Atlantic Gateway: Bridging the divide

Bridging the divide is a series of articles proposing three investments which can boost active travel by linking communities divided only by the cost of a bridge. On the wild Atlantic north coast, the River Bann divides Castlerock and Portstewart – could a bridge invigorate the region’s tourism economy?

Atlantic Gateway

An iconic bridge across the River Bann barmouth as it meets the Atlantic Ocean would directly connect two important tourist destinations, reducing the reliance on vehicle travel on the North Coast.

Castlerock and Portstewart are separated by just over three miles as the crow flies. Looking east from Downhill House the towns appear to sit side-by-side, with a sandy strand linking the two settlements.

View from Downhill House to Castlerock and Portstewart

On closer inspection the River Bann poses a formidable barrier between the two. The Bann runs for 99 miles from Slieve Muck in the Mourne Mountains, through Lough Neagh and into the Atlantic here beside Castlerock.

A barmouth constructed in the 19th century keeps the Bann open to navigation.

Standing on the east side of the barmouth looking up the Bann

Due to this physical barrier, travel between Castlerock and Portstewart means a road journey through Coleraine of about 11 miles.

There are just two reasonable options – by car (taking roughly 25 minutes) or by public transport. Castlerock benefits from regular train and bus services, but getting to Portstewart requires a changing bus or train at Coleraine, both much slower options:

  • 39 minutes by train then bus (£5.40 discounted adult return, £8.90 before 9.30am)
  • 55 minutes by bus then bus (£2.70 discounted adult return, £4.10 before 9.30am)

For a family of four that’s anywhere from £8 return up to £22 for a day travel family card (depending on your mode of travel and time of day) with up to two hours total travelling time out of your day – for little more than three miles as the crow flies.

Seven extra miles of a diversion needed to travel between Castlerock and Portstewart

The alternative to this – highly attractive to local residents and the summer flood of tourists alike – would involve building a bridge across the barmouth. The shortest span at this point is about 190 metres, and a bridge would need to be high enough to maintain navigation through the Bann.

Proposed route edging Castlerock beach and through the dunes of Portstewart Strand

On the Castlerock side the bridge would be approximately 800 metres from Sea Road or 500 metres from the end of the private caravan park behind the golf course.

Across on the Portstewart side of the bridge, the 1.6 mile long strand is a challenging walk and an impractical (at times impossible) cycle or wheelchair journey.

Portstewart Strand stretching towards Castlerock (photo by Tourism Ireland)

Both sides of the bridge have extensive sand dunes between the Bann and the towns. An environmentally sympathetic option – to provide high quality and practical access all year round – would be to use a three metre wide elevated boardwalk, suitable everyday cycling, wheelchair and mobility scooter journeys.

By Clifton Cartwright (Desann) ( [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
A possible boardwalk across the sand dunes? (photo by Clifton Cartwright)
Portstewart Strand is a National Trust managed property which currently allows vehicle access onto the beach, and is home to the world famous Harry’s Shack restaurant. The proposed 2.5 mile boardwalk route (including bridge) would put Downhill House and Mussenden Temple within a 4.5 mile cycle from Morelli’s on Portstewart promenade.

There are already cycle hire companies on the north coast such as Causeway Cycle Adventures, but this type of medium distance route grafted on to existing seaside towns, major tourist attractions, and the existing traffic-free cycle route on towards Portrush, would surely support more local employment opportunities.

View from east mole of barmouth, Castlerock and Mussenden Temple in touching distance

Further on past Portrush the Department for Infrastructure is proposing to run its Greenway Network all the way to Dunluce Castle, Bushmills and the Giant’s Causeway. To the west lies Downhill, Binevenagh, Limavady and on towards Derry City and its growing greenway network. An Atlantic Gateway would bypass the long diversion into Coleraine – while also creating an attractive 13 mile triangular route between Portstewart, Coleraine and Castlerock.

The north coast section of the Greenway Strategy for Northern Ireland

This bridge and route could bring immense benefits to local residents and visitors alike. It can actively displace a significant proportion of year-round resident and visitor journeys from cars to bicycles, given the potentially identical travel times. It also opens the possibility of creating a new architectural centrepiece for our tourism offering with the Atlantic Gateway bridge itself.

