The bay provides tolerable protection from all westerly component winds round through south to southeast. There are no off-lying dangers in the area making access in daylight straightforward at any stage of the tide.
Keyfacts for Helen’s Bay
SummaryA tolerable location with straightforward access.
Position and approaches
Haven position54° 40.510' N, 005° 43.925' W
This is in the centre of Helen’s Bay, within the 2 metres contour, 400 metres off the shoreline.
What is the initial fix?
What are the key points of the approach?
- Close approaches to the lough can be found in the Bangor Harbour entry.
- The Bay can be approached directly from Belfast Lough's navigable area that is free of dangers.
- Tracked into the anchorage from the northwest sounding all the way in.
Not what you need?
How to get in?
Helen’s Bay is set on the southern shores of Belfast Lough, about halfway along the lough and two miles west by northwest of Bangor. The bay is situated on the eastern side of the conspicuous low lying Grey Point that is easily identified on approach.
Set on the lough's southern shores the directions for nearby Bangor Harbour may be used for approaches to the area. Vessels approaching from the north will find the Belfast Fairway Light buoy, L Fl 10s, situated in the middle of the lough between Carrickfergus and Grey Point on the opposite shore, an excellent mark. Then the Helen's Bay port hand buoy leads to the bay.
From the Helen’s Bay initial fix, situated northeast of the bay, track down 500 metres southwestward towards the shoreline. Keep at least 400 metres off the beach as it is shallow, and a drying ridge stretches out for 150 metres in a north-eastward direction from the eastern side of Grey Point.
Why visit here?Helen’s Bay was given its name by Frederick Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, the 1st Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, 1826 – 1902. He named the bay in the memory of his mother Lady Dufferin, née Sheridan, songwriter, composer, poet, and author. Admired for her wit, grace and literary talents, she was a well-known figure in London society in the mid-19th century.
Dufferin acquired the estate around Helen’s Bay in the middle of the 19th century as his seat was in the nearby Clandeboye Estate. Prior to that, it had been handed down through generations of the Scottish Presbyterian Crawford family. Dufferin aspired to develop a luxury holiday resort in Helen’s Bay that would rival the established seaside resorts of Portstewart and Portrush. The ‘Belfast and County Down Railway’ station was constructed to serve the planned village. Special ‘villa’ or ‘house-free’ rail tickets encouraged the development of the settlements. These entitled holders to free rail travel for a period of time if they constructed houses within one mile of the station. But his business interests were very much in contrast to his successes in Public Service especially so after his retirement from the diplomatic service in 1896. Although he may have charmed the high society of three continents Dufferin cared little for money and his business ventures were too optimistic. Worse still, his final years were to be marred not only disastrous financial investments but also personal tragedy.
over sea and land. Son's love built me
and I hold Mother's love in letter’d
Today the short stretch of coast immediately inshore, sweeping from Helen’s Bay to Grey Point, is now in public hands and part of Crawfordsburn Country Park. Despite Dufferin’s short-term investment setbacks, he chose the locality well and it is now a thriving suburb of Belfast’s highly privileged. But it was the wooded demesne of his Clandeboye Estate that protected the area’s natural beauty from the overdevelopment that took place here during Ireland’s last ‘Celtic Tiger’ housing boom. The park today is fronted by two excellent beaches which are possibly the best in the Belfast area, with fringing broad tarmac paths to make shoreline waking easy. Further into the park’s tranquil woodland are well-marked walks leading past a pond, river, through dells and deep wooded glens that feature beeches, cypresses, cedars, conifers plus the occasional giant Californian redwood. This natural beauty is surpassed by the wild-flower meadows and the native woodland flowers that have been planted here. This is particularly the case in springtime when there is a spectacular display of bluebells. Amidst this, many animals, such as squirrels, hedgehogs and badgers make their home. The best of the woodlands are to be found at the head of the glen where there is an impressive waterfall. Coastal stretches of Grey Point provide excellent views of Belfast City and the Lough, the south Antrim Hills, and Grey Point also hosts a small military museum within a coastal battery.
In 1956 the battery was closed and became derelict. It's two 6" Mk VII naval guns were sold for scrap in 1957 after the disbanding of the coastal artillery. In 1971 it was passed to the department of environment and put under the management of Crawfordsburn Country Park. The gun site’s centrepiece 12 foot by six-inch diameter naval guns were replaced by similar guns acquired from Spike Island in Cork Harbour in 1993 and 1999. Today the site is remarkably complete with the guns in firing order and with their original shields in place. The site is excellently maintained by the Ulster Environment and Heritage Service and well worth a visit.
For walkers, there is a great hiking opportunity on the route of the North Down coastal path. It is also the start of a countryside route to the delightful Helen’s Tower that can be seen in the distance to the south. Golfers will find a nine-hole golf course nestled on a gentle hill in the middle of the village which is very attractive. Founded in 1896, the course openly welcomes visiting individuals and groups.
From a boating perspective, Helen’s Bay presents a very good anchorage in a remarkable natural setting close to the City of Belfast. This provides a relaxing natural retreat with a wide and varied set of interesting aspects that make a shore landing compelling. Catering to a wide variety of interests it has much to offer a coastal cruiser.
What facilities are available?The small town of Helen’s Bay has all the facilities you would expect catering for a local population of 1,300 inhabitants, including fuel. Helen's Bay flanks Crawfordsburn Country Park that has a visitor centre which is open 10am - 4.30pm from Easter to the end of September, though staff shortage may affect opening hours. The park features toilets, including disabled facilities; picnic tables and a self service restaurant.
Helen's Bay is about 12 miles from Belfast City Centre via the A2 and A4 from Bangor (the entrance is by way of B20 ‘Ballyrobert Road’ through the village of Crawfordsburn, after which turn sharp left down Bridge Road South). Both Bangor and Belfast are connected to the village by rail and bus services. Belfast City has excellent transport connections via trains and bus services, and from there to any location in Ireland. Flights to domestic and international destinations operate from Belfast City and Belfast International Airports. There are frequent ferry crossings from Belfast and Larne.
Any security concerns?Never an incident known to have happened to a vessel anchored off Helen’s Bay.
With thanks to:Michael Evans, Deputy Harbour Master, Belfast Harbour. Photography with thanks to Ross, Albert Bridge, Steve Edge, Stubacca, Eric Jones, mary_mac_82, Robert Ashby and Rossographer.
Grey Point fort and Belfast Lough
Views of Helen's Bay
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