Portavogie beach shells

Sheesh, what a wild time we’re in right now, eh friends? I’ve been wondering if now is the right time to blog at all, worried that it would appear insensitive at a time when so many of our fellow humans are suffering and living in fear. But I decided that at this time, more than ever, we are all in need of a little escapism and joy. I’ve noticed so many good news stories being shared over these last few weeks as people are desperate to spread messages of hope. We are all holding on to each other, reaching out in whatever way we can.

The remains of a fishing boat on Portavogie beach

I’ve been self-isolating for the last fortnight and hanging in there by finding little projects to keep me going but most of all, as always, it’s the outdoors that’s providing me with the most comfort. At a time when we are to maintain social distancing, I want to share with you the places I have been choosing for local adventures that are quiet and practically free of people. We are so lucky to live in a country where big, bucolic landscapes are easy to access and while it’s tempting to flock to the north coast when the sun shines, we have to be mindful that hundreds (perhaps thousands) are thinking the same thing, adding to the pressure the locals there are already facing.

The view out to Green and Bird Isles

There is an abundance of beaches, parks and woodlands just waiting to be explored but it can sometimes be difficult to choose where the best places are to go to avoid the crowds. I asked on my Insta stories if folks could share their own local tips and there were some great suggestions! I’ve shared them all on the highlights on my Instagram page which you can find here.

One of my favourite suggestions was Portavogie beach because despite eating plenty of prawns caught just off the village shores in many different restaurants (Portavogie prawns are famous world-wide!), I had never actually been for a visit. I had eaten plenty of prawns caught just off the village shores (Portavogie prawns are famous world-wide!). I’m always excited to visit somewhere new that’s not very far from Belfast and at just under 50 minutes away, Portavogie was the perfect Sunday escape.

The coastal drive down the Ards peninsula is always dreamy. As we drove out of Newtownards and Scrabo Tower disappeared from view, we could see the silhouette of the Mournes across the lough, the faint outline almost like a shadow through the Spring haze.

Before taking this mini road trip, I turned to Instagram to get some inspiration on how best to access the beach and where to take the best photos. I always recommend doing a little research before visiting somewhere for the first time even if it’s only down the road, you can find so many amazing local tips for little hidden spots off the beaten path!

I had saved a photo from the beach taken last summer by Sasha Ferguson, a fellow adventure-lover who captures the best of NI and the rest of Ireland (she’s just as obsessed with Donegal as I am). She had taken a beautiful photo of the scallop shells that decorate the beach at low tide and there was even a marooned fishing boat too! Sasha advised parking by the Quays restaurant which had great access to the south shore and, at low tide, the tiny Green and Bird isles.

The sun was shining but the chill in the air told us it wasn’t quite summer yet. We trundled on against the coastal wind along a path scattered with bleached white scallop shells. We ventured north towards the harbour and soon the shells took over all the rocks and beach, snapping under our feet like porcelain. I’d recommend wearing sturdy shoes for this walk, I na├»vely wore flat pumps that were a little too slippery to navigate the rock pools!

The shells had the most beautiful red and orange tones that radiated in the golden afternoon light. We had to keep our eyes down to save ourselves from landing on our arses but when we did look up from the gorgeous shells, the views out to the sea weren’t half bad either. The collection of hidden coves and beaches exposed in the low tide were completely empty of people and we continued on, doing a bit of a loop around the towering rocks.

Eventually we had to call it a day because my ambitious fashion choices had my legs turning blue. We got back to the car, taking a quick spin past the harbour filled with fishing boats that I quietly hoped weren’t being docked for too long as the virus rocks the restaurant trade.

We drove the coastal route back home, watching the sun go down over the Lough and thankful for having so much beauty right on our doorstep.