When you think you have explored all the beaches Ards Forest Park has to offer, you would do well to presume that there is another just around the corner.
Over the last 2 months I have scoured most of Ards Forest Park. I’ve climbed the trails and viewpoints, swam in the frigid Sheephaven Bay waters and left footprints in the golden sands of its beaches. My mistake though was approaching the park from the same direction each time and when I realised that you could access the park from the nearby Ards Friary, I discovered that there was a whole other bounty of beaches I had missed for all these weeks - a lucky stroke that I made the discovery the day before heading back to Belfast!
Tucked into the many coves of Sheephaven Bay, Ards Friary stands on the site that used to be home to Ards House, the main dwelling for the Stewart family who owned the peninsula throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. The big house was knocked down in the 1960s to make way for the growing Friary, home to the Capuchin monks who have been there for almost 100 years.
The Friary is accessible to the public and is the perfect gateway to the peninsula’s beaches which unfold at every bend. The coastal path is a path of discovery; with each step the view opens wider and wider until the Atlantic sea shines right ahead between the headlands of Horn Head and Rosguill.
We visited in the winter but I can only imagine how magical this place must be in the summer. It might be a bit of a trek when armed with a picnic basket but the reward of pristine, deserted beaches would be worth it to spend a whole day there.
Lucky Shell beach is a highlight of the coastal trail and deserving of a rest stop. The beach is almost hidden from view with dense forest rolling down to the sand and cliffs towering either side. It’s one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever come across in Ireland, like a little pirate’s cove with caves and dunes to plunder.
You can continue right on towards the carpark at Ards Forest Park or you can turn at the forest by Lucky Shell beach to take you back towards the Friary. The walk up in to the forest is quiet and offers another opportunity to soak in the views of the bay below.
Yet another new discovery for me in Donegal and another reason to fall harder in love with this wild corner of Ireland.