What do you think of the Atlantic Gateway idea? Please take the time to leave your comments below and share through your social networks. Election season is also a great time to contact your local MLA candidates to ask for their support! 😉

41 thoughts on “Atlantic Gateway: Bridging the divide

  1. For comparison, Amsterdam’s Nesciobrug spans 180m and hangs 10m above water level to allow for shipping to move unimpeded. To reach that height the total bridge length is 800m. To accommodate coastal shipping it would need to be of a similar height to the Foyle Bridge. There would have to be shields/deflectors to ensure walkers and cyclists wouldn’t get blown off the bridge. The visual impact would be enormous.
    The Nesciobrug cost €9mln 10 years ago. Another, neater, option would be a low bridge with an opening central span to allow ships through. As it is lower it can also be shorter and have less of an impact on surrounding dune complexes. In the meantime a small foot and bike ferry could be used?

    1. A good idea but a cheaper and quicker alternative would be a ferry across the Bann at the bar. Mouth between the two beaches. This would also help the Ulster Way. Another interim possibility would be a tel no to a boat person who takes cyclists and walkers on demand. A boat owner in Portstewart or Castlerock could do the job. Would the Causeway Lass be interested?

  2. Hard to imagine how this could be achieved without considerable visual impact on the entire Portstewart Strand, and to make economic sense commercial traffic would need to be able to use it too.
    Speaking as someone who walked that beach to the bar mouth and back last Thursday , I would be less likely to want to do that if there was a raised walkway , the attraction for me personally is the beach itself , with no man made constructions impeding the view..
    Has the Golf Club been consulted? ( I don’t golf , but I imagine the club would be affected).

  3. Been saying exactly this for a year since we moved home from Australia. In Oz, such a boardwalk would be full of cyclists, joggers and the odd (very busy) coffee shop all weekend. Would be huge for the much needed reinvigoration of Castlerock.

  4. The boardwalk sounds great for tourism. The bridge sounds pretty instrusive, maybe a artists impression to visualise, the option of a lower bridge might be a good alternative. How often would the bridge have to be lowered etc .
    Anything that brings tourism in would be probably great . I assume traffic flow numbers have been looked at

  5. Low bridge with center opening section would not work for navigation…The commercial vessels that are “Piloted” to Coleraine need the full width esp in a following sea in bad weather when the waves can be 6/8 meters!…So a high bridge, same height as Coleraine Railway bridge would be needed!…A ferry would not be practical a lot of the time due to sea states!…I suppose a large double swing bridge would be an option but the length of the counter weight sections would make this type of bridge enormous!…A cheaper option would be a triple double/triple triple Bailey bridge at full height?…Any bridge is still going to have an impact that some people will fight…I like the idea and I believe it would be a bonus for both towns…

  6. NOOOOO! The whole point of Castlerock is to get away from traffic and tourists. If you want buzz goto Portrush/Portstewart, but if you need recharging and wildness there’s the peace at Castlerock.

    1. I agree with you Jill, definitely not!! I have stood at the Barmouth many times in my life at Castlerock and Portstewart and have never thought ‘they should build a bridge here’. I just wonder how many of the people who want a bridge actually live in the north coast area.

    2. Couldn’t agree more. Two totally different Seaside Towns, opening the two Strands up would destroy the peaceful areas at the ends of each Strand. Not only walkers and cyclists but Scramblers etc and goodness knows what else. Costing Millions. DONT DO IT!!!!

  7. Absolutely fantastic idea. I would love to see this happen. This would be a beautiful cycle route for families to access both sides. Bravo, make it happen.

  8. How about a ferry service?
    Seems a cheaper viable option that could be up and running before plans for a bridge were even drawn up!

  9. A bridge is a non starter due to the navigational needs of coleraine harbour. A chain ferry might work – used to cross the Shannon and the upper banned.

