Janice and I headed north across the border into Northern Ireland and into the heart of Belfast city. It was pouring. We walked the 15 minutes to our hostel in the rain and were delighted to find a charming converted Georgian in the university district. The hostel definitely had a family feel – completely the opposite of the huge hostel were we stayed in Dublin. We stayed in a four bed dorm that was tiny and a bit eccentrically put together. Our roommates were a mother and son – in their sixties and forties respectively – who have been travelling the world for over a year vaguely searching for a new home. We had many discussions late into the night about travel and the world and for our five day stint they turned out to be excellent roommates. I love that while travelling you can find such fascinating people around you, if only you open your eyes. This is not a feature unique to travel by any means, but I think I (and surely others) are more conscious of those around them as well as more open to letting them in while on the road.
We had a cup of tea and dried off a bit by the fire and then decided we couldn’t let the rest of the afternoon go to waste so we headed back out into the rain. As we wandered through the university district, heading towards the Ulster museum, we headed into the botanical gardens. Its a beautiful park and the Victorian greenhouse called the Palm House is one of the earliest examples of a glasshouse made from curved iron and glass. I love early greenhouses and the advances in technology that they represent. We also wandered into the Victorian Tropical Ravine which features a sunken plant-filled glen and contains some of the oldest seed plants in the UK. After the greenhouses we made it to the Ulster museum and spent our time learning about Irish history from the prehistoric to the modern times. The museum has a great exhibit on the Troubles (although at that point we were still a bit confused over which groups were which and who was on what side – the problems with complicated conflicts!) The gold collars and other artifacts from the Bronze age were beautiful and the information on the Spanish armada and its Irish connections was fascinating.
By this point the rain had let up a bit and we were famished, but we had a recommendation to eat at a very unique bar in the city centre, so off we went to the Crown Liquor Saloon – Belfast’s most famous bar! Its an absolutely outstanding example of a Victorian gin palace and while the lower floor remains a typical bar, the upper floor has been converted into a beautiful restaurant. Janice and I had a fantastic meal in an incredible environment. The tin ceiling was particularly spectacular and our Eton mess sundae for dessert was definitely the best I’ve ever had.
We intended to have an early night but we got talking to our new roommates and stayed up well into the night! The next morning we had breakfast at a fantastic café by our hostel and had a traditional Irish breakfast before heading out on a tour to the northern coast – our very own Giant’s Causeway experience! This was one of the central reasons for our trip and it didn’t disappoint. Our tour guide was funny and sweet – very willing to answer questions and share some interesting history but also allowed us enough freedom to do our own thing and explore. We began the day at Carrickfergus with a quick stop by the castle and the bay – a beautiful setting for a sunny morning. We then continued our scenic drive up the Irish coast on our way to Carnlough.
At Carnlough we had some time for a coffee break and to explore the main street of the town and the pretty little bay. Its an incredible postcard perfect town that looks exactly like you would imagine an Irish town should look.
We drove through some of the famous Glens of Antrim on our way to Carrick-a-rede and its famous wild coast and even wilder bridge! The weather was clouding over a bit but still beautiful and the wind picked up as we neared the coast. We decided to brave the rope bridge which dangles almost 100 feet above the rocks below and connects the tiny island of Carrickarede with the mainland. Its terrifying to cross – even though I’m not particularly afraid of heights. On the way over I almost lost my purse to the rocks and ocean below so on the way back I tied the purse to my scarf and secured it under my jacket. Janice and I tried to stop for pictures (like everybody else) in the middle of the bridge but with the wind blowing our photos turned out wacky at best!
After our adventures with bridges we continued north to Dunluce castle – the picturesque ruins of a medieval castle on the edge of an outcropping. The castle looks as though at any moment it could topple into the sea and I found its a pointed reminder of the passage of time. Then we had a quick stop at Bushmills distillery – one of the oldest in the country – before heading on to the main attraction!
The Giant’s Causeway is an area of interlocking basalt columns created by a volcanic eruption and is a World Heritage Site. The Irish folk tradition has an interesting legend to explain the formation of the causeway. The warrior Fionn mac Cumhaill built a stone bridge to Scotland. After the bridge was completed, Fionn was challenged to a battle by a Scottish giant called Benandonner. Fionn was a large warrior but he couldn’t fight Benandonner because of the difference in their size so he asked his wife, Oonagh, for help. She came up with the ingenious idea to disguise Fionn as a baby and put him in a cradle. When Benandonner came looking for him, Oonagh told him that Fionn was out, but he should be back soon. She showed him her baby (Fionn in disguise) and when Benandonner saw the size of the baby, he had no desire to see the father so he fled home in terror. As he went he ripped up the bridge so that Fionn couldn’t follow him, forming the causeway as we know it!
We had a couple hours to explore the Causeway and we used our time to the fullest – I love clambering around in places like this. The columns are really something, its hard to explain their bizarre-ness and their effect on the people who visit. I wish not so many people knew about this place, but its popularity is what makes it relatively easy to access. As the sun set we drove back to Belfast and had dinner before heading back to watch Red Dwarf and crash at our hostel.