Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Northern Ireland

Friday was my last day at my work and in the mad rush to finish up and make sure everyone had the information they needed, I was late getting to Gatwick causing us to miss our flight. Bugger. We were able to pay a transfer fee after the fact and get on a flight later that evening, the last one of the day. We picked up our hire car and drove ~1 hour to the coast. So, another late night as my cold set in for good.

We woke in a bed and breakfast in Portrush and were served a 'fry' with eggs, bacon, sausage, tomato, potato triangle things and fried bread. Just 20 minutes drive away along the coast was the World Heritage listed Giants Causeway and despite the lack of sleep and ill health we were keen to get going.

The shapes of the rock at the Giants Causeway were intriguing. We spent a good hour trying to capture the shapes and the crashing surf. Time and again the fickle surf impressed us with its splash, while we were not in a position to capture it on camera. We climbed amongst the broken rocks within the bays, investigating shells and reflections and trying not to end up in the freezing pools of water. Only half the track within the Giants Causeway was open, due to a mud slide onto the path, but we were not too disappointed as we'd stayed several hours already, we were cold, thirsty and our noses were running. To our surprise, we heard that the Carrick-a-reed rope bridge was open, as from what I had read, it was closed in December. With a fistful of chocolates each, we made our way along the coast to Carrick-a-reed. The coast was a collection of cliffs, rocky outcrops covered with moss, irregular but green-covered hills, sheep and a range of fence qualities. The colours and the quality of the light on the scenery brought to mind various BBC dramas and, by association, Friday and Saturday nights at home on the farm.
Unfortunately the Carrick-a-reed rope bridge was closed for crossing, but the scenery and the stories were pretty good.

Next on the list was Bushmills Whiskey Distillery - the oldest in the world, having been granted a licence for production in 1608 by the royalty at the time. Unfortunately, it was closed due to ice on every surface, so we ate a local lunch. The thing about eating locally are the prices. We had a soup, toasted sandwich, hamburger and coffee for less than £9 - unheard of in London.

On the way back to our accommodation we tried to capture the Dunluce Castle ruins in the dwindling light. The cold, my cold and the busy weeks caught up on us and we caught a couple of hours of sleep before heading out to dinner at 6pm (yes, there's that little light during the day).

At our host's recommendation we went for dinner at the bistro on the wharf. A door behind the tiny bar lead to a large, modern dining room, trendily decorated. Already at this hour we were lucky to find a table for two for dinner. My salmon and Lee's pork ribs were expertly prepared and presented. The combinations of flavours and textures (particularly important for me with limited sense of smell) were well balanced. Feeling greedy we each ordered one of the amazing looking desserts. Lee vanished his pavlova, but I barely made a dent in my toffee cheesecake thing.  Delicious, whatever the case.

Early to bed and late-ish to rise we started the day again with a fry up. The first thing on the list was a revisit to the Dunluce Castle ruins. We walked our way through, envisioning what it must have been like for the MacQuillans and the series of MacDonalds before it was abandoned in the 1600s. I think cold and drafty, although likely very beautiful.  The last inhabitants certainly sounded well off with their persian carpets and dozens of chairs upholstered in silk, damask, velvet and satin.

The first time we time we turned on the radio we giggled our way through the news report.  Despite the gravity of the news, it was hard to feel it.  We did grow a little more accustomed to the accent, though, this didn't help us much when locals spoke to us.  I think it was due to the speed words were spoken. At times we wondered if we were speaking the same language.

Next on the list came the Bushmills Distillery again, which opened at 12:30.  We took in a tour, which was very clear and informative.  The guide had been well coached in speaking slowly so that foreigners could understand her Northern Irish accent and she was so well practised, she wasn't thrown by a single question we asked of her.  Yes, Lee and I are those attendees who ask questions at every stop, curious as to how it all works, the numbers and scale and the output from input.  Each batch of their whiskey is distilled 3 times (unlike Scottish whiskey, which is only distilled twice) for a 'purer alcohol' which they then water down. The tour finished with a couple of tasters - I was very happy with my Hot Toddy - a recipe I might have to look up for a future occasion, and Lee's 12-year-old whiskey kept him happy - although, not at all to my taste.  The whole, slick experience persuaded us that we needed to buy a few bottles as gifts.  (We had forgotten that we only had carry on and would have to pay to check a bag so that we could ship them back to London - Bugger Bugger.)
After a lunch with a high proportion of potatoes at Bushmills Distillery, we decided to head back to Belfast via the Causeway Coast Road.  Here observed more of the stunning coastline with its great-looking surf, high cliffs, and pretty valleys.  One planned stop was at the Old Layde Church, which is also known as the 'hidden church'.  Perhaps not surprisingly, we didn't find it easily.  This church is a bit of a mystery as unlike most, which are on the top of a hill in the middle of the village, it is found in a valley, on the coast, one mile from the nearest village.  For a place where it gets rainy, cold and muddy - even the seriously faithful would be pushed by this.  It is believed that it was used by Scottish believers who would cross the water to worship, when their religion was persecuted on their own land.  The last service was held there in 1790.  The late evening light, the quiet location, the relative seclusion, the leaning gravestones made the whole place feel a bit spooky.

We carried on around the coast, without much purpose as it was pretty dark by this stage, and stopped in Carrickfergus to meet up with Hazel who I had worked with.  Dinner here and then on to the airport.  Turns out, I left my beanie at the pub where we ate.  Bugger Bugger Bugger.  That beanie was bought by Wayne on his UK travels in the 90s, I then claimed it, took it to Melbourne, left it at a Creswick Big Wet Tournament, failed to pick it up when Dan brought it to Perth, picked it up at the next Creswick Big Wet Tournament, and brought it to the UK where it went on several trips with us - including to Norway to see the northern lights.  That beanie has been around the world a couple of times now.

Landing late on Sunday night we carried on quickly to catch the express train home, only for me to realise I had left my phone on the plane. Bugger Bugger Bugger Bugger.  Ours was the last flight of the day, the final train was leaving in 5 minutes, the lost and found area was unmanned, our terminal was 10 minutes away, it was all too hard so we went home without it.  Thankfully it was handed in and I picked it up Monday afternoon, with the cost of a train to the airport and back.

Overall, it was a cheap weekend that became expensive.  This was nothing to do with the place though, which was beautiful

No comments:

Post a Comment