situated on the hill above the harbour. This is an unusual building as the sixteen-meter high square tapering tower has an unusual aspect that gives an impression of a Norman tower or even a Mediterranean building. Originally this was the site of a castle, and then an older church stood at this location before the current structure was developed. The narrowed square tower looks odd because it originally supported a steeple. This was taken away in December 1894 by a hurricane leaving the church with its 'unique' appearance.

Today the small harbour remains a working harbour for small open-boat fishermen and a base for a number of pleasure craft. Although in recent years it has been somewhat upgraded, Ballintoy is very far removed from its industrial past and is more a place in graceful repose. It is a simply beautiful harbour with a stunning panorama looking out to Sheep Island and across the sound to Rathlin Island with Scotland in the backdrop. The beautiful White Park Bay to the west can be accessed by a short walk from the harbour.

The harbour and village are separated by a mile long narrow winding road travelling down Knocksaughey hill. What is particularly striking is ‘Bendhu’ the first house on the left of the winding road up from the harbour, overlooking the sandy cove. Named after Bendhu or ‘Bendoo’ a nearby headland that overlooks Boheeshane Bay, it was created by the artist Newton Penprase. He started the house in 1936 and continued organically constructing rooms primarily around views letting his imagination and expression run free long after his retirement in 1953. The cubic outcome is a wonderful expression of one man’s creativity and imagination and though odd, the architecture blends seamlessly into the environment. It is now a listed part of the coast’s Architectural Heritage.

Ballintoy is also famous for the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge located on the coast just outside the village. The bridge links the mainland to the tiny Carrick Island, and it is thought salmon fishermen have been erecting bridges to the island for over 300 years. The site is now owned and maintained by the National Trust and an admission fee is charged for crossing the bridge. Now open all year round this bridge crossing is an exceptional experience. The swinging rope bridge spans 20 metres and is 30 metres above the rocks below and attracts almost a quarter of a million visitors each year to test their nerve.

From a purely sailing perspective Ballintoy could never be described as the best anchorage on this coast; far from it. But it is close to the completely protected Ballycastle or Rathlin Island’s Church Bay depending on conditions. So should a weather widow change there are close-by alternatives which makes it a very attractive location to visit or indeed to stay a night in favourable weather. For the location offers the coastal cruiser a picture perfect harbour situated in one of the most picturesque parts of North Antrim. In visual coastal terms, the location has it all; sheep-speckled pastures, unusual buildings, corkscrew roads, sea stacks, rocky islands, pools and a quaint historic harbour looking across the blue sea to Rathlin Island and the Scottish Isles; the scenery here is simply stunning. As well as all the visual scenery the area has exceptionally good walking with unusual experiences such as White Park Bay and the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge situated close by.

Other options in this area

Click the 'Next' and 'Previous' buttons to progress through neighbouring havens in a coastal 'clockwise' or 'anti-clockwise' sequence. Alternatively here are the ten nearest havens available in picture view:
Coastal clockwise:
Ballycastle - 3.1 miles ESE
Church Bay - 4.1 miles ENE
Murlough Bay - 5.6 miles ESE
Torr Head - 6.8 miles ESE
Cushendun - 8.3 miles ESE
Coastal anti-clockwise:
Portballintrae - 4 miles WSW
Portrush Harbour - 6.3 miles WSW
The Lower River Bann - 8.6 miles WSW
Seatons Marina - 7.8 miles WSW
Coleraine - 7.6 miles WSW

Navigational pictures

These additional images feature in the 'How to get in' section of our detailed view for Ballintoy Harbour.

Aerial footage of Ballintoy

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