Northern Ireland

One week in Northern Ireland

Our holiday photo album.

Saturday was a day when we did last minute stuff until mid-afternoon when we drove over to the west coast, to the town of Stevenston.  This is near Troon, where the ferry would take us the next morning to Larne in Northern Ireland.  We stayed at Ardeer Steading – a farm with brand new rooms.  That evening it was a 15 minute walk to a local pub, the Champion Shell, where we had a bit of a meat-fest, steak and mixed grill.  The last few weeks had been dry and fine in Scotland but this night it blew a gale and chucked down loads of rain.

Sunday morning was a bit of a rush, breakfast at 8am then straight onto the road to get to Troon.  Still it was blowing a gale and lashing with rain, as it did for the two-hour journey on the ferry from Troon to Larne.  Once at Larne we took the coast road for a wonderfully scenic route to Portstewart  in the north-west of NI.  This took us through many lovely seaside villages such as Cushendun and Ballintoy Harbour where we stopped for a wee afternoon snack and cuppa tea.  The coastline is strange, lush green fields to our left and sea to our right, and sometimes quite high headlands plunging into the sea.

Eventually we arrived at the Giant’s Causeway which is as spectacular as it appears in pictures but there is more to it than you think, we went for a 30 minute walk or so, to see most of the basalt pillars, so we got caught in a couple of very horizontal showers.  From there it wasn’t far to our B&B at Portstewart.  Once again the local pub – The York – supplied dinner, this time a meat and fish fest.

Monday – we woke to more wind and rain and had a good breakfast downstairs at the B&B.  When we went out the front door, we realised that what had been a calm beach the night before now had a 2-metre swell. We drove along the waterfront for a while, there was a good view point just near the B&B.  From there we continued along the coast until we got to the point where we would have to head south-west to get to Derry, inland from the coast.  The plan was to head across to Donegal on a 10-minute ferry ride and head to Derry on the other side of the River Foyle, but the ferry was cancelled because of the wind.  We could understand why, as we’d taken a scenic route to get there including a high spot with views over that peninsula, and we could feel the car being rocked by the wind as we sat in the car park admiring the view.

So we headed to Derry on the County Derry side of the Foyle, it was still only midday so we decided to head to a museum on the outskirts of Derry, the famine museum and workhouse museum.  It wasn’t much, but it was free, so can’t complain.  From there we headed to the Beech Hill Hotel – where we were set to stay for 2 nights, on arrival we were greeted by the resident three-legged dog.

Once we’d unpacked and relaxed for a while, we went for a walk round the grounds accompanied by the three-legged dog.  The grounds are surrounded by a golf course, but there’s plenty of wooded area to walk round in, with decorative ponds and streams, even a water-wheel.  By now it was time for dinner and a three-course meal was included in our two-night room deal.  The food was fantastic, venison, guineau fowl and fabby desserts.

Tuesday – the plan today was to spend the day in the historic town of Derry (sometimes known as Londonderry). We walked down to the local village and caught the local bus for the 20-min journey to the centre of Derry.  We started with a Tower Museum which gave us a good picture of the history of the city, then we went for a walk round the city walls which gave good views of the areas just outside the walls, including the infamous Bogside. After a quick look round the cathedral, followed by a cuppa, we looked for the “Bloody Sunday” centre but couldn’t find it, so decided it was time to head home, back on the local bus.

The food had been so good at the hotel restaurant we decided to eat there again rather than venturing out, but this time we had only two delicious courses each.

Wednesday – we took our time leaving the hotel, headed off about noon after some discussion on what route to take to Newcastle, which is on the south-east coast of Northern Ireland, in County Down. Since we had already seen the coastal route, we decided to go inland, heading south to Enniskillin then east to Newcastle.  Lots of rolling green hills, now we know why this is called the emerald isle.

Passed through plenty of towns with the red-white and blue painted gutters on the side of the road, plenty also with orange, white and green.  Good places to pass through we decided.  Though that nationalism does seem to foster a sense of civic pride. gardens all seem well-tended and the streets are not covered in litter (unlike most of Scotland).

We arrived in Newcatle about 5pm and had time to visit the supermarket before our landlord John let us into our holiday apartment – which is smack in the middle of town, has secure parking, all mod-cons and is nice and clean.

Thursday – no need for any alarm as we can have brekky whenever we want, so bacon and eggs about 10am.  Wandered out to the tourist office and around town, ended up back at the supermarket for some more provisions, including some lunch.

In the afternoon we caught a local bus to a nearby town of Castlewellan, which is a small but historic town near to Newcastle.  Went for a stroll in Castlewellan Forest Park, which has the “peace maze” which is the largest and longest permanent hedge maze in the world.

Friday – the weather was forecast to rain early and fine up later, so we didn’t rush to get out.  By the time we breakfasted and made up some sandwiches for lunch, it was noon before we headed out, the plan was to do the “granite trail” – a three hour walk from the middle of town.

This walk starts with a steep uphill section where the “bogie line” used to be, the bogies were small containers which ran on rail and were used to carry the granite from the mines up the hill down to the harbour.  This steep climb took us 40 mins or so, at which time we were above the tree line, but not at the top of the hill.

Above the tree line we went round the hill for a while, ate our lunch at an old quarry overlooking Newcastle and Castlewellan, then headed back down through the trees alongside a crystal clear stream.  There seemed to be a million rhododendron bushes so it must be some sight when they’re flowering.

Eventually we arrived back in town and sat by on the wall where the stream eventually runs into the harbour and had some ice-creams from Cafe Maud, which is right below the apartment.

That evening we ate at a local restaurant “Seasalt” which was good, before heading back to watch some rugby (France giving Ireland a whooping).  Not a good night’s sleep thanks to the local yobs whose drunken route home was down the main street and as well as the usual shouting and banging, seemed to include a car-horn tooting competition.  I guess it takes the local plod so long to get out of the heavily fortified station that the drunks have driven home by the time they get there.

Saturday* – last day, packed up and lef the apartment by 10am, leisurely drive to nearby Dundrum which has a ruined castle (blown up by Cromwell), then to a local ruined abbey, then through Downpatrick and just round onto the top of the Ards Peninsula to an interesting National Trust property Mount Stewart where we had time for a guided tour of the house, a wander though the excellent gardens, and a cup of tea before heading off through Belfast to Carrickfergus.

We had a light lunch/dinner here in a pub overlooking the castle and the harbour before the half-hour drive to Larne to catch the ferry back to Troon.  From there it was less than a 2 hour drive to get home before 10pm.

As always, nice to be in own bed.

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