Northern Ireland – Coastline

Following in Giant footsteps
Bushmills, United Kingdom

 


Saturday 12 July 2014

The hotel breakfast was rather amazing. I had fruit, porridge, more fruit, tea, juice and tried some local bread – wheaten bread (a type of brown soda bread) – my eyes definitely being bigger than my stomach.

But, time to walk it all off. Off to the Giants Causeway!

The hotel was conveniently right at the entrance to the path, so we didn’t have to even get in the car! Although we got lost at the car park as the sign seemed to be pointing to the visitor centre, not the actual walk. So we asked the car park attendant where the causeway was.

His response ‘you’re at it!’.

Well yes.

While this car park is quite spectacular.

This isn’t quite it.

But eventually he got it, and pointed us through a tunnel. Random.

The Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO world heritage site. Comprising 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. You can walk the 15 ish minutes down to the bottom of the small road, or catch a bus.

We walked…… The walk was pretty. Along the side of the cliffs, rocks all around, the sea lapping at the rocky shore. Then it was right there – the columns of rocks!

3.1405123200.causeway-columns

And we had the whole place to ourselves! It was completely deserted!! And so cool. We spent ages clambering over all the rocks, exploring from every angle. The actual area was surprisingly small, but amazing views. The weather was supposed to be rainy. But it held off. It was cloudy, but no rain – and the sun was peaking through. So lucky.

Just past the actual rock columns, you can continue along the coastal walkway. We did. Up the cliff and along for amazing views all along the bays and around the cliff corner. Unfortunately that’s where the walk ends, as a landslide has destroyed the path. So it’s all blocked off. A shame. Although we weren’t going to attempt the whole 16.5km today!!

Then back again. And now the rocks were packed.

Coach loads of people arriving. Lucky we came early!!

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By the time we reached the hotel, we had spent 2 hours walking around. So much fun! Then we hopped into the car and along the coast. The roads are small, winding around and have amazing views all along the coast. 20 minutes later, we arrived in Ballintoy and the site of the Carrick-a-Rede bridge, a narrow rope bridge, hanging 30m above the sea, connecting the small island of Carrick-a-Rede to the mainland.

This bridge was originally constructed by fishermen, so they could go out and check their salmon nets. The hike to the bridge was unexpected (I thought we would have driven right there), so the added exercise was a nice bonus!

A wander along the cliff top, through some fields with fluffy cows, and views along the white chalky cliffs. Lovely!

The walk across the bridge was surprisingly easy, I didn’t even think about it. Previously, I think I would have been scared. But Costa Rican zip lines have alleviated that!

3.1405123200.the-bridge

And once over the other side, free to explore the small grassy mound. It wasn’t too exciting. Lots of seagulls flying around (nests on a neighbouring rock) and nice views over to both Rathlin Island and Scotland!

The weather still holding out nicely, we wandered back over to the mainland and a slightly different route back to the car park. It took an hour to walk the round trip. No need for lunch – still full from the huge breakfast!

So onwards towards the Western side of the coastline. Then it started to pour down with rain. Oh no!!!

Rather than go anywhere in the rain (totally pointless!), at 3pm, it seemed the perfect excuse to stop off in Bushmills town for some tea and cake and wait for the rain to pass. It seemed everyone had a similar idea. So after checking a few cafés, we finally found one with some space. Sadly the distillery for Bushmills Whisky was closed today. And the rain stopped! Yay!

So we continued on! Next stop – Dunluce Castle.

Now in ruins, this castle was built in the 16th and 17th century and was the home of the Macdonnell family – the Earls of Antrim. Now, has been left to ruins. Much of the stone work is still standing – but it’s quite obvious where parts have been rebuilt! The views along the coast were pretty – chalky cliffs, some sea stacks and some with holes through them.

The castle perched on the edge of the rock was pretty.

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Further along the coast is the 3km sandy beach next to the seaside town of Portrush. As the rain had stopped, people had headed to the beach! Some surfers bobbing around, some on horses splashing in the shallow water and other people playing games. It was actually quite a nice beach. Just a bit chilly! The town itself was busy and a typical tacky seaside town. With arcades, funfair rides, icecream, and fish and chips. We didn’t stay too long here.

