The North Down coastal path, as you may have guessed, is a path that lines the coast of North Down, leading in both directions; east towards Groomsport, and then west towards Holywood. But here I will only share the Holywood route of the North Down coastal path from Bangor, as it is more of a scenic and coastal route compared to the somewhat urbanised stretch towards Groomsport. Either way, the ideal starting point will always be Bangor Seafront (i.e. the Marina, the Eisenhower Pier or Pickie Fun Park). Anyway, I share these stops, along with attractions and points of interest along the North Down Coastal Path below. Also, check out our awesome drone video from Bangor to Holywood below.
Where to Start?
There will be car parks connecting to pretty much all of these areas along the route, which I will link via Google Maps. But car parks are obviously not convenient for those without cars to park. Otherwise, when travelling from Belfast City Centre the Bangor to Belfast Train (the Gold Coast Trainline) is very handy, as it runs parallel to the coastal path to Holywood, and every stop is within walking distance of the coastal path. Although the 3 easier-to-find train stations would be at Carnalea, Helen’s Bay and finally Holywood. So I would advise to either start at, or return from, an outside stop, so you don’t need to double back. And ultimately you can cover more of the coastline. Anyway, I will share the car park locations and better train stations along the North Down Coastal Path. And the complete train timetable here. Trains run every 20-30 minutes or so, starting at around 07:00AM and ending at around 23:00PM.
I am starting from Pickie Fun Park (above right), found next to Bangor Marina, although you can always work back from any station along the way. From the Fun Park, you will then pass the remnants of the “woman’s pool” which was part of the old Pickie Pool outdoor swimming arena which was once a huge tourist draw to Bangor back in its heyday (1950’s). And this includes what would be the most central beach in town (below left) although it’s the most exciting. A short distance Pickie then finds Wilson’s Point, famous for something, maybe, and there’s is a signpost signalling the directions and distances to various regional attractions. Such as Ballylumford Power Station (I dunno?).
It is just after Wilson’s Point on the coastal Path when dogs can be let off their leads, which occasional folk complain about, simply because they’re not big people. But Bangor dogs are friendly dogs, and having probably walked this coastal path a hundred times, I’ve barely had a dog sniff at my crotch. Anyway, the path continues to follow the coastline, passing over the top of Jenny Watts Cave (read the Legend of Jenny Watts here), before reaching the first proper beach and attraction at Brompton Bay. Which I always knew as the “Half Castle” until recently, so I’m actually learning a lot myself on this journey, as the names we know were of names of the local residential areas rather than their maritime names. Or else we just made them up. Anyway, Brompton Bay can also be accessed by car at Brompton Road.
Smelt Mill Bay (Strickland’s Glen)
Again, I have been countless times to this cove of the coastline at Strickland’s Glen, as everyone calls it, but never in my life had I heard the name Smelt Mill Bay before an information board popped up at the location. So apparently it’s called Smelt Mill Bay, and I continue to find similar information boards along the North Down Coastal Path sharing official names, often with maps and a little bit about local history and heritage, as well as the nearby wildlife (birds). In this case, “the name ‘Smelt Mill Bay’ is an echo of Bangor’s industrial past, from the old lead smelt mill that once operated here”. And Wikipedia tells me that Smeltmills were water-powered mills used to smelt lead or other metals. Anyway, Smelt Mill Bay is found at the bottom of Strickland’s Glen, an “enchanting wooded glen” (as described by Discover NI), which again can be used when arriving by car, as here. There’s also a great circular route between Strickland’s Glen and Ker Wood to do separately.
Carnalea (Train Station)
Pretty much directly next to Strickland’s Glen is then the 9th hole of Carnalea Golf Course (which is possibly the best links Golf Course in Northern Ireland) as the coastal path now follows both the boundary of the golf course, as well as the coastline towards Carnalea Bay. Where there is a junction, following left past the clubhouse of Carnalea Golf Course, that brings you to Carnalea Train Station. As it’s pretty much opposite the entrance (and here it is here). So I would honestly recommend this simple route, from Bangor to Carnalea, for anyone who just fancies a nice walk along the coastline. Because it will be a good while ahead before the next train station at Helen’s Bay. And it’s otherwise just two stops along the train lines to reach back to Bangor’s town centre.
