Murlough National Nature Reserve: a walk between the dunes and the Irish Sea

The white sand, the heath coming all its way to the beach, the Irish sky reflected on the water: all this contributes in creating a unique atmosphere, suspended in time and space.

Imagine a sunny Sunday in Belfast. Imagine you want to discover new places. Imagine a bus taking you South, in a town on the coast, on the Irish Sea.

This is how our little trip to Murlough National Nature Reserve started: it happened partly casually, taking the 520 bus that passes almost at my doorstep that in one hour and twenty minutes took me and my friend Filippo to Newcastle, Co. Down, Northern Ireland (don’t confuse it with Newcastle Upon Tyne in UK).

Newcastle is a tourist little town full of restaurants, cafes and family activities. Its peculiarity is that it is enclosed between the white beach that blends in the Irish Sea and the base of Slieve Donard, the main peak of the Mourne Mountains, the biggest mountain chain in Northern Ireland. Another trait is that at the town’s limits there are three important parks: two – Donard Park and Tollymore Forest Park – are South, at the base of Slieve Donard; another one extends on the coast between Newcastle and Dundrum: it is the Murlough National Nature Reserve of which I will talk today.

As first thing: why Murlough and not one of the other parks? At the beginning of our trip, me and Filippo didn’t know exactly what we would visit in the end: we organized everything in a hurry and we had few time for research, so we thought to decide the actual destination once in situ. When in Newcastle, the decision was pretty easy: once opened Google Maps we compared the times to walk to the various places. Murlough Nature Reserve was the closest and, since it was already lunch time, the one that would have let us more free time for the visit.

As the destination was decided, we started to walk and, after about 50 minutes, we arrived at Murlough Reserve’s entrance:

Our first step was to stop at the National Trust hut to ask for information: I read on the web that in this zone there should be the Slidderyford Dolmen but I couldn’t find it anywhere (and I don’t think it can pass unnoticed); the guides couldn’t help me, however it was useful to stop, since we received two pretty useful maps of the Reserve.


They also explain us that the East part of the Reserve could be closed. We decide anyway to walk the path in that direction to reach the beach, and from our first step we are surrounded by a peculiar panorama, that I’ve never seen before:


Murlough Nature Reserve, in fact, is made of two incredible landscapes fading one in each other, becoming together a show of blinding beauty: the fine sand and savage heath system of dunes and the beach, rich of shells, that goes in the Irish Sea.

We decided for the walk on the beach, but the heath is no less interesting: here, as in many natural areas in Northern Ireland (do you remember Oxford Island, for example?), is a paradise for bird watching enthusiasts, but not only, since the Reserve is the natural habitat for over 668 species of butterflies and moths.




On the background there are the Mourne Mountains, Slieve Donard in particular.


In front of us, the Irish Sea: a pretty different sea from the Mediterranean I’m used to, still the endless water expanse with its orizon that makes me dream.


Under our feet there are the finest sand, little stones consumed by water and many beautiful shells:

The sand here is so fine that at some point it is difficult to walk: our steps sink, we leave deep footprints. This never happened to me anywhere!


Going ahead through the beach we find a tall sand dune: the temptation of climbing it is incredible, and in fact…


From here the view is breath-taking:



And like this, in and out from the dunes, a sudden marvellous view after another, we walk along all Murlough Nature Reserve:




The landscapes are incredible and these pictures are the evidence. The white sand, the heath coming all its way to the beach, the Irish sky reflected on the water: all this contributes in creating a unique atmosphere, suspended in time and space.



An antique airplane cuts through the sky silently, peacefully, and I imagine the marvel in the pilot’s eyes:


Marvel that is also in our eyes and ears, that finally can rest from the chaos of the city in this silence broke only by the waves of the sea:



I’ll be back around here to see the rest of the Nature Reserve: enchanted by our walk on the beach, we skipped the right gate for the walk back in the heath. The last bus to Belfast was in the late afternoon, so we had to reach Dundrum in a hurry to not end passing the night here.

Between the Dolmen (I’m not giving up on it!), the rest of the Reserve, the other two parks and Slieve Donard, there’s a lot to see in this zone: I can’t wait to enjoy another sunny day in Northern Ireland.


Murlough National Nature Reserve – National Trust
Murlough National Nature Reserve – Facebook

How I reached the place:

  • bus 520 from Great Victoria Street Bus Station – Belfast for Newcastle’s Bus Station
  • walking from Newcastle to Murlough Nature Reserve
  • bus 520 from Dundrum to Great Victoria Street Bus Station – Belfast


Bus: £ 9
The Reserve is free entry, but there’s a ticket for the parking.

Thanks to Sean for giving the starting idea for this visit.

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