Blog history Notes

The Holywood 16 Foot One Design Sharpie Class

Holywood Sharpies racing off the Esplanade – probably mid 1930s

As someone who has always admired the world of small boat sailing from a distance, I was fascinated to discover the existence of a home-made sailing boat unique to this little bit of coast. The Holywood Sharpie (or the Holywood 16 Foot One Design Sharpie Class to give it its proper designation) was created in the 1930s in an attempt to make competitive small boat sailing both more affordable and more fair.

Under the covers – Storm, one of the last two known Sharpies remaining

Prior to this time, racing at the club had been based around a handicap system, the boats were generally larger than modern dinghies and varied in design. Handicapping was an inexact art and keeping racing both fair and affordable was challenging. So, in 1929, Mr F W Steen and Mr N McArthur jointly drew up a design for a smaller boat which was suitable for the conditions at Holywood and which could be built cheaply by anyone wishing to sail and race at the club – the Holywood Sharpie.

This drew on ideas in sailing magazines of the time and on ideas from America.

The boat was to be 16ft long, gaff (more correctly gunter) rigged with a retractable centre board (necessary at Holywood so the boats could sit level on the mud at low tide).

The materials were not allowed to cost more than £17 pounds and the sails no more than £4-19-6 per set. All planking was based on off-the-shelf lengths and widths, thereby reducing wastage.

Cloud circa 1960

From the start, frugality was a feature of the class with its first embodiment, Spray’s, maiden voyage setting sail on the 11th September 1930, with the flagpole of the Kinnegar Inn (now the Dirty Duck) as a mast!

A W T Beatty in his very thorough history of the Holywood sailing classes states:

The boat had no vices except that they were renowned for ploughing through all oncoming seas rather than riding over them. This necessitated the fitting of a splash board on the fore deck to prevent excessive filling. Although constructed of wood throughout and therefore more likely to fill rather than sink, when filled they could not be easily righted and would normally have to be towed ashore for that purpose. Nevertheless they were a safe boat, no member of the club ever being lost in one, and were easily repaired when damaged (see volume 2 page 171) . The strength of construction usually minimised damage when washed ashore except in the fiercest gales.

Holywood Yacht Club (Volume 1), A W T Beatty

The Sharpie sailors were clearly a hardy bunch. F W Steen recalls Spray’s third voyage in an article written 40 years later:

Christmas Day was so nice that year we could not resist launching again, and before we realised it we were at Carrickfergus. Entering Carrick harbour we were asked where we came from. After saying from Holywood the gent said “in that” and went on his way muttering something about fools and idiots.

First Sail in a Sharpie, F W Steen
Racing by the Esplanade

However, the new design soon proved itself and around a dozen boats were built. Several of these were constructed by club members in a hayloft above a pig shed behind the Railway Inn (now Platform 20 Bar) in Hibernia Street. It is hard to imagine such dedication today in our era of instant Amazon gratification off-the-shelf plastic everything!

The Carrickfergus critic was soon proved wrong and a fleet of Holywood Sharpies made frequent visits to the port’s regattas and those of Bangor, Cultra and Whitehead. These regattas were the basis of a thriving social cycle which ran throughout the sailing season and were enjoyed by land bound and seafarers alike.

The names of the boats were all meteorologically related – Mist, Spray, Spindrift, Crest, Ripple, Cloud, Tempest, Coral, Squall, Kelpie, Foam, Cyclone.

Cyclone, Crest and Spray – 1961

Not all boats were built with the best of materials. Former owners reflected:

“The quality of build in the majority of boats was always suspect. The builders were in the economic depression of the thirties and could not afford good timber even if it was available. Floor boards 7/8” thick was the wood of choice for the sides and bottom of the boats. Up to the start of the war in 1939 many men were on the dole and these men raced in the sharpies during the day. A wooden cup was turned as the prize – covering it with the silver paper found in cigarette packets. It was named after the minister of employment of the day. I wonder where it is now!? During the war years all sharpies were registered with the “ministry” and had a certified number painted on either side of the bow”

Memories from Bobby Graham and Ivan Nelson former sharpie owners
Spindrift (circa 1960)

In the late 1960s Fred Steen (who sailed Spindrift) designed a “junior” sharpie for young people. At 10ft long and crewed by two young people these provided enormous fun. About 10 were built by parents and others, then raced by teenagers from Holywood. But these disappeared as mass produced plywood boats came in, followed by fibreglass and now plastic.

