Wednesday, September 29

The Story of Ballyferris. The road to Ballywalter

As we all got older, older that is than eight or nine… we became more adventurous and started to wander ever further away from the relative safety of the beach. One of our favourite wanderings was to the town of Ballywalter, a small fishing village on the Ards Peninsula some two miles south of the caravan site. This was the first of the metropolises [ or should that be metropolii?] that would become a flame to us little moths. At the top of the lane we turned left on to the coast road. Being the 50s, there was very little traffic on this country road and any that there was tended to be tractors with trailers or fastasmagorical medieval-looking contraptions for doing various jobs in the fields. How was I to know what they were for, I may have been the child of a farmer’s son, but I was also the daughter of my city loving mother.

I’ve mentioned already that I rarely wore shoes during my stays at the caravan, and so it was that very often I walked the road barefoot. I’m not pretending that it was painless, it was my own silly fault when I ended up regularly with aching soles! There was of course the grass verge to try to keep to, but nettles and unknown creepy crawlies deterred me. Most of the time we were laughing and joking so much that we didn’t notice any discomfort.

There were land marks on the way to keep us interested as well. The first was the Greystone Road off to the right opposite the farm. So called because of the enormous grey stone perched on the right hand side. This road took you to Carrowdore…you remember Carrowdore, the little village that seemed to have had time pass it by! I never questioned that stone, I just accepted it’s presence, but I suppose that it was left there after the ice age . The whole of County Down is “ basket of eggs” country known as drumlins.
Different farms and other sites, which we dismissed as lesser establishments were passed as we walked. Half way along on the right was an old abandoned farm house. With our vivid imaginations and no doubt encouraged by one of the older members of the gang, we came to believe that it was haunted. So to prove our fearlessness, we would creep up the tangled path and peer in the grimey windows, until one of the gang jumped out and shouted “boo!” If at times I passed on my own, I always took a sidelong glance and hurried on as fast as I could. Well you know the old saying..”there’s more to heaven and earth than any of us realise”. The fresh air and the salty smell of the sea was ever present and even now, when that wonderful ozone once again hits my nostrils, I’m catapulted back in memories, to the sensuousness of it all.

One of the reasons that I liked the walk along the road so much, was that my relatives had their caravans on a site close to the town. They were on The Robinson’s Field with the farm on the landward side of the road but the vans tight up against the edge of the coast. Aunt Cis, my father’s sister and her husband John occupied one of the sites with their three sons and Aunt Sally and her husband Cecil, one of dad’s relatives, had another with their two daughters. Both men had built their own caravans and the legend was that they were so good at this that even the line on the screw heads were the same throughout. Sometimes the boys went out rabbiting, not to catch or kill but to bring back for a little while some little wild ones to have as pets by the caravan. Then I assume that at the end of the summer they set them free…well that’s what I want to assume! I’m not saying that dad didn’t catch rabbit for food, oh yes he did and mum was expert at turning it in to best chicken! And talking about chickens, none of these sites were the clean cemented establishments that so much of today's caravaners know, chickens, ducks and various fowl wandered at will in among to vans.

Aunt Sally had a wonderful little mantra. The farmer’s son was John and a flirt. So Sally with a wry smile would ask him to remember that she was watching out for her beautiful daughters and he should be a good boy! Hmm. That seemed to me even then like a lost cause. They were such fun the country lads, but good, no they were not!

Aunt Cis

Food once again played a big role in the wanting to stop here. Aunt Cis was renowned for her exotic sandwiches. Always the crusts discarded...a feast for the gulls. The white bread, “sliced pan” no doubt from The Ormeau Bakery, buttered with best Ulster butter. Then amazing combinations such as freshly cooked ham sliced to within an inch of it’s life and on top of that some more fine slices of pickled peaches. Where did she get such luxuries in those days of belt tightening? Best not to ask! Onions once again played the role of a new taste for me. Thin sliced beef and even thinner slices of onion rings on delicious wheaten bread. I missed Irish bread so much when I first made my way to these English shores.

