From the rippling waters of Lough Neagh to the crashing Atlantic Ocean, the Lower Bann is brimming with culture and beauty. Come along and explore 9,000 years of history...
The river has always been the lifeblood of this part of the island – bringing the earliest humans to its banks and shaping history. So to really get in touch with the area, get out on the water. Rent a kayak from The Edge Watersports and see things your own way on a two-hour trip past sites of ancient habitation and along the wildlife-rich riverbanks. Who knows, you might even spot a seal!
Follow the locals to Lost and Found in the centre of Coleraine for lunch within its bright, white-brick surrounds. Staff are cheery, the smell of coffee is a delight and the huge bowls of Boston Beans with poached eggs and local Ursa Minor sourdough bread will satisfy even the heartiest appetites.
After lunch, set your sights on Mountsandel Wood, home to one of earliest human habitats in Ireland. It takes about 20 minutes to walk out to the wood from the centre of town, but it delivers a real nature-kick whether you're clambering over the Anglo-Norman fort or walking along the riverbanks listening to the gush of water at The Cutts.
Keep the river in your sights for dinner with a view in the bar or conservatory at the Manor House in Kilrea. Overlooking a nine-hole golf course and picturesque lake, it's a favoured retreat where you can relax with a steak or seafood after a busy day.
Start the day with a leap into the life and literature of one of the world's greatest poets at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Bellaghy. This fascinating and immersive exhibition presents a combination of personal stories and artefacts, images and books that makes for a contemplative few hours. After exploring the Heaney legacy, you can sit back and think about the Nobel Prizewinner's great works over coffee and a sandwich in the HomePlace Café.
After lunch, head to the village of Portglenone for a short walk around the scenic forest, which offers glimpses over the river along a trail that weaves through ancient woodland. Nothing can beat tea and cake after a stroll through the woods, so make a beeline for Ardtara Country House near the village of Maghera next. Afternoon tea in the old-world surrounds of this delightful Victorian house is a real treat, with platters of sandwiches, homemade scones and dainty desserts.
You might be tempted to stay for dinner here, too, but if you can tear yourself away, set your sights on Coleraine once again for dinner at Truva. Mixing locally sourced produce from Northern Ireland with delicious spices from the Mediterranean, this is a great spot for Greek and Turkish classics including mezze favourites, moussaka and pide (Turkish pizza).
Book in a morning river trip with Abhainn Cruises and jump on a RIB for a cruise from Toome to Church Island – it's a great way to get to know the local area and discover the exceptional local history and culture from those who know it best. Warm up with a coffee at the Toome Waterways Heritage Centre Café, before taking the short walk along the Toome Canal and out to the tip of Lough Neagh. Keep an eye out for the Game of Thrones® plaque at the start of the walk – the canal featured as a location in the hit HBO series.
Drop into the Elk Bistro and Wine Bar for a lunch of tasty sandwiches and toasties, as well as dishes such as pulled pork, Caesar salad and all-day brunch.
You might find your afternoon drifting into evening at the glorious Crosskeys Inn, a thatched-cottage pub set within a landscape of rolling grass fields and undulating country lanes. Stepping through the yellow latched doors is like entering a time-stopped otherworld, and traditional music sessions seem to erupt at a moment's notice. It's great fun and a perfect finish to your Lower Bann trip.