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"Winter may not have been coming, but good times were."
Our second trip to the Emerald Isle, and our first to Northern Ireland, boasted its fair share of epic scenery. Not only were we treated to a stay in the town hosting the oldest whiskey distillery in the world, but we were just a walk away from the Giant’s Causeway. Surrounding it were some of the cliffs, bays and dark forests used to film Game of Thrones. Winter may not have been coming, but good times were.
Straight from the airport we headed into the Glens of Antrim on our first walk, walking up through the Breen Oakwood Nature Reserve into the Breen Forest as the views slowly opened out. From the summit of Croaghan (417m), we could see over most of Northern Ireland, and to the north there was the sea! We eagerly awaited getting more aquainted with it over the next few days. Despite one slightly boggy section the walk proved easy, a good introduction to these eastern hills, only a stone’s throw from Scotland over the Irish Sea.
The next day, after a fantastic meal at the Bushmills Inn, the pub only a few doors down which boasted an entirely gas-lit bar, we headed out to the Giant’s Causeway. The beauty of where we were staying meant we could walk straight to the Causeway, past a sandy bays and dramatic cliffs. Walking to the Causeway and seeing it from afar really put it in context with the landscape, a far more genuine experience than the hordes of tourists who got the bus down to it!
I won’t describe the Giant’s Causeway – you’ll have to go there and see it, but it’s safe to say that the photos don’t do it justice. We continued the day by heading to the top of the cliffs and continuing around the coast, each new bay giving us changing views of the giant basalt columns that form the cliffs and the Causeway itself. The mist rolled in and the whole place felt a million miles from civilisation. Our day ended at Dunservick Castle, which stands on an eroded rocky platform and has now been reduced to just two lonely walls looking out over the Atlantic.
On our third day we turned to another stretch of coastal path, starting with the seemingly endless beach of Curran Strand (where we dipped our toes in the sea!) and stopping for a coffee and a second breakfast in Portrush. The sun was out and the gentle sea breeze made for a perfect stroll. Following the path along the rolling cliff-tops to Port Stewart we could see over to the hills of Donegal, and watched dolphins out in the bay. Port Stewart happens to be the base of one of the best ice cream companies in Northern Ireland, so a trip to what can only be described as an ice cream restaurant was a must! On the way back we stopped for a quick look round Dunluce Castle, one of the most spectacular places I’ve been, and an inspiration for C.S.Lewis when writing about Narnia!
Our final day, after late night celebrations and live music back at the Bushmills Inn, was a walking wander round a few famous sites. We started by heading to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, built by fishermen to help them get to a tiny island where the boats were launched. It swings above a yawning chasm into the sea, and leads to a grassy mound of an island where we watched sea-birds and sat in the sunshine. From here we followed the coast to Ballintoy Bay, a secluded harbour where some scenes of Game of Thrones was shot, before beginning the journey back to Belfast.
Not wanting to miss one final spot, we stopped and had a short wander round the Dark Hedges, which play their role as the King’s Road in Game of Thrones. These magestic beech trees line a small road near an old estate, and reach towards each other over the tops of passing cars. They’re a great sight at any time of year, but in early spring when their leaves were not yet out they looked splendidly creepy and foreboding.
Our first trip to Northern Ireland was an excellent chance to explore. We had mist, sunshine. and everything from sunbathing weather to ‘let’s go to the pub’ weather. We saw one of the world’s greatest geological features, sipped the whisky from the UK’s oldest distillery, and visited some locations from one of the most popular TV series – oh and we saw dolphins of course, which was pretty awesome. Join us next time!