It was 5.30pm by the time we returned to the hotel. Knackered! Such a great day!!

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After a rest, it was raining heavily, so we popped down to dinner at the restaurant in the hotel. It’s a popular restaurant and was busy – lots of people being locals. The food was good. I wasn’t expecting much of a sunset because of all the rain. But then suddenly the sky lit up pink!

So we rushed to pay the bill and ran outside to the cliffs. Rather inappropriately dressed in dresses and non-walking shoes. We didn’t think we had time to run all the way down to the causeway. So we stayed on the top of the cliff and made our way down the muddy path. We had great views across the causeway as the sun lit up the sky.

We bumped into a few people along the way. One of which was a photographer and wanted to take our pictures. He emailed them to me afterwards – and they were really great pictures!!

Sunday 13 July 2014

After a bit of a lie in, back down to eat too much amazing breakfast. This time with some pancakes! And back in the car for some more exploring! Going inland and down to the Dark Hedges. Much of the Northern Irish countryside has been used as scenery in the Game of Thrones series.

This country lane, lined with beech trees features as the Kings Road. I had expected to turn up, take a few quick pictures, and leave. So was shocked when we arrived and there was a coach-load of Japanese tourists, plus 6 cars lined up at the side of the narrow road. Wow. Popular!!!!

But after waiting for the coach to leave, we (almost) had the place to ourselves. It was cool.

But really, if it had not featured in the series, no one would be coming here to visit in it hoards!!

Back through the pretty country lanes and back up to the coast – and back to where we had finished off yesterday at the furthest Eastern point we had reached. And arrived into the small town of Ballycastle.

A cute seaside town full of colourful houses and small (shut) shops. Nowhere near as tacky as Portrush yesterday. It was market day – and there was a small market set up by the harbour. Cute artisan stalls selling olives, cakes, breads, knitted goods, glass wear, jewellery and carved stones. It was a nice wander along the harbour.

Then back off to continue around the coast, back down to Belfast. After a few short stop offs to look at the views around the sea and the vanishing lake (really?! There is just nothing there). We arrived into Glenarif Forest Park. This was a rather spontaneous stop off and we didn’t know what to expect. So after paying our £4.50 parking fee, we set off and chose the 3km waterfall walking trail. It was so nice! Walking down a valley, through pine forests, mossy rock faces and along the river. The first waterfall was 2-tiered and followed by a rock-filled river. It was nice and peaceful.

Further down, the second waterfall was less fierce and more a spray of water down a larger rock face. Then the walk back uphill!!

The round trip took an hour, but it was so pretty. And good exercise!! It was 2pm when we reached the top again and had a scone for lunch, sitting outside in the sun, looking through the hills towards the sea – cool! Then back to join the coastal road! Through lots of small towns, pretty bays, more sea more road.

We wanted to stop off at Glenarm castle. The signs were telling us that the ‘Highland Games’ were on there. I was thinking fat, strong men throwing logs and tyres. Totally wrong. It’s a funfair for children. So we gave that a miss…..! Turning into a much more populated, busy, dirty coastline now. And our final stop – Carrickfergus. A larger town, with a medieval fortress, built in 1177 after the invasion of Ulster by John de Coursey.

The harbour is the site where William of Orange landed in 1690 on his way to the Battle of Boyne (which coincidentally was celebrated yesterday). The fortress was large and overlooking the water. And today, surprisingly free to go inside – no idea why!! So we had a wander around. Lots of cannons and weird statues of people everywhere. It was ok. Not hugely exciting.

Had an icecream on the way out.

The final drive back down to Belfast. We went past the Titanic building – a fairly new elaborate bridling housing an exhibition all about the titanic. At the site the titanic was built. No time to go in. Maybe next time.

After dropping the rental car back, back at the airport. And time for home. I was a bit early for my 8pm BA flight back to Heathrow. I really, really enjoyed my weekend of looking at rocks! Spectacular views across London coming in to land. The pink light of the setting sun bouncing off the sides of the buildings. Shortly followed by an amazing sunset. Back home again for a few weeks.

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