This is another new name for me, as we always just called it the Boat House, or the “First Beach” because it was the first sand beach we reached when walking from Carnalea, and it has an old (now abandoned) boathouse. Otherwise this stop is more for nostalgia’s sake, as we lived not so far from Carnalea, and we would always walk the Coastal Path to the first beach in the summer evenings. As it was always quiet and secluded, with no other point of entry but the coastline, so we’d bring a beatbox, light bonfires, and drink beers and 2-leets of cider. And there was a hidden patch in the surrounding forest (now overgrown), with a toppled tree to sit on, which we just named “the log”. Otherwise I know very little about the history of this lesser-known spot.
Crawfordsburn Country Park
It’s only a short stretch from the Boat House to reach Crawfordsburn Beach, which is set below “The Haunted Hospital”, at least we always thought it was haunted during its derelict days. But these days it has been renovated into some rather fancy apartments which I would probably never stay in. Because they’re probably also haunted. Anyway, Crawfordsburn Beach is likely the best sand beach along this coastline, meaning it will be busy in the sunnier summer days of the year. The beach is also a small part of the wider Crawfordsburn Country Park, which is worth a visit alone given you have your own transport, and there’s a massive car park right at the entrance of the coastal path and beach (full post on the country park here). Otherwise, these attractions can be reached from the coastal path leaving either Carnalea or Helen’s Bay train Stations. There’s also a cafe in the country park for some halfway refreshments, and I’ll prob share a full post on the park. (Note, the former Crawfordsburn train station closed long ago).
Helen’s Bay (Train Station)
I’ve always said if we make a permanent move to Bangor it would be to either Helen’s Bay or Carnalea. Where it’s an easy walk the coastline for the views, as well as the train station for Belfast City Airport. Problem is, we could probably never afford it, and very few people ever sell out of these areas. Because, why would you? So again there is a train station in the small coastal village of Helen’s Bay (5 mins walk found here) as well as plenties of parking spaces next to Helen’s Bay Beach and the coastal path. In fact, there are 3 or 4 entry points from Helen’s Bay including Grey Point Fort, a World War military fort, and free museum, which I will share in more detail down the line. So this again is a great starting or ending point for a walk on the North Down Coastal Path and can be reached easily by train.
Just to confuse things, we are still within ‘Crawfordsburn Country Park’, as apparently, the park continues past Helen’s Bay, Grey Point Fort, and technically the park ends roughly 500 meters or so from the fort. Where the old stone boathouse is (below left). But again I only realised this when reading the signs in the connecting car park, called “The Sea Park”, which would also be a good point to start a walk along the North Down Coastal Path (car park here). Otherwise, the main train station for this stretch is Seahill, which is trickier to find, and the scenery here is not the best. Although there are occasional nice spots along here, including a fancy “boardwalk” bridge (below right), before arriving to Cultra. And while it is possible to reach the coastline from Seahill (the end of Seahill Road) although it is better to just start out from the Helen’s Bay area.
Pronounced “Cultraw” in a posh voice. And while Bangor is often considered to be the posh part of Northern Ireland, Holywood is posher. And then there is Cultra, which, as Wikipedia describes it, is the “affluent residential suburban area near Holywood”. And collectively the North Down Coastline makes up the Gold Coast “because it is the most affluent part of Northern Ireland”. You plebs. So the coastal path does become a bit more residential and urbanish around this point, although there is definitely some coastal charm in the moorings and yacht club along the seafront. And this area of the North Down Coastal Path is actually a lesser-known tourist spot inland, with the rather fancy Culloden Hotel nearby, as well as the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum found at the main road. And it’s really not far from Holywood town. Anyway, Cultra is found here.
Holywood (Train Station)
The Holywood side of the coastal path is a bit poor, at least when it comes to scenery and coastal charm, as it more or less becomes a seawall with a narrow pathway from Cultra up until the town itself. Although there is a great area with a sandy beach at Seapark (below left), known as Seapark Recreation Area with its official name. As there’s like a kids park and swings and stuff. Then it is just a bit further along the coastline to reach the centre of Holywood. And the train station pretty much connects to the coastal path here making it easy for the return journey. It is possible, and not too hard, to walk from Bangor to Holywood, and even I walked it once in the opposite way from Holywood to Bangor (for Cancer Research or something). And I was probably hungover at the time. Anyway, Holywood is a bit like a small Bangor, as in it’s a small coastal town, with lots of cafes and eats. Only without the exciting coastline. But they do throw a fantastic May Day parade.