Coastal Zone at Portrush (formerly the Portrush Countryside Centre) is a visitor centre at Portrush, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. The visitor centre has an exhibition space that covers the natural history, environment, and local history of the area. It is operated by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. It is directly on the coast, looking out to the Skerries. There is a nature reserve nearby. It is situated on the east side of Ramore Head. Originally the building was used for seaweed and salt water baths for guests at the Northern Counties Hotel but today houses an interesting collection of attractions including seashore exhibits, touch tanks and live sea creatures.
A number of flint tools found during the late nineteenth century show that the site of Portrush was occupied during the "Larnian" (late Irish Mesolithic) period; recent estimates date this to around 4000 BC. The site of Portrush, with its excellent natural defences, probably became a permanent settlement around the 12th or 13th century. A church is known to have existed on Ramore Head at this time, but no part of it now survives. From the records of the papal taxation of 1306, the Portrush church – and by extension the village – appears to have been reasonably wealthy. The promontory also held two castles, at varying periods. The first of these, Caisleán an Teenie, is believed to have been at the tip of Ramore Head, and probably destroyed in the late 16th century; the other, Portrush Castle, may have been built around the time of the Plantation of Ulster in the early 17th century. Nothing survives of either castle.
Following the Wars of the Three Kingdoms in the mid-seventeenth century, Portrush became a small fishing town. It grew heavily in the nineteenth century as a tourist destination, following the opening of the Ballymena, Ballymoney, Coleraine and Portrush Junction Railway in 1855, and by the turn of the twentieth century had become one of the major resort towns of Ireland, with a number of large hotels and boarding houses including the prominent Northern Counties Hotel. As well as the town's beaches and the Royal Portrush Golf Club (opened 1888), the nearby Giant's Causeway was a popular tourist destination, with the Giant's Causeway Tramway – at the time, one of the world's longest electrified railways – built in 1893 to cater to travellers coming from Portrush. The town's fortunes peaked in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and declined after the Second World War with the growth of foreign travel.
The seashore rocks at Portrush National Nature Reserve hide a tale of heated debate around the very origins of rocks. This reserve was the battleground of two schools of thought, the Neptunists and the Vulcanists, on the origin of basalt when geology was being developed as a science 200 years ago. You can look for fossils in the rocks. These fossils unlocked the secret of how basalt is formed. The Portrush rock looks like basalt but has fossils in it. Further study of the rock and fossils revealed that it is not basalt, but sedimentary shale that had been baked hard by molten lava. This site is world famous because of its contribution to the evolution of geologic thought.
Portrush Coastal Zone is the Department of the Environment's main coastal and marine centre. Discovery pools and tanks along with displays and activities give visitors the chance to learn more about Northern Ireland’s marine and coastal wildlife and heritage. At the rear of the centre is a viewing platform which affords excellent views towards the sea. From here dolphins, seals and harbour porpoises can sometimes be seen. The Visitor Centre is wheelchair accessible but, understandably, some of the outside attractions are not. There are toilet facilities, incuding for the disabled. There is ample parking. Assistance dogs are welcome.
Location : The Coastal Zone, 8 Bath Road, Portrush, County Antrim BT56 8AP
Transport: Portrush (NI Rail) then 18 minutes or taxi. Bus Routes : no service
Opening Times : Easter through September, Daily, 10:00 to 18:00; Otherwise 12:00 to 16:00
Tickets : Free
Tel: 028 7082 3600