Beautiful scenery, excellent schools and great-value property make this up-and-coming Northern Irish town a wonderful place to live. Words: Lesley Gillilan

For a great combination of seaside, mountains and unspoilt countryside it’s hard to think of a better place than Newcastle. On the coast of County Down, 32 miles south of Belfast, this compact Northern Irish town, sits on a horseshoe bay of beaches and sand dunes beneath the towering peaks of the Mournes (one of them, Slieve Donard, is the highest mountain in the province). 

Built primarily as a marine spa town and now promoted as an ‘activity resort’, it’s best known as a golfing centre (the Royal County Down links is world-class) but many of its visitors come for wildlife and walking. Take a hike uphill from Main Street – the town’s busy little shopping centre – and you can be in cool pine forest in minutes. Or trailing the Glen and Shimna Rivers which tumble down to the sea. The town has a small harbour (built to export Mourne granite); the countryside is all sheep, dry-stone walls and yellow gorse; the views from the town are spectacular. 

Despite its natural assets, the town was looking tired and run down when Dermot Devine and his wife Claire Dickinson moved to Newcastle from Belfast nearly ten years ago. But, says Dermot, ‘Newcastle has come up in leaps and bounds.’ 

A £14 million seafront facelift has since helped reinstate the town as Northern Ireland’s premier resort (the award-winning scheme – a steel bridge linking walkways lined with public art – won a Civic Trust award in 2007). Dermot and Claire have added to the town’s attractions by establishing Soak, a unique seaweed bathing centre and spa with a café and accommodation. They now have three young children. 

‘We looked all over Northern Ireland but Newcastle seemed the best place to start a business and new life,’ says Dermot. ‘It offered us affordable property, good schools and fantastic scenery.’ An added advantage, was Newcastle’s peaceful, non-sectarian community. ‘It’s a nice, easy place to be.’ And they are lucky enough to live right by the sea. ‘Last summer, we went snorkelling nearly every day.'

In general you’ll find more pebble dash than traditional Mourne granite, but there are some lovely old houses – particularly to the south of the town where fine Victorian properties overlook Dundrum Bay from the edge of the Donard Forest. Even in the best areas, there are prices to suit all pockets: a four-bedroom, sea-view cottage just off South Promenade, is offered at £125,000; while close by, a roomy mansion is selling at just under £1 million. In the town centre, small terraced houses can be bought for under £70,000. Good buys include suburban bungalows with moody mountain views (from £150,000) or, for a bit of splendid isolation, venture into the hills or the countryside. 

Outdoor activities include mountaineering, canoeing, hiking, and golf: the town’s Royal County Down Golf Club is one of the world’s best-known courses. Along the beach, which runs all the way to Dundrum, you can walk to the ancient sand dunes of the National Trust’s Murlough Nature Reserve. On the Shimna River, the beautiful Tollymore Forest Park (1500 acres of follies, trees and wildlife trails) is a ten-minute drive. On the seafront, Dermot’s Soak continues the town’s marine spa traditions. Great places to eat out include the Mourne Seafood Bar in Dundrum and Brunel’s in Newcastle. 

Tourism is the mainstay of Newcastle though the surrounding countryside is still farming territory. The largest employer in County Down is the B/E Aerospace plant in nearby Kilkeel (14 miles south). Some locals commute to Belfast but the only way is by road (the town’s station closed in 1955) and the journey takes about an hour. The 95-mile journey to Dublin takes around an hour and 45 minutes. The nearest international airport is Belfast (40 miles). For more information see

Newcastle has award-winning Shimna Integrated School, a mixed secondary founded in 1994 with the aim of ‘building shared social and political structures’ to help overcome sectarianism. It was recently designated a Specialist School for languages. 

Northern Ireland has seen the steepest house-price rises and the sharpest falls in the UK over the last few years, with some prices dropping as much as 50 per cent since 2007 (one of the most dramatic falls in history). The market is improving, however, and though Newcastle still has pockets of run-down properties and evidence of negative equity, the town is on the up, with some of the highest market values in the province. 

The hotly debated issue about whether the Mourne Mountains should be given national park status has continued for years without resolve, but there is talk of the army base at Ballykinler near Dundrum being turned into a golf course – and the lovely beach (currently used as a firing range) put into public use. In town, Roslyn Place, a community of high-spec apartments with views of the mountains, is among a handful of new housing developments. 

A favourite for lunch is Seasalt on Central Promenade. ‘Good food, freshly cooked at reasonable prices.’ The ever-changing views of the Mourne Mountains which, says Dermot, ‘are more or less in our back garden’. Snow-capped, wind-swept or wreathed in mist, they are like natural forecasters. ‘You can see the weather coming in over the peaks.’ The wildlife and stunning landscapesof Murlough Nature Reserveat Keel Point in Dundrum. 'A network of paths and boardwalks meander through ancient sand dunes and heathland to a long stretch of sandy beach.'

Newcastle: £157,285
Belfast: £159,110
Northern Ireland: £131,000
UK: £245,458

In a fabulous location between the Royal County Down Golf Club and the town-centre shops, this Victorian resort hotel – built on a grand scale in the 1890s – is often referred to as ‘the Gleneagles of Northern Ireland’. As well as luxurious rooms and a state-of-the-art spa, it boasts six acres of grounds, private access to the beach and dreamy views of Dundrum Bay and the Mournes. The Slieve’s Oak restaurant is one of the best in town. Doubles with breakfast start from £99.