Written by Marion Clarke
(One of the runner-up entries in the City, Town or Village Writing Competition.)
“I have seen landscapes, notably in the Mourne Mountains and southwards which under a particular light made me feel that at any moment a giant might raise his head over the next ridge.” – C. S. Lewis
It’s easy to see how the Kingdom of Mourne, as this area is sometimes known, inspired C. S. Lewis when he was creating the magical landscape of Narnia. This is especially true if you visit in winter when fir trees on the lower slopes of the Mournes are dusted with snow.
With tales of fairy folk and giants in abundance, it’s no surprise that the east coast of Northern Ireland has bewitched novelists, poets, artists and songwriters for many years, and more recently, of course, the production team behind Game of Thrones. What better location for the fantasy series than the majestic mountains, rich woodland and unique features of the rugged north coast.
The seaside town of Warrenpoint, with its unspoilt views of Carlingford Lough, is a good place to use as a base when exploring the area. This small town, with its Victorian terraces and wide streets, has one of the largest squares in Ireland where Fair Days were held up until the 1950s. During the Maiden of Mournes Festival in August, an open-air fun fair takes up residence and on warm evenings a twilight walk along the marine promenade is a very pleasant experience.
The town also possesses an extremely well-kept municipal park with an Edwardian bandstand that hosts regular concerts by local silver bands in summer months. During colder spells, an Irish Coffee or hot whiskey in front of an open fire is very welcoming.
With several local and international festivals held in the area annually, music lovers come back again and again to enjoy a host of free gigs around the town, particularly at the end of May during the Blues on the Bay Festival in Warrenpoint.
This event has indoor and outdoor sessions featuring local artists and and more legendary performers, such as Van Morrison, Peter Green and Mud Morganfield (son of Muddy Waters). In July, the Fiddlers Green Festival in the nearby village of Rostrevor includes events as diverse as a literary pub crawl, outdoor ceilis and art exhibitions.
Keen golfers can avail of the 18-hole Parkland Course at Warrenpoint Golf Club, established in 1893 and for water sports and action lovers there is the East Coast Adventure Centre on the seafront and two newly-built mountain bike trails in nearby Rostrevor. Hill walkers are, naturally, in their element, as the Mournes offer an unrivalled network of paths and tracks, providing incredible opportunities for exploration.
There are two widely renowned walking festivals that take place annually: the Mourne International Walking Festival and the Wee Binnian Walking Festival. Both offer guided hill walking that caters for both the novice and seasoned walker and there are plenty of opportunities for socializing with like-minded individuals.
If you prefer your relaxation indoors, you can chill out and people-watch in the foyer of one of the town’s three hotels, The Whistledown, The Balmoral and The Lough and Quay.
The three hotel restaurants, of course, offer fine dining but there is a wide selection of places to eat in Warrenpoint. Coffee shops entice customers with a range of gourmet sandwiches and home baked cakes; traditional pubs and bistros specialise in locally caught fish or tapas and stone-cooked steak, pizza and pasta. On the main street, Bennetts Seafood Bar & Grill also houses a wine warehouse at the back, so you can take a bottle of your favourite wine to enjoy at home.
In The Lough and Quay on the promenade, you can savour a range of craft beers on draught as you look across the lough to the Cooley Peninsula in the Republic of Ireland, not forgetting, of course, to sample the famous Irish whiskeys on offer.
If you intend to go sightseeing, the choice of trips that are do-able in one day is impressive; from Belfast’s Titanic Exhibition to the Giant’s Causeway, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge or Bushmills Distillery in County Antrim. Get up early and ask the delicatessen in the local supermarket or one of the many sandwich bars to make you up a tasty baguette to take on your journey. On your return, head for the bar at the Lough and Quay bar for some music and night cap.
I guarantee you’ll enjoy your stay so much that you’ll definitely come back – just for the craic! And possibly you’ll be inspired to create a story of your own or maybe a painting or two.
Posted 25th July 2015 by Steve Hanson on behalf of Marion Clarke. The first three photographs were supplied by Marion Clarke after the Writing Competition had been judged. The first and third photographs are of paintings by the author.