Nestled on the shores between Donaghadee and Groomsport in Co. Down lies a little hidden trail that winds through sheltered coves, hand-carved tunnels and historical trading routes with views all the way out to bonny Scotland. After centuries of being worn down by footfall from merchants, military and even Vikings, this trail is now managed by the National Trust who have taken care to protect this wee piece of coastal history.
The familiar National Trust emblem signals the start of the 3 mile trail that immediately gives way to views of the Irish Sea. The walk is fairly flat most of the way but there are fairly steep steps near the beginning that call for decent shoes (or you can live life on the wild side and wear sandals like me since I never seem to wear appropriate footwear!)
Before you begin the climb up the steps, take a look up to the hill to your left and you’ll see a few rope swings that provide a perfect opportunity to act the young thing. This trail is not designed for power-walking so be sure to take it slow and stop to enjoy the constant changes in terrain.
After you make the ascent, you’ll see a golden cereal field that rolls down to the sea with views out to the nearby Copeland islands. The name Copeland comes from the Nordic for “merchants lands” which explains why this trail is steeped in trading history. The path was once the old coach road that was used by smugglers and traders to transport tobacco and spirits from the islands and further afield.
Only one of the Copeland islands is inhabited (the cleverly-named Big Island) and the lighthouse is on the smaller Mew Island. If you’re lucky and visit on a clear day, you might be able to see the Mull of Kintyre or Ailsa Craig just off the Galloway coastline.
There’s plenty of coves and pebble beaches to take a rest and, if you’re feeling brave, dip the toes in for a swim. There have been lots of swimmers every time we’ve taken this walk but be careful of currents and stay close to the land.
Signs of autumn were peaking through the bushes on our last visit and I memorised the best blackberry sites to return to next month.
But summer is still hangin’ in there with wild coastal flowers sprouting tenaciously between the rocks and between reeds.
Eventually you’ll be taken through a hand-carved tunnel, my favourite part of the walk I think. You can still see the chisel marks, a real reminder of the intensive labour involved in making roads and trails way back when.
And that’s not where the history lesson ends! Soon after the tunnel you’ll spot a lookout hut from the Second World War that was used by the British army to detect German sea and aircraft. It’s now a great spot to spot seabirds and seals who don’t pose as big a threat!
Soon after the lookout point you’ll reach Sandeel Bay where you can take Sandeel Lane and walk back to your car via the main road or you can retrace your steps and take the same route you came. I’m a glutton for sea views so naturally we walked the coastal path back to where we started.
As the sun sinks, the cereal crops from the farmland shine gold and the sea sparkles. A perfect way to end the day any time of the year.