Castlerock is a coastal destination for all generations
I thought I was hearing things when my stepson Tim turned to me in Castlerock a couple of months ago and said: “Why don’t you try surfing with me? I’ll show you what to do.”
Maybe it was the searing August heat that had gotten to him, or maybe it was just that he was feeling so ‘chilled’, that he wasn’t thinking straight. Or a combination of both.
Castlerock can do that to you, especially when you’ve just come home from Australia on holiday for a few weeks and might have a touch of jet-lag.
It’s so laid back that it’s easy to forget reality for a while.
I’ve often thought there was something special about Castlerock. After initially being taken there on a couple of occasions by family friends as a child, once I was old enough, I took an occasional train trip or two there myself as a teenager. I was smitten with that journey long before Michael Palin arrived to tell the world about it.
As a young person I loved the train ride and the beach in that beautiful, quiet, secluded seaside town, which housed a community I perceived as laid-back and with loads of time on their hands to enjoy the gifts that nature bestowed so generously around them.
Castlerock never seemed to change much over the years, despite the commercialization of many other parts of the coastline. But that’s not to say it hasn’t evolved and grown. Far from it.
I’ve been there quite a lot over the last few years and found that it’s begun attracting more and more visitors, and developing a unique buzz of its own. It still has its old-world charm, harking back to the traditional simple seaside experiences of yesteryear, when the only thing to disturb the silence was the exciting shrieks of children splashing in the sea or building a sandcastle.
Yet alongside that, a new sub culture has emerged, a vibrant new scene, a younger, energetic community that still somehow manages to blend in so effortlessly with the customary Castlerock calmness.
The secret, I believe, is that new business developments there compliment and don’t clash with what Castlerock is already offering..
New eateries, serving seafood are a welcome addition. Existing restaurants in the area - and I’d recommend the one in the golf club - are always worth a visit of course, and now there is an opportunity to eat outside too and do a spot of people watching. There’s a new craft shop and cafe beside the train station, as well as a great little cafe just around the corner on the main street. Across the street from that is Chocolate Manor, a delightful, award-winning enterprise set up by Geri Martin. An economusee where skilled artisans can be watched at work, it produces luxurious, hand-crafted chocolate, personalised for the visitor. It promises: “As well as creating unique and indulgent treats, we offer a range of experiences that reveal the mysteries of the wonderful world of chocolate.”
And then there’s the Surf Shack, which is a great example of how to make the most of what nature offers on your doorstep, how to blend the old with the new. Run by young siblings, Leanne, Linsey and Aran, it is part of the reason why some people are visiting Castlerock for the first time. They grew up building sandcastles on the beach, and developed a love of surfing that led to them creating a thriving business.
When Tim visited with myself and his mum, he found people there with a common love of surfing who freely offered advice as well as great coffee and other treats.
The surfing scene adds an extra, exciting dimension to a beautiful and popular beach, and brings an extra element of enjoyment to those who can appreciate the skills on view. Then there are the kite flyers and those who like a spot of sea fishing, or just those who enjoy a lie down or a stroll to the Barmouth, which separates the beach from Portstewart Strand.
The Surf Shack itself is built on a stepped slope that sweeps down from the main street to the road along the seafront, which allows it to make the most of spectacular seaviews that include the most northerly part of Ireland, at Malin Head.
And the surf is often terrific - or so I’ve been told. While I can understand why people love it, balancing on a piece of polystyrene while riding a wave in the north Atlantic ocean wasn’t ever going to be my thing. The ability to balance on moving things was never a strong point for me. My one experience on roller skates when I was young led to a Frank Spencer-like, out of control dash down a sloping footpath until a trip onto the edge of a pavement which smashed one of my front teeth in half brought me to a halt. I’ve never since mustered the courage to try anything else that requires even the slightest relationship with balance.
So despite Tim’s kind invitation to try out surfing, it was never going to happen.
I was more than happy to continue with my customary laid back, chilled approach to a visit to Castlerock.