  10. The area known as the Barmouth is subject to very high winds and heavy seas of up to 10m. Ships of 2000 gross tonnes still use the Port of Coleraine although in declining numbers. The tidal stretch of the River Bann has 4 marinas serving local and visiting yachts. Some of these are very big and there have also been “tall ships” visiting the town. A bridge would be prohibitively expensive and visually intrusive to the area in my opinion. The suggestion of a cycle and passenger ferry is a better one but again could only be operated during summer months, would need to be heavily subsidised and would need dedicated and specially constructed landing slipways on either side of the river away from the influence of Atlantic swell.
    None of this will be impossible but it will be very expensive.

    1. From above comments still think a small ferry for walkers ( e.g. On Ulster Way) or cyclists would work if lower down the Bann. A rib could be used without large infrastructure. A bridge is far to intrusive and expensive. Cheapest option would be if a ferry could be called on from Portstewart harbour to Castlerock. It would be available on telephoning a no. This should be a priority for north coast tourism and the Council should be lobbied strongly. No reason why a ferry scheme could not be running by this summer

  11. I entirely agree with Robert Anderson’s (former R.Bann pilot) comments above. This is a very environmentally sensitive area and an area of outstanding natural beauty. It needs to be preserved and protected and not built upon in the interests of some very dodgy economic fantasy.

  12. Great idea -would make an excellent longer walk and open up Castlerock (and it’s coffee shops) to more tourism. A bridge would enable all year round use.

  13. 95% of people don’t walk any further than the pub or supermarket. Building a very expensive bridge for the use of very few doesn’t not make financial sense not to mention the damage to the natural beauty of the area.

  14. Fantastic ideas. I’d support any of them. Bridging the communities & expanding tourism to the area is critical to increasing jobs & income. The project should be sympathetic to the environment & this area of Outstanding Natural Beauty however with careful design I’m sure its achievable.

  15. Great idea with some possible negatives: first, the navigation issue; second, issues of either too little use or too much use. Portstewart Strand, including the dune system is environmentally sensitive and needs to be looked after. Lots of people will introduce problems, e.g. rubbish of all sorts.

  16. Would be delighted to have this facility. As a keen walker who often uses both beaches I frequently wish that it was possible to cross the river to the Portstewart side to extend my walk. Hopefully it will be built before I am too old to use it!

  17. I’ve often thought about this concept standing on the Castlerock side of the Barmouth probably as I would like to walk a bit further! My guess is that without huge investment a bridge would really only be viable for walkers and the practicalities mean I doubt it will be done in the foreseeable future. Even the recently installed steps to protect the dunes are already broken in parts (trusting that this will be sorted soon) so a really long boardwalk doesn’t seem that feasible. I’d be interested in seeing a definite proposal but difficult to wholeheartedly support the concept as there are currently too many unknowns.

  18. Nice idea, but, Is the proposal for a car bridge or a foot bridge, if it’s a foot bridge what is the travel time advantage as I don’t believe there would be one? Allow of impact as in other comments to dunes, golf courses, how would ships navigate the height restriction? Needs bit o a feasibility study. Agree that boat taxis would be better, stick a few cafes along the seafront, and people might use it. There’s one down the bann with water sports next to it, might be a good business venture.

  19. Excellent idea, have been thinking for years about a low level swing/draw bridge of some form for this location. Perhaps high enough to allow sail boats to pass beneath. Site it slightly upstream away from the beaches, out of site. Just the bridge initially, a boardwalk eventually if funding is ever available. On Friday past I walked from Downhill to Portstewart, such a detour to Coleraine on what is a reasonably busy, noisy road – not a very pleasant walk at present. I don’t believe that the ferry is a suitable substitute – the route just would not be busy enough 365 days per year to justify a full time ferry service.

  20. A rare example of joined-up thinking which should be supported. East Londonderry has 5 MLAs and 1 MP who should be interested in linking these two constituency towns. Given the very recent success of the Irish Open in Portstewart, Castlerock could do with a slice of future such action.

  21. Definitely a brilliant idea and greatly needed if can’t be done for cars at least for walkers cyclists etc. It’s terrible to stand on one beach and see town beside with no access we need to address he problem asap as missing great opportunity!!

  22. Excellent idea.

    First time ever in Castlerock today – immediately thought that there should be an easier way of getting to Portstewart. A bridge would make the are so much more appealing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s