Strictly speaking, I’m not “just back” from this one, but having recently visited Budapest for the day, I realised that some of my earlier days out by plane haven’t yet made it to the blog, so watch out for Berlin hot on the heels of this one.
Although I’ve been to the Republic of Ireland a couple of times, I’d never been to Northern Ireland and given how many countries I have travelled in, that seemed to be an omission I really needed to put right. With two dogs to consider and a husband not up for multiple day dog sitting, we met in the middle at a day out and I booked my flights. At the time, my closest airport was London Southend and I scored a cheap outbound flight with easyJet at 0715 arriving 0830, returning on the 2055 which landed at 2215. This route isn’t offered anymore, but you can still take advantage of multiple flights from London Gatwick, for instance, if you’re hoping to do this trip yourself.
With 12 hours to make use of, I decided to rent a car and tour the province. A sub-compact doesn’t break the bank and it gave me the opportunity to see some of Northern Ireland’s most well-known sights. First stop was Dunluce Castle. I’m no Game of Thrones fan but it is one of the filming locations. The picture gives you an idea of the drama of its setting and despite being a warm day in late May, the place was deserted.
Next up, a short drive along the coast, was the famous Giant’s Causeway. One of the major beefs with this is the exorbitant cost of entry. Adult admission costs a whopping £9 and I do think the National Trust are pushing their luck. However, as basalt scenery goes, it is impressive, though perhaps less so if you’ve seen some of Iceland’s towering columns. In any case, pre-booking tickets can save you £1.50pp and there are also deals to be had if you do Park and Ride or just take the regular bus. Anyway, I had a very pleasant few hours there strolling around the beach, clambering up nature’s natural staircases and even watching a lone piper play.
The other National Trust must-see in this part of the world is Carrick-a-Rede, about nine miles along the coast. It’s a bit cheaper than the Giant’s Causeway at £5.90 but for that you get the chance to traverse a rope bridge over the water – a scary but unmissable experience.
On the day I visited, the wind was negligible, but when the wind picks up… I figured there was a reason you bought your ticket before you caught sight of the bridge – just imagine the revenue they’d miss out on! I’m not too keen on heights if I don’t feel my feet are firmly on the ground, so this would have been a terrifying place if there had been more than just a slight breeze. The scenery, as with the first two locations, was fabulous, leaving me to wonder why I’d left it so long to visit this beautiful part of the United Kingdom.
All this coastal exploring was making me hungry and so I drove down to Ballintoy Harbour (another G of T location) for a late lunch at Roark’s Kitchen. The stone cottage which it occupies looks like it’s been there for many centuries and the place offered the chance for me to try out some of the local specialities. In the end, though, I was tempted with the Ulster Fry, like a full English but with potato bread.
Back on the road, I enjoyed the pretty scenery in the sunshine, the blue sky giving me a chance to see the coastline at its best. Cushendun was very quaint – that’s the village in the first picture of this blog. Glenarm was also charming, straddling the water. It has a stately home in the shape of Glenarm Castle which I didn’t visit, but I might have been tempted with its tearooms had I not overdosed on good hearty food at lunch.
Instead, I decided to head back to the city. Now, by then it was late afternoon, so I didn’t have a huge amount of time. I decided to visit the docks area, seeing the massive yellow Harland and Wolff cranes before parking up at Titanic Belfast. Even the building itself was a stunner, but the exhibits really brought to life that ill-fated voyage. That was my last stop of the day and a very interesting one; the museum was well worth a visit.
That was May 2013 and I promised myself a return visit to this enchanting province and of course, to explore more of Belfast. I haven’t yet, but I do intend to one day.