Just a brief entry this time as it was a brief trip, but it is worth a bit of a blog and I'm still lounging around in the Far East with some time to kill. As much as exotic travel is wonderful to expand your knowledge and experience, it is also good to catch up with places more close to home and in early April a few of us headed over to Northern Ireland for a few days.
For many years a no-go destination, Belfast seems to be a popular place to visit and of course we can’t ignore the fact that ‘Game of Thrones’ has made NI become very popular in recent years (yep, I’m a geeky fan) so we figured it was worth a trip.
We broke up our trip with a couple of nights in Belfast then a drive to the north coast to stay in the pretty town of Portrush (golf fans may have heard of it). Belfast has been divided up into quarters these days (Queens, Cathedral, Titanic and Gaeltacht) and we were staying in the Titanic one. Formally the area of the old Harland and Wolff shipyards where the might ship was built,
Belfast City Hall
Viewed from Donegall Street, once ringed with security gates and a no go zone after dark, the street is now thriving
but we won’t blame them for that awful movie.
We only had one full day in the city and we had signed up to take a walking tour, we chose a tour which focused on the ‘Troubles’, going to locations of some of the main events from the 1970s onward in the city centre. Meeting our guide outside the City Hall, he began to give an overview of the history and then we proceeded to visit many of the locations around the centre where incidents occurred. The Troubles was always something in the background as I grew up and I never fully understood what was actually going on, the tour was excellent and provided a great explanation and history, which is far too complex for me to go into here, but it was well worth doing.
One of the most interesting parts was our guide telling us about his friend whom he couldn’t decide whether he was the luckiest or unluckiest man alive. Having been accidentally shot three times and blown up once just because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. We were debating this as the man in question came around the corner
'The Thing with the Ring'
'Nuala with a Hula' or 'the Bell on a ball', just some of the local names for the Beacon of Hope statue on the river.
and we got to say hello, for all he’d been through, he seemed pretty content with his lot.
After the walk we headed off to the Falls Road and Shankill Road to see some of the famous murals dotted around, there still seems to be a strong sense of identity in some communities but these days a lot of the murals are less provocative and more inclined to promote peaceful times. The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering around town and enjoying the sights.
Anyway, don’t let all that put you off as now Belfast is a lovely city and is reinventing itself well, the Cathedral quarter is clearly the place to go out for a good ‘craic’, although my attempts at the lovely NI accent was now grating on my travelling companions somewhat at this point…
The next morning, we picked up a car and headed north on the coast road to spend a couple of nights in Portrush, a small seaside harbour town on the north coast in County Antrim. The drive around the coast was very scenic, a bit reminiscent of North Wales I have to admit, but that’s hardly surprising since they
The Shankill Road
Lots of murals here
aren’t too far across the sea from each other. We stopped for lunch halfway (can’t actually remember which town) and sampled the delicious local ice cream even though it was rather wet and chilly, then we drove through Bushmills (yes, as in the booze) and arrived in pretty Port Rush.
Portrush is a bit of a hub for the north coast and also has some famous golf courses, not that I would know. It has certain elements of a typical British seaside town; complete with dodgy looking amusement arcades, fish and chip shops and caravan parks. However most of it is rather pretty and we were staying just up from the small harbour area.
We had come to the north coast to talk a stroll along the ‘Causeway Coast Way’ and thankfully the next day when we had planned our little jaunt the weather had cleared up and we awoke to a beautiful sunny day. Our route for the day was to take us the 10 miles or so from Portrush along the coast to the Giant’s Causeway, the spectacular geological phenomenon, and you all know how much I enjoy a geological phenomenon. Striding off in the bright
Bobby Sands mural
I won't comment on artistic merit
sunlight we headed east around the Portrush headland, along the great sandy beach and towards the causeway.
The walk took us past some small islands called the ‘Skerries’ (good for seabirds) just after Portrush, the ruined medieval Dunluce castle, through the small town of Portballintrae and finally we reached the Giant’s Causeway.
Liking all things volcanic I was very eager to see the Causeway, especially as I had also seen Fingal’s Cave in Staffa in Scotland many moons ago. The causeway is made up of about 40,000 basaltic columns from a very ancient volcanic eruption (about 50 or 60 million years ago). The highly fluid molten basalt leaked through chalk beds and as it cooled the columns were formed. I won’t go into any more detail as you will probably doze off, but needless to say it is pretty amazing how the columns are so regular and have formed the regular shapes, mostly hexagonal in shape but there are also many with 5,7 or 8 sides to be found as well.
Or you could just believe it was made by a Giant.
After we’d had our fill of geology we headed back for a Saturday night
And another mural
I'm already a bit confused as to which side this is.
in Portrush, being resident in London, we just thought we’d be able to stroll down to the harbour and get a table for dinner, things don’t work like that in Portrush. Seems that it is rather a popular place to have dinner and I suspect gets booked up rather in advanced, waiting time was at least an hour for all restaurants, so we had to opt for a takeaway, doh. Still later on it calmed down a bit and we ended up having a rather late night partying with some locals, they know how to enjoy themselves over there.
The last day was a sluggish start and a drive back via the beech tree road made famous by Game of Thrones, our only bit of sad TV tourism, then headed back for our flight. Northern Ireland is certainly a very pretty part of the world and worth a visit, the locals were amazingly friendly and helpful and there is plenty to do, now if I could only get that accent right….
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