There are three routes that I know of that lead to the windswept arc of fine sand at Whitepark Bay. Today in the July sun, and since the tide allows, we make our way there from Portbradden. To do so, we must cross the bulwark of amassed chalky boulders that provides some shelter for the hamlet against the rages of the pounding Atlantic rollers.
At other times we have taken the longer path that skirts along the salted coastline in the opposite direction, from Ballintoy Harbour, intrigued, always, by the strange formations of gigantic grass-covered rock that step out into the sea from the land like marvellous creatures from the pages of pre-history.
In winter, we often follow the steep path down from the carpark by the quiet youth hostel, just off the coast road, gaining an elevated overview of the beauty of the place as we go. Once or twice, the beach has been dusted in snow.
On colder days, Whitepark can be an empty wilderness. It feels so far removed from civilization that it is hard to imagine that in the 18th century there was a school here for young gentlemen, including the eminent Lord Castlereagh.
There are several spacious beaches along the North Antrim coast that seem to be made for walking, and Whitepark, arguably, is the jewel in the crown. As I walk these strands, I often think of the words of Seamus Heaney in his poem ‘Lovers on Aran’:
Did sea define the land or land the sea?
Each drew new meaning from the waves’ collision.
Sea broke on land to full identity.
There is something about the meeting of the land and the sea, in this place, by means of the intercession of gentle dunes and wild orchid meadow, in contrast to the dramatic cliffs of basalt typical of this coastline, that lends a peculiar air of mystery.
The sea here can be ferocious though, even in summer, and is not safe for bathing. Yet there is something very gentle about the herds of cattle that tend to graze on the hinterland, often barely visible through the briny mist. When they descend quietly right to the edge of the water, to bask in the sun and drink from the streams that flow down from the rocky heights, over the sand, and eventually into the sea, the bay takes on a mantle of timelessness.
I have read that Whitepark Bay has a long and distinguished history. These days, commercial life is kept at a distance, and often we have been thankful for this protection. Yet excavation around the caves in the rocks here has brought to light the marks of early human civilization in the vicinity, and evidence of global trade, dating back over centuries, and perhaps even millennia. Amidst the chalk-leans and green slopes that form the architecture of the earth as it rises up above the beach, the fabric of the past can be discovered in mounds and monuments that blend subtly into the time-weathered landscape. Perhaps this place has always pointed to eternity.
The juxtaposition of history and timelessness at Whitepark has drawn people here in every season, to reflect and seek recovery from life’s vicissitudes. In the damp days of Autumn, the very earth itself appears to weep, as if in slow lament for all of the tears that have been shed in times of trouble on this beautiful piece of land that we call home.
But in Spring and Summer, tiny flowers begin to appear among the dune grass. The first primrose that I saw this year, so small, but yet so full of hope, was embedded in the green ground at Whitepark. What a blessing it was to find it.
Summer at Home Staycation Series: