Have you heard the ‘singing sands’ of White Park Bay?
White Park Bay
White Park Bay is a beautiful scenic location for a stroll on the North Coast of Antrim between the fishing villages of Ballintoy and Portbraddon.
The area came under the care of the National Trust in 1938. The sheltered white sandy beach forms a 2 mile arc between two headlands. However, the water is not safe for swimming or surfing as there are dangerous rip currents. The beach is accessed by a path from an upper car park and there are also stone steps, but these are quite steep. Dogs on a lead are welcome on the strand. White Park Bay is an area of outstanding natural beauty and the dunes have been declared an Area of Scientific Interest. On a clear day it is possible to see the coast of Scotland.
The Singing Sands
White Park Bay is noted for its ‘singing sands’. This is a natural phenomenon that has been recorded in only 30 places around the world. When conditions are right, footsteps on the very fine sand produce a vibration which results in a humming sound. It has been described as “buzzing sound…that washes across the entire landscape” before fading away. The wind blowing in a certain direction can also cause the sand to ‘sing’.
Flora and Fauna
A backdrop to the beach is the ancient sand dunes, home to numerous grasses and wildflowers. There are at least 9 different species of wild orchid growing among the grassy dunes, from the colourful Pyramidal Orchid to the unusual Frog Orchid and Bee Orchid. In spring and summer the dunes are a blaze of colour. Meadow Crane’s-Bill [also known as the Blue Flower of Dunluce], Wood Vetch, Birds-Foot, Germander Speedwell and Agrimony are some of the plants that thrive here. Ferns such as Adders-Tongue and Moonwort are also to be seen. As is Rhodobryum roseum, commonly known as Rose Moss.
“To the botanist the wild flowers appeal at once by their abundance and variety. In spring the sand-dunes are turned into sheets of yellow by the wonderful profusion of Primroses, and later on the elegant foliage and large blue flowers of the Meadow Crane’s-Bill are everywhere to be seen”A History of the Giant’s Causeway and District 1909
This area is a safe haven for wildlife. Otters frequent White Park Bay, as they fish in both fresh and salt water. Porpoises and dolphins are also regular visitors and more occasionally grey seals.
The Common Lizard and Pygmy Shrew also co-habit the chalky grasslands. There is also a large population of rabbits.
This protected natural region is the home of many species of birds. Fulmars, a relation of the albatross, come here every year to nest and breed. The Ringed Plover and Meadow Pipit have also been spotted in the area.
The scrub lands are the favourite breeding spots for the Whitethroat and Grasshopper Warblers. Sand Martins nest in the stream banks while the Jack Snipe prefer wetter parts. Other birds seen here are Eider and Oystercatcher.
Butterflies and Moths
This special area is the habitat of numerous species of butterflies, including rare breeds. The Wood White and Dark Green Fritillary as well as the Common Blue and Small Heath have all been seen here. Moths such as the Six-Spot Burnet and Mother Shipton have also been recorded.
This ancient beach is also a fossil hunter’s paradise! Belmites, Amnonites and Gryphaea have all been found here. It is believed the Bay took shape between 200 million and 50 million years ago. The cliffs ringing the cove are composed of Upper Cretaceous chalk. These were formed when the area was under water.
Some archaeologists believe this area was one of the first in Ireland to be settled. Artefacts have been found dating back to 8,000BC. Above the beach is situated a dolmen, a Neolithic grave. This dolmen is known locally as the Druid’s Altar. There are 3 passage tombs in the hillside dating back to 3,000BC, all overlook the sea. The site was an established settlement of flint arrowhead and polished stone axe production and exportation.
“Its archaeological , biological and geological riches were a magnet to the scientifically curious from the early years of the nineteenth century and it became a rich collecting ground for organisations such as the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society, the Belfast Naturalists’ Field Club and a continuing pilgrimage of eager amateurs and professionals”Habitas.org.uk
The Old School House
Close to the beach are the ruins of an old school building. In the eighteenth century this was a ‘school for young gentlemen’. One notable past pupil is the Honourable Robert Stewart later Lord Castlereagh.
An unusual sight, at certain times of the year, are cows on the beach. These belong to a local farmer and help with conservation on the shoreline. The grazing cattle keep the grass height under control, which allows orchids and winter annuals to flourish.
Whether you are an archaeologist, botanist or picnicker, you cannot fail to be impressed by the beauty and tranquillity of White Park Bay. A definite must-see for any Antrim Coast visitor.
White Park Bay, White Park Road, Ballintoy, County Antrim
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