Arms wide open: the ‘pawfect’ welcome awaits at this Ballintoy beauty

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Never mind Game of Thrones, it’s your pooches who will be put on a pedestal at the Fullerton Arms, confirms LAURA MCMULLAN

I was almost convinced I could see tears glisten in the Canadian lady’s eyes as she stroked Brody’s silken head.

“Aw, seeing your babies is making me miss mine back home,” she said wistfully.

“What kind of dog do you have?” I inquired politely, as we stood there in the evening sun, the soft sound of the sea behind us.

The conversation was typical of that of a couple of dog owners, except that instead of standing in the park on a Sunday afternoon, we were having it late on a Saturday evening in the beautiful coastal village of Ballintoy, where our home for the night was the Fullerton Arms, which had not only opened its doors to myself and my husband, but extended a ‘pawfect’ welcome to our two pooches, Brody and Lucy, as well.

Having been named regional winners in the ‘DogBuddy’ category of the Dog Friendly Pub Awards twice in a row, the reputation of this cosy, friendly, North Antrim Coast venue preceded itself, particularly given the fact that it’s just opened its newly refurbished bedrooms.

We arrived on one of the sunniest Saturdays of the year, the sea shimmering before our eyes as we drove down the twisting road into Ballintoy, a once sleepy village now alive with tourists from all over the world, thanks in no small part to the phenomenon that is Game of Thrones; its picturesque harbour is one of the shooting locations for the famous TV series, and the Arms itself is home to one of the 10 Doors of Thrones - number six to be precise - which were created out of the fallen trees destroyed by Storm Gertrude in 2016. Another filming location, the famous Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge, is also just a few miles up the road, and the Fullerton itself also boasts its own themed GoT banqueting room with a replica iron throne.

Inside, the bar was also packed with people, and we were escorted to our room, which was situated in a separate block just metres away from the main building, on the ground floor; it literally could not have been any more convenient in terms of nipping in and out for dog walks.

Each of the rooms has been refitted by Portrush designer Jude Burrows, taking her inspiration from the setting and surrounding landscapes. The furniture is all handmade locally, and the soft furnishings are simple yet cosy, emanating a somewhat Scandinavian style which we certainly enjoyed in abundance in our spacious, spotless suite, which had a double shower and separate bathroom, double bed and single, and all the mod cons like flatscreen TV, tea and coffee making facilities, and wardrobe with plenty of room to store our belongings - and those of our canines, who certainly take up more of their share of the car with all their bowls, beds, leads and associated paraphernalia.

Lucy bagged herself the tub chair by the window, and spent a lot of time starting outside at passers-by, and barking at them if they came too close to her new castle for the night, of which she was, indisputably, queen.

We were booked in for dinner in the pet friendly bar at 6.30pm, so decided to work up an appetite with a visit to the nearby White Park Bay, just a few miles along the coast towards Bushmills.

One of the most natural coastlines in Northern Ireland, this stunning, secluded beach, which lies between two headlands and is backed by ancient dunes, is a hidden gem.

To access it, we had to descend some steep, stone steps, then follow a twisty pathway, but like most of the best destinations and rewards in life, they’re only ever enjoyed after a challenging journey.

The ramble down was most definitely worth it, as the four of us drank in the sight of the cloudless skies and never ending golden sands, revelling in the fact that we practically had the whole beach to ourselves, save for a handful of walkers and bodyboarders. After a long walk and a climb back up to the car that left us all exhausted, but on an endorphin high, we returned to the Arms, famished.

Armed with leads and dog beds, we settled down in a quiet corer of the bar, and tethered our pups to our chairs; they had a whale of a time sniffing their new surroundings, getting petted by the diners in the table next to us, feasting on the treats brought over by the evidently animal loving staff, and slurping the water from their shiny bowls.

They’re schnauzers, so of course there were a couple of enquiring barks, but no one batted an eyelid, and eventually they succumbed to the relaxed atmosphere and fell asleep, while we enjoyed our meal; steak for Himself, chicken caesar salad for me, and sticky toffee pudding for dessert.

The food was fabulous, and there’s also live entertainment on every Saturday night, and during August, on Friday nights too.

We decided to soak up the final rays of the day’s sun, and take the dogs for a stroll around Ballintoy village, which was almost entirely bathed in the red rays from the evening sunset.

We went to bed feeling rested, relaxed and happy. Breakfast the following morning was a pleasant affair, with lashings of toast, coffee, and cuddles for our canines from the smiling staff members.

After checking out, we decided to ramble along the route from Ballintoy Harbour to White Park Bay It was wonderful; the solitude meant we were able to appreciate the rugged beauty of this part of the North Antrim coastline all the more, and on our way back, we smiled at the sight of a group of a group of Game of Thrones tourists, dressed in robes and armed with weapons, re-enacting scenes from the iconic series.

For me, the Fullerton Arms ticked every box a weekend away with your dogs required; fantastic hospitality, clean, comfortable accommodation, and the best walking routes in Ireland right on your doorstep.

l Fullerton Arms, 22-24 Main Street, Ballintoy, Co. Antrim, BT54 6LX. Tel +44 28 2076 9613; email info@fullerton-arms.com; website at www.fullerton-arms.com.