Over the years as new classes and new construction materials and methods were introduced, the number of Sharpies gradually declined until 1973 when the last Sharpie – Cyclone – left the club. However, in 1988 George Laing, who had built Cyclone in 1933, found his old boat in a dilapidated state in the Comber River and brought it home to Holywood and there restored it fully.

Jabble being built by Ken Copper in his garage (1994)

Subsequent to this a new batch of Sharpies were built to the original specification, including Storm and Jabble, the two boats which remain at the club today.

Jabble and Storm at Holywood

Both these boats embody the principles of the original Sharpie design. Storm, in that it pwas constructed using salvaged mast, boom, centre plate and rudder from the first Sharpie, Spray, and Jabble whose rudder was once a sideboard! Modern sailors and shore dwellers alike could learn much from this tradition!

Jabble at its moorings
Joe and Janet Campbell in Jabble


  • Holywood Yacht Club (Volume 1), A W T Beatty
  • First Sail in a Sharpie, F W Steen
  • Additional material from Joe Campbell, owner of Jabble

Postman’s Walk

Maps and photos note: click or tap to see any maps or photographs below as a high resolution version.

Click or tap to zoom into map
TYPEUrban ‘Treasure Hunt’ challenge
DISTANCEMinimum 5.2 miles (all boxes)
HEIGHT GAIN / LOSSMinimum 120 feet climb 
HAZARDSRoad crossing and normal urban hazards

There are 17 active postboxes within Central Holywood. There are also a large number of ‘fakes’, particularly in some of our leafier neighbourhoods!

Visiting all postboxes is a good way to get to know the various parts of our town. The map above (and printable PDF below) should allow you to find them all without too much trouble. They are labelled A-Q for identification, but you can visit them in any order.

If you would like to do this as an assessed challenge, the quiz below will give you 12 hours to type in the unique code found on each active box!

The code here is 652D

There are two versions of the challenge. The easier one will ask you to visit five of the seventeen postboxes (chosen at random). The full challenge is to visit all seventeen! Click on a link below to select your option.

Remember you can visit the postboxes and answer the questions in any order.

Route Map to Download and Print (PDF)

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Kinnegar Wetlands

Maps and photos note: click or tap to see any maps or photographs below as a high resolution version.

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Update 1 June 2021 – RSPB Reserve now open again

If you seek only pristine wilderness and unspoilt coastlines this walk along “The Kinnegar” is probably not for you. However, if you are happy to let the wilderness stay pristine and instead enjoy this fascinating historic coastline for what it is – and for what it could be in the future – read on.

Yet another photo of Holywood Pier at Sunset!
TYPELinear coastal walk
DISTANCE2.6 miles / 4.2 km (there and back)
SURFACESMainly on paved surfaces but one section on a potential muddy track.
HAZARDSThere is a small amount of access traffic on the road section. Water and mud nearby route.

King John’s Progress

Maps and photos note: click or tap to see any maps or photographs below as a high resolution version.

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pro+gress n. ..6. Brit a stately royal journey.

Collins English Dictionary

To get to grips with a place it is necessary to escape its static present and seek out the flow of the natural and manmade landscape through time. When everything around you seems ordinary and now, you need to tease out the hints of history, to come to see the ground around you in a deeper dimension. Finding and travelling ‘the old ways’ is a means to do this and that is exactly what this walk tries to do!

Holywood Motte today – with its ascending helical path added in the 18th Century
TYPECircular walk mixed urban and countryside. Footpaths and road walking with significant climb and some steep gradients.
DISTANCE3.2 miles / 5.2 km
SURFACESMostly asphalt paths and roads, but some walking on unsurfaced, potentially muddy, paths.
HEIGHT GAIN / LOSS470 feet climb
  • Some road walking on a quiet country road without pavements
  • One busy road crossing with limited visiblity
  • Steep slopes which could be dangerous in icy conditions

Urban Heights

Maps and photos note: click or tap to see any maps or photographs below as a high resolution version.

Click or tap to zoom into map
TYPEUrban looped walk mainly along quiet residential roads. Significant climb up to the higher suburbs of Holywood
DISTANCE2.9 miles / 4.7 km 
SURFACESAlmost all asphalt paths along roads. One short section down uneven steps on a unsurfaced path which may be muddy. 
HEIGHT GAIN / LOSS360 feet climb 
HAZARDSTwo road crossing points on moderately busy roads with limited visibility which require care (see map). One short section along an unsurfaced path with uneven steps.

What makes a good walk? I would go for green space, fresh air, great views, birdsong and a route with variety and interest along the way. We usually go to the countryside to find these things, but we can also get them in well designed urban environments and this butterfly shaped walk, through the high suburbs of Holywood, aims to prove the point.

