|TYPE||Linear walk from train station to train station|
|DISTANCE||3.1 miles / 5.0 km|
|SURFACES||Mixed – tarmac and gravel paths – condition generally good except for short section at Seahill shore.|
|HEIGHT GAIN / LOSS||Several gentle ascents and descents|
This route starts at a Gothic train station, travels along a hidden wooded carriageway, meets the sea on a spectacular headland complete with big guns and lookouts, follows a varied coast including a ‘mini-Gobbins’ walk way and then turns inland for a final tree-lined section along minor paths to Seahill Station.
Of all the station starts on the Bangor line this is my favourite. Helen’s Bay railway station, built in 1863, was a project of the then Lord Dufferin to facilitate private access for his estate to the railway via a dedicated carriageway, Clandeboye Avenue. Designed in the ‘exuberant Scottish Baronial’ style, it featured a spectacular hexagonal courtyard terminus, complete with arrow slits, for estate carriages to decant and a private waiting room for Lord Dufferin. The Dufferin family crests are still on prominent display on both sides of the carriageway bridge, although time and weathering are taking their toll.
To view this remnant of another world simply descend into the platform underpass and exit through the door marked ‘Helen’s Bay Beach and Crawsfordburn Country Park’, turn sharp right and follow the path back underneath the railway.
As you enter the former courtyard and passenger transfer facility, you find yourself between two bridges. Just as the 19th century railway is hidden behind you, the main road and modern town of Helen’s bay is hidden in front. This narrow greenway is almost totally removed from the urban environment it steals its way through.
After around 500m the path ends at a useful car park – there is also an information board here for the BayBurn trail. Proceed straight ahead and then bear left along Grey Point road for 150m to where ‘Ulster Way’ signs mark the next section of coast path.
On Grey Point the walk now changes character completely – from shady hidden greenways you transition to coast, sky and a fine view of the whole of Belfast Lough. In 1904 the military planners thought so too and installed a two gun battery on top of the headland to control entry to the lough.
The site is now a museum, open at weekends. As well as telling the story of 20th Century coastal defences at Grey Point and beyond, the site also houses an amazingly comprehensive collection of military radio equipment including sets from WW2 bombers and Bletchley Park.
Below the path on top of the headland there are two World War Two searchlight emplacements. From here there are fine views of the whole lough. You can also see a small obelisk below on the rocks which was used as a mile marker for ships in Belfast Lough undergoing speed testing as part of their sea trials.
After Grey Point the path drops down to more gentle marshy terrain with the grasses and flags of the foreshore morphing into the escaped shrubs from the mature gardens of the big houses on the heights.
Continue along the coast, passing a small sandy bay with an unusual hedgehog-like curved stone roofed boathouse. A path joins here from another useful car park (see map).
500m beyond this you come to the newest and most impressive human intervention on the coastal path. Where before, a short climb up and down steep steps was required to bypass a short section of low coastal cliffs, there is now a shining steel flyover. Access has certainly been made easier by this ‘mini-gobbins’ work of engineering. However, to me it feels a bit brutalist and that nature has been subdued rather than enhanced by this addition. Judge for yourself.
Around the corner under an arched doorway in an old boundary wall you next come to Seahill Sewage plant. Such places are crucial to the quality of our environment and public health and this should be recognised in making sure their maintenance and improvement is near the top of public infrastructure priorities. Superficially at least this one seems to work well.
The path now skirts the grounds of Rockport school on the left with a series of interesting rocky bays on the right before coming to our coast departure point. Confusingly this is marked by a number of posts with a couple of badges but no actual useful information.
What you need to know is that this is the turn-off which will lead you neatly to Seahill Station. Follow the small gravel path away from the shore along a narrow route with a stream on one side and the boundary fence of a large house on the other.
After 200m the path twists and exits by the gateway post of a private house (see above). If you were following this walk in reverse this is a point where you could easily go wrong and miss the path access point.
Now simply follow the Rockport Road to where it joins Seahill Road where you turn left and soon find yourself at the station and the end of the walk.