Portrush grew to be the popular tourist resort town it is today through its two sandy beaches – West or Mill Strand and East or Curran Strand leading to the White Rocks. From Portrush’s first settlement, the sea has been the centre of life whether it be fishing, the use of the port for travel & commerce, the study of the wildlife and fossils, water sports or entertainment. The spectacular setting of the grassy sand dunes, long beaches and crashing waves make it one of the most popular beach locations.
Beaches are usually found in sheltered bays between two headlands. Portrush is therefore a prime location for beaches due to it being a peninsula. The beaches are built up as constructive waves (gently sloping waves whose ‘swash’ (forwards push) is stronger than their ‘backwash’ (backwards pull)) lose energy as they hit the land and deposit the material they are carrying, leaving us with beaches of the sand which has been eroded off cliffs and other rocks, or even transported by the waves from other beaches to end up in Portrush.
The West or Mill Strand is the smaller beach of the two and joins the harbour to the Black Rocks on the West side of the town while the East or Curran Strand is the larger beach connecting the peninsula to the White Rocks.
Both beaches have full amenities such as toilets, disabled access and dogs allowed on the beaches (with restrictions during the summer months). Horses are also commonly seen being ridden along the East Strand, with access for riders via the White Rocks carpark.
The East Strand, the larger of the two beaches of Portrush, is well loved by holiday makers and by surfers and is well-known for its connection to the golf courses overlooking the sands. International surfing competitions have been held there in recent times. The beach was originally known as the Curran Strand, so called because of the Curran Point where the beach turns East towards the White Rocks. The waters off the Curran Point are treacherous in the extreme due to meeting of several tides and currents in their vicinity.
The West Strand is registered as an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) due to the presence of an underlying peat bed – the fossilised remains of birch and alder trees which have been dated to 7,000-9,000 years old! This proves that Portrush was once covered by forest and is important to our understanding of the land and how it has changed over time and with different inhabitants. These fossilised remains are hidden inside ancient peat deposits beneath the beach.
The peat deposits were first noted in 1888 during the movement of sand to create a sea wall, which is a wall along the beach which protects the land above it from coastal erosion. Peat is usually found in ‘bogs’ or ‘mires’, as it requires a damp but stagnant area of land. It was used in the past as a major fuel for fires and is a large portion of fossil fuels used in Britain and Ireland due to the amount of bogs we have.
Peat covers 2% of the world land mass and is important in the formation of coal and other fossil fuels as it will turn into these fuels over time with the right conditions. Peat forms at the rate of only 1 millimetre per year, so it must be managed and protected. It also means that it contains a lot of important fossils. Fossils need water and other sediment to form, so bogs are perfect for their formation. Peat and fossils both need an atmosphere with no oxygen which causes them to decompose before they can be preserved. An excellent example of this is the archaeological discoveries of ‘bog bodies’ which is where bodies up to 8000 BCE have been found intact and scientists can find put more about human life at the time. The oldest fleshed bog body is the Cashel Man, who was alive in the Bronze Age in 2000 BCE and was discovered in County Laois, Ireland.
This is very important for scientists as it is one of the very few sites which shows how the sand dunes and coastal area has changed over such a long period of time, and therefore how it might change in the future. We still use peat in fires today, but as it is a fossil fuel, more and more people are switching to more sustainable resources such as wind and solar.