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A whistle stop tour of Northern Ireland

Janet Redler and Pam Coutts recently returned from a short tour of Northern Ireland, taking in a number of the country’s most interesting attractions, including the Giant’s Causeway and the Navan Centre. Here are Pam’s thoughts on their visit. 


We set off from George Best Airport heading for Carrick-a-Rede (pronounced Carrick-a-Reedy) on the Antrim Coast and the Giant's Causeway, stopping on the way at a quaint little fishing village called Carnlough, which had boats to hire for fishing and sight-seeing trips. The village has two stone bridges, which were originally built to transfer stone from the nearby quarry to the harbour along a tram network. The tramway is no longer there, but the bridges are both still intact. We had lunch at the Londonderry Arms, an old coaching Inn built for Winston Churchill’s great-grandmother - Frances Anne Vane Tempest, Marchioness of Londonderry – in 1848.

Next stop was Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge near Ballintoy in County Antrim, which links the tiny island of Carickarede to the mainland. We walked along the most beautiful coastal path to get to the bridge, which was built in 1755 by fishermen, who also built the only cottage on the island. (The cottage is open to the public on certain days of the year.) The bridge is 20 metres long and over 30 metres above the sea (eek!!) and the island is surrounded by little mounds of basalt volcanic rock on top of Irish chalk. The cliffs are home to many kittiwakes, gulls and guillemots, which nest precariously on the cliff edge – a wonderful sight!


And then on to the Giant's Causeway – which is something everyone should see. I told Jan I needed to write about it, but I just don’t have the words to put down how wonderful it was. Awesome - astounding - magical - mesmerising - words that come nowhere near. It will haunt me forever – unfortunately everyone must feel the same, as there are so many visitors (about 3000 a day in fact), but the area is big enough for this not to be intrusive. A walk along the cliffs shows more impressive rock formations and indeed plenty of places to get away from the crowds and to enjoy the views. The Causeway can be accessed by bus, so anyone with limited mobility can get very close to feel the magic. An absolute must if you are in Northern Ireland.


As the day drew to a close we headed to the Bushmills Inn, in the nearby village of Bushmills, for the evening. This is the quirkiest old coaching inn you can imagine, halfway between the Giant’s Causeway and Portrush Golf Course. The front of the inn retains the original 1600s façade and the interior was returned to its original glory in 1987. We had fabulous food in the restaurant and there are many different boltholes in the inn to enjoy aperitifs or coffee.

The next day we were off on a two-hour road trip to Armagh and a visit to a replica Iron Age Fort (Emain Macha) at the Navan Centre. This important archaeological site boasts an excellent visitor centre and guided tours to see the remains of this amazing piece of history. The centre offers a complete re-enactment of how people lived 2000 years ago – visitors can dress in authentic costumes, sit in the willow and thatch round house (with a fire in the centre), learn how to weave, cook, tend the herb garden, thatch and make willow fencing and so on. While you are there, don’t forget to try the raspberry and white chocolate scones back in the visitor centre!


We travelled back to Belfast for an overnight stay at the Europa Hotel – the most bombed hotel in Ireland – which now has a reinforced glass frontage. This is a wonderful place to stay, which is centrally located in the city. The night Jan and I stayed they were hosting the Miss Northern Ireland event, but sadly neither Jan nor I won. I suppose there’s always next year!


In Belfast, we saw the Peace Wall, a moving sight and one that should not be missed or forgotten, as a legacy of a difficult time. It was originally built in 1969 at the start of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, partly to separate Catholics and Protestants. Located in West Belfast, the most prominent part of the wall separated the Falls Road and Shankill areas, and had reinforced gates at intervals and a reinforced police station.


My final memory of our visit is the sight of the famous Harland and Wolff cranes, which are great landmarks for navigating Belfast!  Harvard and Wolff were once the biggest shipbuilders in the world, most memorably the builders of the ill-fated Titanic, and date back to 1862. There are three massive cranes and the two largest, Samson and Goliath, dominate the landscape. The tallest is 316’!

All in all, this was another amazing trip to Northern Ireland – a place I love so much!

If you or your group would like to enjoy your own tailor made tour of Northern Ireland, contact Janet Redler Travel & Tourism today.


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