Belfast and Carrickfergus

Published: June 25th 2017
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Geo: 55.1874, -6.71985

I planned for us to take Paddy Campbell's Belfast Famous Black Cab Tour a long time ago by emailing Paddy and setting up the time and location. He sent Ciaran to be our driver and guide who picked us up a few minutes earlier than expected in the lobby of the Hilton. We had already eaten breakfast, checked out of the hotel and stored our luggage in the rental car by then.

Ciaran started off by explaining the basics of the history of The Troubles, then he drove us to a number of sites that played an important part in them. He knows a lot of history and was able to answer every one of our questions. We went to see murals that are painted in tribute to fallen war heroes, the gates between the sectarian neighborhoods, the Peace Wall, and the International Wall. The tour lasted about an hour and a half, but felt like it went by much more quickly than that. This tour is a definite highlight of our trip.

Ciaran explained something that we saw last night out the hotel room window. We watched as several boys, about 12 years old, lugged wooden pallets across the parking lots and sidewalks in front of the window. He said that they were probably paid to find them and bring them to the site of the next bonfire. The sects have huge bonfires as part of their celebrations on most every holiday.

At the end of the tour, Ciaran dropped us off at Titanic Belfast as we had prearranged with Paddy. We were there a wee bit early before our designated time. (I purchased timed tickets online before leaving home.) We had time to walk around the Titanic Quarter for a little while and saw Samson and Delilah, the two giant cranes used in shipbuilding, and the Titanic Studios buildings where Game of Thrones is shot.

Titanic Belfast offers wonderful exhibits about life in Belfast and shipbuilding in general, as well as the story of the Titanic. There are interactive displays including a ride through the shipyard and a three-sided video screen that you can walk into surrounding yourself with the film.

After we saw all we could of Titanic Belfast, we walked outside and found a taxi right where Ciaran told us we could find one. We went back to the Hilton Car Park to retrieve our car for
the next drive. While we were out in the taxi, I paid attention to the streets so we'd know which one to start on. It was easy to get to the right road just a couple of blocks from the hotel.

Before leaving the hotel, I looked more closely at the Garmin and found out how to turn off the dinging noise it was making. It went off every time Philip accelerated over what the Garmin thought was the correct speed limit. Next stop was Carrickfergus Castle a few miles northeast of Belfast. It was easy to find and the castle was right on the main road. There were only a few tourists at the castle. I have not kept count of how many castles we have seen on this trip, but it's averaged more than one a day. This one has an 800-year history on the banks of an arm of the Irish Sea.

When we finished viewing the castle with its fine ramparts and cannons, we got back in the car and put the address for tonight's B&B into the Garmin. Although I expected to go back down the major highway for at least a bit of the trip, she took us off on a couple of odd routes on the way up to Portstewart. It was very hard to tell if we were going the right way, because it was mostly overcast and hard to tell directions. The roads wound through heavy vegetation for the most part. We seemed to be going in the right general direction, but the map I had was just a basic one that did not have all the small towns and roads on it, so I didn't know where we were. After an hour and a half or so of narrow lanes and many roundabouts, we ended up in Ballymoney which I recognized from our planning. It was just a short distance from there to the Dark Hedges, but we did not know where we were and we couldn't get our bearings. It seemed just easier to keep going and go to the Dark Hedges tomorrow as planned. In Ballymoney we found, and the Garmin directed us to, a more well-traveled road that we took up to Portstewart.

Once in Portstewart, the Garmin got us right to the Strandeen B&B which turned out to be just lovely. I emailed the owner when we were on the road telling her that we would arrive later than planned, but as it turned out we were only about an hour later that expected; we were there by 5 p.m. They offer a simple dinner that I had reserved ahead of time, but when we got there, she told us that she sent two people home sick and did not have the right staff members available to prepare an evening meal. She did suggest an alternate--the restaurant at the golf course--and offered to make reservations for us. That was fine, of course, but that didn't work out either. The restaurant had no last-minute availability, but we could go sit in the bar and order off the same menu that the restaurant had.

To get to the golf course, we walked along the footpath beside the ocean for a little over a mile then climbed up a sandy and rocky path to get to the parking lot for it. It was a very nice walk and even nicer when we returned as the sun was low in the sky by then.

Our room at the B&B was a bit warm as most of them have been on this trip. There were two windows, but only one would open since the other was behind the flower boxes. We were warned by the owner of the B&B, Debbie, that there would be a fireworks display in town at 10:30. At the appointed time, the loud pops and bangs started, and they lasted for fifteen minutes. We went out to watch from the street with a few of the neighbors for a little while, but didn't stay for all of it. When I booked the B&B, I was not aware that this would be the final night of the Portstewart Red Sails Family Festival which is an annual community event. It was named after a song written by Jimmy Kennedy who lived in Portstewart and watched a boat with red sails sailing off the coast there. Because of the festival, all the restaurants in town were busy. Debbie suggested we not drive into town that night as there would be a big crowd and no place to park. She thought it would be fine to walk, but we decided that the walk to the golf course and watching the fireworks was enough.

Additional photos below
Photos: 25, Displayed: 25


Gates in BelfastGates in Belfast
Gates in Belfast

These gates between the Protestant Loyalist neighborhood and the Catholic Republican neighborhood are closed and locked at 7 p.m. each evening and remain locked until the morning.
Our TaxiOur Taxi
Our Taxi

The neighborhoods of Catholic Irish Republicans had no flags flying, but in the Protestant Unionist neighborhoods there were Union Jacks everywhere.
International Wall in BelfastInternational Wall in Belfast
International Wall in Belfast

A new and timely image is added to the International Wall
International Wall in BelfastInternational Wall in Belfast
International Wall in Belfast

One of the more recent additions to the International Wall about the current conflicts in Gaza.
Philip and Our Driver CiaranPhilip and Our Driver Ciaran
Philip and Our Driver Ciaran

Ciaran was an exceptional guide. He explained all about the recent and not-so-recent history of Northern Ireland and the loyalty of the people to their firm beliefs in supporting being part of the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland.
Titanic StudiosTitanic Studios
Titanic Studios

This is the studio where Game of Thrones is shot. Season 5 is in production now.
Strandeen B&BStrandeen B&B
Strandeen B&B

Entry to the B&B. Our room is just inside. These are the windows in our room.

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