You can start this walk at any point on the blue line above – I have chosen to start at the Twisel Bridge.

From here climb up the flight of steps to Victoria Road, crossing over with care and turning right. Follow around the corner past the entrance to Glenlyon House and continue to the junction with Ardmore Park.

The “bathing villas” of Ardmore Terrace built around 1840

Looking uphill you see a 3-storey house – the end terrace of a fine set of Victorian “Bathing Villas”. These were originally intended to be let as short-term seaside holiday homes, but longer term tenants were also welcomed.

 “Villas in Holywood at reduced rent. To let and immediate possession given, two houses in Ardmore Terrace. The houses have each a garden and the use of extensive grounds and contain Dining room, Drawing room and Seven Bedrooms with Hot and Cold Baths &c., and a never-failing supply of Water, without pumping. For a permanent tenant, very moderate terms would be made…An Omnibus plies from every Train, Fare 2d. Apply on the premises; or to James Greenfield, Post Office, Holywood.”

Quoted in The Griffith’s Valuation fieldbook for the period (1856-64)

Clearly the ability to commute easily to and from Belfast was as important then as now. However we are much more fortunate today in having ‘mains water’ and never having to worry about running dry!

The row would have originally looked out over a large open space (where the houses of Ardmore Park now cluster) to an uninterrupted view of Belfast Lough and the Antrim Hills behind.

The rest of the Terrace is two-storey

Head up the hill and turn left to follow the front of Ardmore Terrace. The road runs to the end of the row and turns right to join Ardmore Road.

You are now in a large area of mid twentieth century detached housing, primarily bungalows. There is much to admire here. Each house has generous gardens front and rear. There is a rich variety of garden trees, hedges and shrubs providing a shared space to enjoy for nature and walkers alike.

The big windows and broad pitched gables are very much of their time although the building materials and technology originally used left something to be desired in terms of energy efficiency. However, with modern insulation and solar roofs these homes have everything needed to be state of the art 21st century eco-houses!

Keep straight up Ardmore Road and a fine view of open country soon appears with a high tree-lined horizon. Turn right at the top T-junction with the appropriately named Ardmore Heights and continue up to the highest point of your walk (just under 300 feet above the sea visible below).

As you come to the top corner of Ardmore Heights there is a cul-de-sac ending in Woodland. This is the upper part of Glenlyon Park. Unfortunately there is currently no path to access the park from here – but this would seem to be a great option for future recreational development.

Continue along Ardmore Heights as it makes a full turn back towards Ardmore Road and Brown’s Brae beyond.

As you proceed here it is very obvious you are dropping into a valley. Valleys generally have streams in their midst and here is no exception – the Croft Burn runs hidden, but un-culverted, behind the houses lining Ardmore Road below.

Steep sided built-up areas like this are often a major cause of urban flooding when torrential rains cannot be accommodated by the limited capacity of the street drainage. However, here every garden, hedge, flower bed, lawn and shrubbery will act to absorb storm run-off and help spare other houses downstream the misery of flooding. This is in addition to cleaning the air, removing CO2, absorbing sound and providing essential habitat for birds and pollinating inserts. Neighbourhoods such as these are good neighbours indeed!

Re-joining Ardmore Road I suggest to then take the next left up Glenview Road and then into Glenmore Avenue.

Looking backward down Glenmore Avenue over Belfast Lough

At the end of Glenmore Avenue you come to a pedestrian link path which takes you through to Glenview Road.

The area was designed with houses with garages to accommodate the motor car, but it also provides good pavements and link paths for the use of walking humans. They are a balance and human focus missing in more recent developer ‘exclusive’ housing!

As you arrive in Glenview Road a fine view over the lough and Antrim Hills opens up ahead. Glenlyon Park is just to your left but again there is no access possible here.

Just before the interesting cluster of new houses at the end of Glenview Road turn right downhill into another pedestrian linkway.

This takes you out onto Ardmore Avenue and then back down to Ardmore Road where you turn left and retrace to the far end of Ardmore Terrace.

Look back now to admire the bold symmetry of the row. The houses are Victorian, but the simple geometries, balance and clean lines hark back to the Georgian style.

Now don’t return down Ardmore Park but continue past the the terrace through a pedestrian link path bearing right onto Claremont Avenue.

This is a much older roadway which takes its name from the large Victorian villa, Claremont House, which now sits on your left.

As you descend pay attention to the electric power poles on your right. I imagine the old houses of Holywood were among the early adopters of electric home lighting and many of the old metal poles from that time have survived – still fit for purpose.

