Northern Ireland’s County Down: Visiting Newcastle

The view from Slieve Binnian (Silent Valley Reservoir), County Down, Northern Ireland.
The view from Slieve Binnian (Silent Valley Reservoir), County Down, Northern Ireland.

‘Where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the Sea’

By Kate Skingley

You may be familiar with the famous song by Percy French ‘The Mountains of Mourne’ but most people are less familiar with the place in which the poem was inspired.

View from the route up to the summit of Slieve Binnian, County Down, Northern Ireland. Kate Skingley photos.
View from the route up to the summit of Slieve Binnian, County Down, Northern Ireland. Kate Skingley photos.

Just 30 miles south of Belfast is the beautiful coastal town of Newcastle, where the Irish Sea meets the stunning backdrop of the Mountains of Mourne.

I have visited Newcastle several times, as it is one of my favorite places for a short break, and so I am keen to share with you some of my highlights of this great UK destination.

How to get there

On arrival at Belfast International airport (or Belfast City) you can pick up a hire car for a relatively reasonable price (£10-£20 a day depending on the company and type of car, I generally use Budget). It’s a pretty straightforward route that will take about 45 mins-1 hr.

Where to stay

There are plenty of accommodation choices available in the town, from high-end hotels such as The Slieve Donard – which is known to put up professional golfers during the Walker Cup and the Irish Open, due to its proximity to the Royal County Down Golf Course; to a simple B&B located in the town, or self-catering options with apartments for rent in the seafront Waterroot apartment block.

View of the soft mountains.
View of the soft mountains.

I have visited Newcastle many times before and have tried a variety of the lodgings; I would advise staying as close to the town as possible to make sure you make the most of your time in Newcastle.

What to do

Newcastle is essentially a seaside town, with all the traditional seaside activities you would expect to find; Amusement arcades, fish and chip shops and a higher than average number of ice-cream parlors (of which I have sampled more than my fair share). There is also a beautiful promenade to stroll down and watch the tide roll in and out.

There is a Visitor Information Centre located on the Main Street, which provides a great source of information on a range of activities, from mountain biking, kayaking, and organized trip to the Giants Causeway (approx. 90 miles north of Newcastle).

One of the main reasons people visit Newcastle is for the huge variety of hiking trails and walks that are available. Many of these can be started from the town itself, and information on routes can be obtained from the Visitor Centre.

The routes on offer cater for a range of abilities, whether you are looking for a day long hike or a shorter, more leisurely stroll. I personally have completed a few of the mountain walks, including reaching the summit of the Slieve Donard mountain (849 meters to the peak), and the Newcastle to Murlough coastal walk.

I think my favorite route, however, is to the summit of Slieve Binnian, which offers incredible views across to the Silent Valley Reservoir.

The Slieve Binnian walk starts from Carrick Little car park, where you can follow the Mourne wall up to the summit. You can either park for free (if you are lucky enough to find a space) or in one of the nearby carparks where a local farmer allows you to park for a small fee. This particular walk can be done in a circular or linear route depending on your preference.

The view looking back to the Mournes from Murlough
The view looking back to the Mournes from Murlough.

Silent Valley

The Silent Valley is one of my favorite spots to visit when I am in Newcastle and is well signposted from the town. I suggest following the ‘Mourne scenic route’ which is a spectacle in itself   – it’s best to choose a clear day for this, it’s amazing how the mountains can seemingly disappear when the clouds roll in.

The Mourne Mountains
The Mourne Mountains

A parking fee of £4 gives you access to the Silent Valley for the whole day. There’s a range of trails to choose from with a circular route of approximately 2.5km and there are spots available within the park for picnics – however, the reservoir itself is the main event! The views across the reservoir are truly stunning, and the ‘silence’ you experience here is quite humbling.

Where to eat

For a relatively small seaside town, there is a great selection of restaurants in the town, which will cater for a range of budgets and tastes. While I could write a whole article on just this part of Newcastle I have picked out just 3 of my favorite spots.

‘Café Mauds’ is a bit of a Newcastle institution, and on weekends and during school holiday’s people can be seen queuing out of the door. With its enviable position on the seafront with floor to ceiling windows, which beautifully frame the sea and the mountains, it’s a great spot.

The location, however, is not its only draw; it also serves a delicious selection of breakfast, lunch and dinner choices, as well as a great selection of cakes, tray bakes, and ice-creams!

For dinner, my favorite spot is Villa Vinci, which is an Italian restaurant located at the top of the Main Street. If you want to visit on a weekend, then it is advisable to book, as it is popular with the locals and visitors alike.

The popularity serves to enhance its draw as you are always guaranteed a great atmosphere, along with fantastic service and a tasty selection of food.

One downside is that I’ve never managed three courses; such are the large portions (although it may be down to the fact that I am likely to have visited Maud’s earlier in the day for a spot of cake or an ice-cream).

There is, of course, a great selection of Pubs in the town too, with Quinn’s being one of my favorites, I think it’s true what they say – Guinness really does taste different in Ireland. Quinn’s also serves lunch and dinner, either in the bar or in the upstairs restaurant.

Newcastle has so much to offer and this is just a small selection of some of my favorite bits.   It is perfect for a long weekend but also has enough to be suitable for a longer break too. So what are you waiting for? Get those flights booked and begin your exploration of this beautiful part of County Down.

Visit www.discovernorthernireland.com for more information.

Kate Skingley

Kate Skingley  lives in Milton Keynes, England is a travel enthusiast and has recently returned from a 7 month round the world travel adventure. She loves to research and explore new places and cultures and spends most of her free time planning her next trip.   Kate is new to travel writing but is keen to share her travel experiences of some of her favorite spots.

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