Now that we are in Northern Ireland, the hearty Irish breakfast includes potato bread (first time for that and it’s really good). Leaving Londonderry, we travelled the north-eastern coast to Ballycastle which is not that far as the crow flies but it took us the entire day.
First stop of the day was just outside Londonderry to see Grianan Aileach, the sixth century ring fort. It sits high on an 800 ft hill with a 360 degree, absolutely breathtaking view of county Donegal. The main structure is a stone ringfort, once the seat of the Kingdom of Ailech and one of the royal sites of Gaelic Ireland. The wall is about 4.5 metres (15 ft) thick and 5 metres (16 ft) high. It has three terraces, which are linked by steps, and two long passages within it. We were the only ones there and were humbled by the silence of this still morning, the stunning views all around and the history of this 1500 year old gem.
Moving on, we found the Causeway Coast Highway heading east and began what would be a many-stop photo opp drive along this stunning coastline with its mountains to the south, world-class beaches, ancient castles and historical sites, quaint villages and unique topography unlike anything we had seen yet.
Highlights of the day were as follows:
Downhill Demense: a mansion ruins built in the 18th century for Frederick Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol which included the mansion, a Mussenden Temple on the edge of the sea cliffs, an icehouse and a mausoleum. Much of the building was destroyed by fire in 1851 before being rebuilt in the 1870s. It fell into disrepair after the second world war.
The town of Portrush which is seems quite affluent with its grand yachts in the harbour and stately highrise apartments.
The ruins of Dunluce Castle perched high on the edge of chalk white cliffs skirted by pristine white sand beaches.
The lovely town of Bushmills with its riverside walkways complete with salmon jumping in the river, art galleries, town tower clock and, of course, the iconic whiskey distillery. We restrained ourselved as we were on the road today. However, Monica did purchase a couple of wee drams to enjoy later.
The Giants Causeway – you read about it and sort of know what to expect but can’t really appreciate the strangeness of this place until you experience it. It was very busy here today (being a Saturday I suppose) with many bus tours arriving steadily and thousands of tourists crawling over the rocks like ants. Unexpected was the audio box you get to wear as you explore and listen to the many fascinating facts, legends and whimsical stories about this place and its people.
The ruins of Dunseverick Castle and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge (way too busy for us with a 30-minute line-up to walk the bridge…so I was happy with a photo and moved on).
The hike up to Fair Head before diner. This was something I had been looking forward to since we started planning this trip. Fair Head is a 600-foot semi-circular bluff of rock that defines the north-eastern corner of Ireland. We found the road and parked the car in a farmer’s barn yard (with permission) and hiked the 1.5 km trail up to the top. Monica was a trooper to do this with me as we greeted sheep and cows along the way. Arriving at the top one is moved at the grandeur. There are no touristy walkways, no safety handrails, nobody else except us and the view is unparalleled up and down the coast and across the sea to Scotland. Amazing.
Hungry after al that, we made our way into the town of Ballycastle and had a much better than expected meal at O’Connors Pub. Monica had the Steak and Guinness Pie and I had the Beer-battered Cod. The chips (french fries) were a meal in themselves. The Magners cider for me and Fair Head Gold beer form Mon helped it all go down. This defines “being stuffed”.
A great day on the Causeway Coast. Tomorrow we head south toward Belfast along the Antrim Coast. They say it is lovely… I can’t imagine it being any better than what we saw today.