Who knows the hopes and dreams of those early settlers who paddled up the Lower Bann and settled on its banks. Here, nearly 10,000 years ago, humans fished for eel and salmon, stalked wild boar and gathered berries from the abundant forest riverbanks, establishing a presence that would continue through the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron ages to the present day. It's part of what makes this area so compelling to visit – there is an epic sense of history here with whispers of the past at every turn. Head down along the Lower Bann to Toome and Lough Neagh and you'll pass riverbanks that provided a refuge for these very settlers. Today, the river still feels like a hidden gem – its banks dotted with marinas, jetties and quiet walking paths while major visitor attractions such as The Seamus Heaney HomePlace draw you off into the surrounding countyside. Want to see things from a different perspective? The Lower Bann is full of surprises, so why not reach for the skies with a sky-dive – it'll take your breath away!
Toome Waterways Heritage Centre, Toome
Set within an atmospheric lock-keepers cottage overlooking the reflective waters of the Toome Canal, this enjoyable little heritage centre covers the history of the waterway. Before walking along the canal, drop in and see the diver's suit from the early 1900s, which was worn by workers attending to the locks along the River Shannon. The location is also right by where the HBO series Game of Thrones® was filmed, so keep an eye out for a plaque in front of the canal that tells you all about it.
The Seamus Heaney HomePlace, Bellaghy
Enter the critically acclaimed new visitor centre in Bellaghy and you'll be swept up in an intimate exhibition detailing the life and work of Nobel Prizewinning poet, Seamus Heaney. Photographs, artifacts, audio and video bring you from Heaney's childhood right through to his working life when he became known as one of the world's greatest poets. Tender, memorable and compelling, the exhibition roots Heaney in the landscape where he grew up and which inspired some of his best work.
Mountsandel Wood, Coleraine
Walking up the grassy steps to Mountsandel Fort in the early light of morning, it's hard not to feel the past at your shoulders. Behind, in a privately owned field, the very first humans in Ireland established a camp, and while you cannot visit the area, you can clamber over the grass-covered slopes of the Anglo-Norman fort that sits close to it for a view over the Bann that is heart-stirringly beautiful.
The villages of the Lower Bann
Away from the bustling Causeway Coast, the Lower Bann basks in quiet, tranquil beauty and the villages set along it offer a chance to glimpse authentic riverside life as you travel between Coleraine and Toome. Dotted with information about their compelling history, these little hamlets make perfect places to stop, go slow and learn about the culture of this fascinating area. Try Portglenone Forest, where Nissen huts created for military use in WWI can still be seen; uncover the myths that swirl around the attractive village of Kilrea with its "fairy thorn" tree on Church Street; or visit the canal at the village of Toome, which was recently a filming location for Game of Thrones®.
It's not for the faint-hearted but the Lower Bann area offers some amazing ways to view the beauty of this unspoiled landscape. Take to the skies and you can do an incredible sky-dive with Wild Geese Sky Dive and you can jump out of a plane at 6,000ft and see the north coast and Bann from way on high in an adrenaline-pumping seven-minute journey to the ground. And if you like the sound of that, why not check out a helicopter tour of the area with Cutting Edge helicopters – you'll never forget seeing the coast quite so uniquely!
North West 200
A whopping 150,000 descend on the north coast every May for high-speed thrills in what is Northern Ireland's largest sporting event and one of the world's fastest road races. Covering a circuit that runs from Portstewart to Coleraine and Portrush, the race is a must-see for motorcycle fans but also attracts visitors from all over the world to enjoy a great line-up of events including a classic bike run, a vintage and classic car run, fireworks, live music in the hospitality marquee and a big outdoor concert.
13-19 May, northwest200.org