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Published: March 21st 2014
It was time to flee the larger city of Belfast and begin in earnest to immerse ourselves in what we picture (and perhaps most people as well) as one of the true experience of these two nations, coastal driving. It is after all an island, the third largest in Europe, and 20th
largest in the world. Okay, enough geography. We jumped in the “Jukemobile” (we rented a gray Nissan Juke) and navigated our way out of Belfast in search of the coast. We are always drawn to the coast. It is almost as if we don’t get near water, we are just not as happy as we can be. And we want to be happy!
Mr. Weather (Dave) has been providing updates on the likelihood of our changing weather twice a day for the past few days. We’ve been here for nearly ten days and it looks like the rain may be on its way…..
We caught one of those late winter or early spring days where the wind is howling and there are sporadic rain showers that almost fall sideways due to the incessant wind. After cutting through some rolling countryside, there it was; and it was magnificent.
The sea…. in all its glory, with a wide-spectrum rainbow to boot. There were white caps on the water and interestingly enough, it wasn’t because of an off shore breeze, but rather from an on shore breeze, so they appeared to be moving away from the coast.
The highway out of Belfast hugs the coast most of the way to our first destination in Portrush, the only exception being a brief scoot across the land for a few minutes. The coastal drive in these two nations consists of some 2600 miles of coastal highway. Pretty impressive for a country roughly the size of Kentucky in the U.S.
With the weather being a bit dicey and predictions of rain with winds up to 40 mph (65 km/hr), our plans needed to be soft on this day. We took our time and enjoyed the many vistas the road provided, jumping out for a few pictures when the threat of getting soaked was minimal. Good news, from time to time blue sky and a bit of sunshine would pop its head out before the next wave of dicey weather.
On this trip …. moving slow is the plan….stopping to smell
the roses or have a cup of coffee or tea when the mood strikes. We stop when we see something interesting. That includes a few stops for MJ to take photos of sheep along the way. She finds they are interesting, cute and worthy of a photo op. Winston Churchill
We stopped at the Londonderry Arms Hotel in Carnlough. The inn was owned at one time by Winston Churchill. Seems it was willed to him by his second cousin. We wandered in and found it quite charming. We ordered tea and scones (what else?). While there, the skies cleared briefly and we sauntered across the street and captured an amazing view of the Northern Atlantic coastline. The green hills and the blue sea were quite special. Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
Well known in these parts is the Carrick-a rede rope bridge. MJ says “don’t look down!!”
On the afternoon we arrived the wind was blowing at 40mph and verified by the young man standing on the bridge with his anemometer (had to look that one up). Earlier in the day the bridge had been shut down for almost two hours because the wind gust were too
strong. Not the thing you want to think about while crossing a bridge made of rope high above the ocean and swaying between two rocky land masses. This bridge was originally created not by people here to enjoy the natural beauty of these islands or the thrill seekers but years ago by fisherman wanting to check on their salmon nets. This area is also famous for bird watching. MJ had the death grip on those ropes as she walked across. She made it across and then of course there is the realization that you have to go back across it. All’s well as she made it back, albeit with a quickened heartbeat!
Just outside of Portrush is a strip of sandy beach, which while quite pleasant to look at seemed out of place with the rest of the coastal geography. We continued on to Portrush on the winding roads and were somewhat surprised at how big Portrush appeared despite only having about 7000 people. Our hotel was on Main St. and was a great location. We also discovered that famous golfer Darren Clarke lives in Portrush. How about that, Claudia? 6 Degrees of Separation
Six degrees of
separation is a theory that everyone is a friend of a friend...it states that everything is six or fewer steps away by way of introduction, from any other person in the world. There is a chain created by connecting any two people in a maximum of six steps. This has often proved true in our travels and again on this trip.
The evening we arrived in Portrush, we had the pleasure of meeting Muriel, who is a second cousin of Lee Ann , who Merry Jo is friends with and worked with in Vallejo, CA. We had a very pleasant chat and enjoyed our brief time with her. Once again, this proves what a small world we live in and the six degrees of separation that ties all of us together. The conversation flowed and we felt like old friends and feel certain our paths may cross again. Giant’s Causeway
The next morning found us at the Giants Causeway, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thanks to 40,000 interlocking basalt columns formed by a unique volcanic and geological activity.
