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Imagine you are about to tee off at Royal County Down Golf Club. It is a glorious spring morning, the sun high and shining, a little dew still glistening on the fairway, a slight chill in the air with the promise of later heat and beyond the curve of Newcastle Beach and the housetops and steeples of the town the Mourne Mountains rise, with Slieve Donard the highest peak, dominating all. How many golfers at such a moment have paused to drink in this exceptional view?
Golf is only one of the attractions that have gone into making Newcastle a first-rate seaside resort. The railway which opened in 1869 helped to create the town’s success. The Belfast & County Down Railway recognised the location’s tourist potential, paying for the erection of a golf club house and sidings for excursion trains and building in 1898 the elegant 120-room Slieve Donard Hotel. It has over the years accommodated many celebrities including Percy French, Charlie Chaplin, Sir Alf Ramsey, Alan Wicker, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones. Also some of the great names of golf: Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.
Short-sightedly the railway was closed in the early 1950s for it would have proved an excellent commuter line for residents travelling to Belfast and catered to a burgeoning tourist trade in recent years. It was also the perfect way to arrive in this scenic resort. Now most visitors and tourists arrive by car or coach.
While Newcastle’s many attractions and activities such as hill-walking and horse-riding draw people all year round, it is on summer weekends that the town really buzzes with crowds flocking to the seafront and the revamped promenade. Traditionally on summer Sundays bands of motorcyclists of all ages add dash and spectacle when they roar along the main street and park their powerful and gleaming machines. Like other visitors they are here to share in the general bonhomie of the colourful throngs and if the weather is kind to lounge in the sunshine chatting to their pals and knowledgeably talking and comparing bikes. For those day-trippers not tucking into burgers and chips or clutching cones of rapidly melting ice creams or browsing shop windows, or patronizing amusement arcades, there is always the beach. The beach has suffered erosion in recent years but still appeals to bathers, paddlers, sandcastle builders and strollers enjoying the bracing air and postcard views of sea and mountains.
Round by the harbour and the RNLI station is the Newcastle Yacht Club which was set up in 1960. Its ardent members range from old salts to rank novices. The sailing runs from Easter to early October with races held on Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons. The sail boats they use are suited to local sailing conditions: Seaflys, Scorpions, Lasers and Mirrors. Look out during the season and you will see these graceful and delicate craft, according to wind and tide, skimming over or meandering in the blue green waters.
In the evenings the town offers the normal pleasures of lively, sometimes raucous bars (which I won’t name!) and some fine restaurants. Sitting by the window in one of the seafront eateries, among gentle chatter and soft music, you can watch dusk slink and settle over the bay, lights from the promenade shining on the water, St John’s Point lighthouse throwing out its intermittent beam and the mountains that rise steeply above the town grow dark and enigmatic. If you are on holiday you might think of an early start next morning for an exhilarating tramp round Tollymore Forest or if fitness and fancy allow a more taxing climb to the very top of Slieve Donard the highest peak in the range. Hey, but that’s for tomorrow to decide….