Now cross Victoria Road, turn left and returning to the Twisel Bridge. Take particular care in crossing here as visibility is limited and traffic can be fast.

Follow the Twisel path keeping an eye out for white chested dippers which sometimes can be seen bobbing in the burn below. You now emerge on Church Avenue which you follow out onto Church Road. turning right and continuing uphill to pass Glenlyon Park (you will have to cross the road as the left side pavement stops short).

Further uphill, past the Glenlyon Car Park you turn into Plas Merdyn. This road is blessed with some of the finest views in Holywood.

Near the road end you will see a set of old uneven steps with a rusty handrail dropping onto a narrow pedestrian path.

Descend with care and follow the path, which can be muddy at times, down onto Demesne Grove, turning left out onto Demesne Avenue.

Now turn uphill and to the road end where a path between high hedges takes you up to Demesne Park.

There is a nice mixture of detailing in the houses here, reflecting in a small scale the fashions and thinking of their times. Open porches with decorative brickwork, high-pitched roofs, small oriel windows, stained glass and a low crisp white house with a curved metal window (which would not look out of place in a Poirot mystery).

Turn right and follow Demesne Park around the corner and downhill.

There are mercifully un-gobbled bungalows here, sitting on a height behind mature gardens. sporting bay windows with stained-glass top lights. Further down a respectful new-build sits nicely between its neighbours.

Demesne Park now joins Demesne Road. Time for a little history.

demesne (/dɪˈmeɪn/ di-MAYN) or domain was all the land retained and managed by a lord of the manor under the feudal system for his own use, occupation, or support.

Wikipedia Demesne / Domain

You might be forgiven for thinking that you are walking in the grounds of the original Holywood Demesne. However you would be wrong – at the closest point here you are over 200m from the once boundary wall.

Holywood Demesne was the largest by far of the estates which encircled old Holywood Town. Inside its long gone boundary walls is now the Abbey Ring Estate, Sullivan Upper School, most of the Holywood Golf Course and Nun’s Wood – the North East section of the modern Redburn Country Park. Burns Community Pharmacy and Post Office now sit (approximately) on the site of Holywood House.

So as you can see – it is not just artists who take licence with geography and history!

Turn left along Demesne Road and then right into My Lady’s Mile (just opposite a nicely updated bungalow).

Gaps in the big hedges of My Lady’s Mile reveal comfortable houses in generous gardens. However, the gap you are particularly interested in, is the entrance to a small pedestrian link path on your right which leads through to Lemonfield Avenue.

This quiet cul-de-sac with an intriguing name joins through to the junction of Demesne and Downshire Road.

To complete the looped walk now follow Demesne Road straight ahead, turn right onto Church Road and then almost immediately left back down Church Avenue to the Twisel Bridge.

Route Map to Download and Print (PDF)

External links

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Redburn Country Park Walk

Please reuse this map but first see:

The designation ‘Country Park’ suggests an accessible woodland on the urban fringe suitable for a gentle stroll. Redburn is not really like that and I have included 5m contours on the map above to make this clear. Any looped walk here will involve well over 100 metres of climb – a third of an Irish mountain and a significant workout for lungs, heart and legs! If you are of modest fitness be aware, take your time and pack in lots of stops to enjoy the great views which come with height and effort!


Time and Tides

A number of the walks described in this blog follow the coast and therefore will be impacted on by the tides. The tide cycle will almost always affect the opportunities for wildlife spotting and change the coastal landscape. However, in extreme cases, they may make certain routes impossible or ill advised.

Bearing in mind the general dearth of rights of way for the foot traveller in NI, you will often find yourself relegated to the foreshore, the strip of land between spring low and high tides. Generally this is crown property and public access is permitted. However, by definition, there will be times at high tide (and onshore strong winds)  when access is impossible or at least ill-advised. Hence, when walking on the coast check the tides and avoid walks which are limited to the foreshore in places at high spring tides or in high winds.

Checking the tides in advance is much easier nowadays with online tidal predictions readily available either on the web or via smartphone apps. Free data tends to be limited to about a week ahead so if you are arranging a walk some time in the future you may need to use  a paid service.

Finally, tidal predictions will be for specific ports and not individual points on the coast. As high tide times can vary substantially along the coast it is wise to check times for points either side of your walk unless your are close to a listed port.

I have found the websites / apps below useful in the past (please note this is not a ‘product endorsement’- see our post on “Opinions not Endorsements”  for further explanation of this issue).