But the Ballyferris gang were eager to be on the move. Eager to get to the multifarious delights of the town of Ballywalter. So I would reluctantly leave the pleasures of Aunt Cis’s food and the joys of Aunt Sally’s caustic remarks and join them. I didn’t want to be the one who missed out on the big happenings at the town.

Painting by Kenneth Webb


  1. I've just looked up Ballywalter on google maps and realised it's not that far from Killough. That's where my very much loved Uncle Aidan came from - my father's sister's husband who was a second father to me and a much loved friend from my childhood through to his death about 15 years ago. Thank you Gerry for reminding me of him.

  2. what a lovely small world it is Liz!

  3. What a lovely post. I particularly like the way you have caught the size and mystery of the world to little people, their imagination and balancing a sense of adventure with the comfort of knowing the family is close by. Thank you.

  4. A real adventure story, beautifully told.

  5. thankyou for visiting the post. This is a story that I've wanted to tell for years and I suppose the time is now right. It was a fun time to be alive.

  6. Barbara Lister09/10/2010, 21:41

    Hi Gerry
    I am sitting in a boarding school in Ascot and have just finished watching COAST on TV . So I started thinking about my childhood in Belfast (not too far from the Ormeau Bakery) and then remembered my childhood holidays which were spent in - guess where - Ballyferris !
    Cannot believe that I have just come across your description of Ballyferris and you have transported me back over 50 years, everything you said is so familiar . We had our 'van in Hope's field just down the lane past their farm , turn into the field on the left and we were right at the front . We were part of the Hunter family and cousins Linda and Dereck Hunter were in the van beside ours . Our parents made our caravans as well and there were some really "cool" designs -all home made or customised - old single story bus in one corner down by the beach and afascinating 2 storey one up by the field boundary -it had the most quaint looking upstairs in it where the "bedrooms" were . There was an old nissan hut in the field and from what I can remember there was a young girl and her father living in it . Oh the memories ... Everyone at that time from 1950onward had a huge plot to park their van in and there were little fences and the old creosoted hand made toilet shed . I can remember spending every holiday at Ballyferris . I remember the smell of the creosote in the toilet shed , perched on an oildrum that had evil looking liquid in it! watching the earwigs crawling between the wood slats ,The men carrying the oildrums to the lowtide mark and digging a hole for the contents, old Mr Hopes letting his cows into the field to graze and then we would pick the field mushrooms for our breakfast .It is unbelievable what memories you have stirred up .I remember searching the beach for money which had fallen out of the pockets of the people who visited the beach for a picnic . I n those days the edge of the field was rutted and a couple of feet higher than the beach and we all had a washing line We would spend all the summer there so there was always a bucket of soapy water and some clothes steeping in it . I can remember the Carrowdore road and the little house on the right which you spoke about - you and I probably rode on the top of the haybales being taken down that road to the farm .I cannot remember the lady owners name of that house but I remember when one of her cats had kittens I took one and hid it in our toilet shed and Dad had to take it back to her the next day . There were Neil and Will Hopes in the farm and their housekeeper Miss Gilchrist .
    Do you know , I am sure we must have played in the same crowd at Ballyferris
    Sorry I didnt introduce myself- I am Barbara nee Hunter and my sister is Brenda . We were born 1951 and 1953 - can remember refusing to go to the toilet shed at bed time as it was full of earwigs and it was dark so mum had to buy an old tin potty - yes there were no wash and loo facilities in those days . Looking back it could never have been described as anything other than the most fantastic childhood life . I remember Radio Luxembourg and the awful whistle as reception faded , The complete and utter darkness of the night , the little windows in the caravans were like wee beacons of light and peeping thru the curtains each night to watch the Heysham boatout on the sea .

  7. Barbara! I am stunned at what has happened! How amazing is that ? And to end up in Ascot after Ballyferris and the Ormeau Road....well don't you just love life! Do you remember us as a family ? Ian, brother, is 4 years older, and Rosie, sister, 7 years younger. That makes her the same age as you. Thankyou so much for your message and I can assure you that there will be much more to come .You can see from my blog the life that I am living here in the N.W. so let me know a little about your's since you left the island. Geraldine.


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