"Stop off at Ardglass for a couple of jars of mussels and some herrings in case you get famished before dinner" and you and Van Morrison have something in common. 'Van the Man' may have immortalised the lovely Coney Island, in his wonderfully earthy song about travelling through County Down, but there's a lot more to the county and if I could write a song I would. The 'Kingdom of Down' is the type of place that makes you want to be more than what you are. When I go to Dundrum Bay and take a sharp intake of breath at the dark beauty of the Mournes in their ever-changing glory - I want to be a painter. You will see such talented types perched in all sorts of precarious places through Down, painting magnificent views of mountains meeting sea, mountains meeting mountains, or landscapes of rolling drumlin hills that undulate through the area. I, for one, desperately want to paint one of the best views in the world, from the Quarter Hill on the coast road from Killough to Tyrella but alas, my talents only stretch to taking photographs and sighing at the perfection of it all. Years ago many of the struggles and angst of a teenage mind were solved while I walked along Rossglass Beach, deeply breathing in the fresh air, listening to the roaring sea and gazing across the mighty Mournes. Thankfully my relatives still have a holiday cottage there and now many of my present day struggles can be solved with the same medicine. When you need a little more than tranquillity, there are many towns that offer some retail therapy. Newry and Downpatrick are not only historic but as they say in those parts "are great wee shoppin' towns." If however, you have kids in tow then my advice is to head for Bangor or Newcastle both of which are excellent family oriented seaside towns. 'Van the Man' never got quite as far as Newcastle but then he was out birdwatching, not crowd watc
hing, and yes, Newcastle, in the height of the summer season, has crowds. It would not be an exaggeration to say that it has taken me two to three hours just to get from the top of the main street to the bottom. A resident could do it in fifteen minutes but then they're probably not interested (as are my children) in candyfloss, trinkets, amusements and rowing boats. Another hot spot for kids is the Explorus Centre in Portaferry, especially when you have to take a ten-minute ride in the little ferry to get there. Once the ferry gets about mid-way across the Lough you find yourself in the horns of a dilemma - which view do you want to look at? The two little towns of Strangford and Portaferry lie nestling around the waters edge vying with one another for your attention. This is when I feel I want to be a poet. I want to take the tranquillity and beauty of that scene home with me in my pocket, to pull out at any time and savour. Portaferry is a good spot for having lunch before embarking on a journey through yet another part of County Down - The Ards Peninsula. Indeed there are so many parts to this historic 'kingdom', you need at least a week to visit them all, never mind write a song, pen a poem or paint a picture. Then again, perhaps you'll be a bit like me and just take a photograph, sigh deeply and maybe, even hear yourself say "Wouldn't it be great if it was like this all the time."