One of the places I didn’t have time to write about was Northern Ireland or “The North” as it’s often referred to by those from the Republic of Ireland. So I’m going to cover my time there in a couple of posts.
Let’s clarify this first.
The Republic of Ireland is typically just referred to as Ireland. This is the bulk of the island and the country that is still in the European Union, has Dublin as its capital and contains sites such as the Ring of Kerry and the Cliffs of Moher. It’s its own country.
Northern Ireland consists of 6 counties in the northeast part of the island. The capital is Belfast but Northern Ireland is still part of the United Kingdom and claims allegiance to the British crown. The Republic of Ireland does not.
Northern Ireland tends to be more Protestant while the Republic is more Catholic.
Once upon a time (as in the 1980’s — well, before that) it wasn’t safe for Catholics from the “south” to travel to the north and vice versa. This was a time of “the Troubles” that saw a lot of bombings and shootings going on.
This has changed.
My friend — from the Republic — would not have dreamed as a child of going on holiday to the North. But now it’s not unusual to cross the border and think nothing of it. Of course with the impending Brexit, the border crossing may very well change.
There are still some bad feelings on the part of some of the folks on either side. But most of it has gone away, thankfully.
So on this trip to Ireland
I decided I finally needed to see the North.
And since I was going to be up north in County Donegal (part of Ulster which is the province that includes the northern 6 counties, yet is in the Republic of Ireland — yes, it’s a bit confusing) it made sense to spend a few days in Northern Ireland.
The most famous site in the area is the Giant’s Causeway. In fact, the Causeway Coast as it’s called, is a wonderful destination.
After being in the wild and rugged County Donegal, I was curious (as was my friend back in Dublin) as to what I would think of the famed Causeway Coast.
Well, I thought it was beautiful.
But admittedly I did like Donegal better.
If I hadn’t seen Donegal I may have been more wowed by the coast.
And while I did find it stunning, it just didn’t grab me quite as Donegal had.
But I don’t want to take away from the area.
It is gorgeous.
I spent 3 nights in Whitepark House with the fabulous host, Bob. This was a splurge for me but so worth it.
The house is an old one, but has been updated. There are just 3 rooms — a Master, a double and a twin. I had the double room with views over Whitepark Bay which is not far from the town of Ballintoy.
I walked the beach on my first day and so wish I had gone back to walk it again. It’s a lovely, long, crescent-shaped beach with lots of cool rocks.
The setting of this B&B is fab. And it’s very close to many of the Causeway Coast’s attractions. Breakfast is delicious. Bob also has some great information on the area and is eager to share tips on what to do and where to go on the Causeway Coast — and what to avoid.
The top 3 sites on my list for the area:
Giant’s Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and Bushmills Distillery.
Place to avoid: Portrush.
Yes Portrush has great golf. But the town itself is a bit touristy. And I think you’ve all realized that this is not my thing.
However for those who want lots of places to stay, shops and restaurants, then this might be the place for you. I drove through it on my way to my B&B. I wasn’t impressed. Although the golf course looked gorgeous.
Day one took me to Bushmills for a nice tour.
Bushmills is actually both the distillery and the town. It’s the oldest distillery in Ireland.
The town is quaint and has some nice restaurants.
The tour was good, but not great. Talisker Distillery on the Isle of Skye in Scotland was better. But sometimes it depends on your guide. My guide was good, just not great.
At £8 for the tour, it’s a good deal, regardless. You’ll get a taste of one of 3 whiskeys at the end. And you can buy a decent meal at the cafe there for a reasonable price.
Of course, you can also buy some tasty Bushmills whiskey or Bushmills merchandise. I opted for some chocolate bars with Bushmills whiskey infused in them. Good choice!
After my tour
I was hoping to walk across Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, one of the top sites in Northern Ireland.
You’ve seen this, right?
It was incredibly windy.
As in I was sitting in my car at the Whitepark Bay overlook and my car was shaking because it was so windy!
It was beautiful out though.
Blue skies and sunshine.
But the wind was very cold and very fierce.
Carrick-a-Rede was closed. So no walking across the rope bridge for me. Bummer.
Instead I drove to Ballycastle
Which is just a bit further east long the coast drive.
It’s a lovely journey with some places to stop to take photos or simply take in the views.
I met some folks from England at the one overlook. The woman told me that some of the land I was seeing to my right was actually Scotland. I told her I was headed to Scotland in about a week and was very excited about it.
Rathlin Island sits out in the bay just to the north of Ballycastle, though you can see it from Whitepark Beach as well. You can actually ferry over to the island which is inhabited by people.
But most of the inhabitants are all kinds of birds. From kittiwakes to puffins to razorbills — it’s a fabulous stop for birdwatchers.
Ballycastle is a nice town with an authentic vibe to it.
It was quiet when I was there as it was a Monday when some shops tend to be closed.
I stopped in a jewelry shop and met a lovely young lady with whom I had a long conversation. We talked about art as she is one of the jewelry makers. And we talked about Northern Ireland. The northerners were surprised to hear that this was my 5th trip to Ireland but only my first to the North.
What had kept me from visiting here?
I didn’t have a good answer except that I just hadn’t come that far north before.
I had a lovely late lunch at the Central Bar. This was one of Bob’s recommendations and a really good one. The menu was good and varied and it has a great interior with lots of dark wood and a fire going. This was a plus for me on this cold, windy day.
The one thing that I love to do when I am traveling
Is to stop in the local markets or supermarkets. Any place that you can buy food really. I love to see the different brands.
I loved the Green Man in Dunfanaghy where I discovered some new organic and gluten-free brands.
So here in Ballycastle I dropped into one of the local markets and found some more gluten-free crackers (which beat all of ours here in the States) and some organic herbal tea (I was at the tail end of a cold). It’s always a kick to peruse the different brands and the names they use for things that are different from our words. Biscuits for cookies. Crisps for potato chips.
*Sigh* I rather miss all this.
I made a quick stop on my way back
To take a look at Kinbane Castle.
I so wanted to make the long walk down to this cool ruin. There are lots of steps!
But it was so windy and that wind was icy cold. I almost got knocked on my ass a couple of times just getting in and out of the car. The wind was that strong!
And I just didn’t have it in me to fight the wind that day.
So I walked a short way and took more photos.
Then promptly got back into the warm, wind-free car!!
Maybe tomorrow wouldn’t be so windy…
Stay tuned for the next post as I visit the famous Giant’s Causeway!!