Quite a site and full of folklore to boot. Seems that a giant named Finn McCool
(is this a great name or what?) carved out such formations such as the Giant’s Boot, The Wishing Chair, The Camel, Giant’s Granny and The Organ. Strong work by a giant, no? All we can tell you is that the rocks were impressive set among the strong surf of the North Atlantic and the views from the trails were incredible and we hope the pictures do them justice.
We are always amazed when we are standing in front of something so awesome as this geologic wonder that we were not aware of it until a few months ago when we started researching what we might see on this trip. Not that either of us has studied more than basic geology but one would think something this amazing would be better known around the world. That we might have read and article about it in a travel magazine or seen a photo in National Geographic.
We read, “the Causeway provides a glimpse into the Earth’s most ancient past. An epic 60 million year-old legacy to the cooling and shrinking of successive lava flows.” Stunning and well worth the trip to take a hike up here.
While we were
here they were filming something for the Ireland Tourist Board and in the entry way to the site was a gentleman singing to music in a salmon colored tuxedo. (Seriously, who has a salmon colored tux at the ready?) MJ wanted her photo taken with him. She asked him what show this filming was for and he said, “I don’t know I’m from Newcastle”. Photos taken, release signed for the photo and off we went. Conversations abound
One of the things we cherish most about traveling are the conversations with the people we meet along the way. We had a very interesting conversation with a young lady one evening concerning whether she felt more British or Irish. MJ explained to her that in Northern Ireland it seemed to us that more people identified with being Irish rather than British. The young girl laughed and understood how we had that impression. She said she feels more British but each person might have a different answer. The conversation was in depth and we won’t continue with the details but this is why we must travel to these locations but you can’t find these answers in any books. Londonderry (or
The weather outside our hotel didn’t look very promising. It was raining and time to move on to Londonderry. The drive from Portrush wasn’t nearly as scenic as previous days, but the cloudy and wet weather didn’t help either. It’s a short hike over to Northern Ireland’s second largest city and we were going to stay inside the city walls, hoping that navigating the streets would be easier than our time San Gimignano, Italy, another medieval walled-city, which found Dave driving on streets that didn’t permit car traffic. The police in that town were quite nice about the whole thing, but we certainly didn’t want a repeat of that day.
We successfully navigated our way into the city and found the hotel without much trouble. Our room wasn’t quite ready, so we dropped our luggage and discovered that the walking tour we wanted to take would start in about 20 minutes just down the street. Off we went, in search of yet more history and yarns of old.
The Martin McCrossan tour was fabulous and took us around the top of the wall surrounding the old city. We learned all about why and when the wall
was built and got some additional background on Irish/English history in Northern Ireland. Seems the English saw good value in building a walled city after their first settlement was burnt to the ground by an Irish Chieftan in the early 1600s. And it worked, the city’s wall were never breached and remain to this day.
Our guide also took time to talk about “The Troubles” and Londonderry was another center for some of the nasty violence that took place during that time. The group U2 has a song called “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” that talks about a particularly nasty incident during which some 26 civil rights protester and bystanders were shot by British soldier. 13 males, including seven died in this tragedy.
We are in admiration that the city does not hide from its past and seeks to state what has happened then and more importantly, what is happening now. The city is trying very hard to overcome its past issues and embrace a more peaceful existence. Certainly hard feelings still exist in some quarters, but progress is noticeable over the past quarter century. An example is the the pedestrian Peace Bridge, built in 2011 in an effort to
Oh my gosh
death grip on the rope!
bolster relations between the unionist “Waterside” and the nationalist “Cityside.”
About the city’s name….we’re back to the differences between unionist and nationalists now. Seems one likes the name Londonderry and the other, simply Derry. Officially, the city’s Royal Charter from 1662 lists the official name as Londonderry and a high court decision upheld this a few years back. We’ve heard that it is not unusual for a road sign for Londonderry will have the “London” part spray painted over. Guess that’s one way to make your point. At any rate, it’s simpler to say “Derry” and for us, that’s the way we’ll go. Places we stayed: Adelphi Hotel in Portrush & Tower Hotel in Derry We highly recommend the Martin McCrossan walking tour in Londonderry
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