Portballintrae lies at the mouth of a shallow river valley which was once the outflow of melting glaciers. The Harbour is well protected within a small horseshoe bay and is still home port to several fishermen, though gradually pleasure craft are replacing the berths of working boats.
During the 1600s Portballintrae had its own Customs House which served the village and castle of Dunluce. The harbour was the nearest safe anchorage and landing place which serviced the growing settlement and its commerce. Dunluce grew into a thriving location for goods and several Scottish merchants settled here. The flow of commerce must have been high to justify the building and operation of a Customs facility. The graveyard at St Cuthbert's has several identifiable headstones of merchant families from Scotland including one dating to 1610.
It was at the harbour in May 1967 that the first of 12,000 artifacts recovered from the wreck site of the Spanish Galleass 'La Girona' came ashore. The Belgian marine archaeologist Robert Stenuit found and excavated the wreck site during 1967 and 1968. After intensive searches through libraries in Europe, he arrived at the Causeway only to find a local guide book which told him that Port na Spaniagh was the site of a Spanish Galleon, and it was true. The treasure had lay untouched for 380 years. The ship foundered in horrendous seas during the night of October 28th,1588 on Lacada Point close to the across the bay from the causeway stones.
Recovered items included gold and silver coins, jewellery, silver plates, a bronze cannon, and eleven of twelve 'lapis lazuli' cameos - Frank Madden, the licensee of the site, found the last cameo more recently - making the set complete. Around the village you will still see some classic examples of architectural heritage, the Old Coastguard Station built in 1874 sits elegantly on the hill overlooking the bay, on the other side is Seaport Lodge. Known locally as Leslie's Castle, it built in the 1770's by the Leslie family as a bathing lodge.
The beautiful thatched cottage overlooking the harbour is the last remaining example of the style of cottage that once surrounded the wee bay.
Another very important site is Lisanduff which you will find near the large car park overlooking Bushfoot Strand. This consists of a pair of large concentric ring forts. One is clay lined and designed specifically to hold water for what is presumed to be have been water rituals. The other would have served as a fortified settlement ofr people and animals. The site dates to the Bronze Age (3000 BC) and has yet to be fully understood or archaeologically excavated.
The present Bayview Hotel stands on the site of an older Bayview Hotel which had a small building on the end known as the Watch House, this was the original customs/coastguard building prior to the new station being built in 1874. The small stone building down at the harbor was the boat shed for the coastguard house. The Bayview and Beach Hotel (now gone) were very popular holiday locations prior to the advent of packages holidays to the continent.
The scholar and author C.S. Lewis had a great love and affinity for the north coast having spent his childhood holiday at Castlerock. On one of his many visits back to the north coast he stayed here. Places like Dunluce Castle, the Mermaids Cave and the Causeway inspired locations within his writings.
Apart from the Girona, there have been other shipwrecks around Portballintrae, the 'Reliance' 1847, 'the Thomas Graham' 1879 and in 1887 the 'Royal Standard' which foundered on Bushfoot Strand. The strand itself is a very dynamic beach where sand is seasonally moved on and off the shore. In the late 1800s thousands would gather here to watch the annual horse races held on the vast expanse of sand. In winter the sand is stripped away leaving rocks for most of the beach.
The river once flowed into the sea mid beach which is evident by the exposure of an ancient river bed in the dunes. Across the bay is Runkerry Headland and Runkerry House, built in the 18th century by Edward Macnaghten of Dundarave. Today the Strand is well known for its surf and picks up most swells that are active in the Atlantic. It is worth being aware that although this beautiful strand has a couple of active and dangerous rip currents which have claimed many lives over the years. Understanding what they do could save your life. Dr J. Shaw of the Bedford Institute undertook a study of Bushfoot Strand. There are tales of smuggling around the coast here, this would have been mainly of tea, illicit whiskey, and such like commodities. The goods would be transferred form larger vessels to small boats at sea, then hid away for later distribution along the north coast. There are documented incidents of Customs being engaged with armed smuggling cutters off the coast.