We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our time in this island’s two capitols: Dublin and Belfast. But now it’s time for a change of pace, so we hit the road to experience the castles and cliffs of the beautiful Irish countryside.
We departed from Belfast by way of the “leafy suburbs”. As is the case in most countries, the wealthier areas were spared the violence and disruption of “the troubles” discussed in earlier posts. The beautiful homes facing the water were much like those in many of the wealthier neighborhoods in the USA.
At one time, oh so many years ago, I could never have imagined that I’d be taking a bus tour. But let me tell you, at this stage in my life, it’s a great way to travel. No getting lost, no speeding tickets, no fruitless searches for rest rooms. It’s all taken care of. All I have to do is sit back, gaze out the window and chat with my fellow travelers.
We really lucked out, with a huge, comfortable bus for only 11 of us, and a delightful driver, Michael, who clearly loves his job. The repartee between Joe and Michael keeps all of us entertained and laughing.
Our drive to Ballycastle was broken up with multiple stops. At the first one, Joe, our guide, pointed out that this white rock is composed of the exact same material as the White Cliffs of Dover. About 350 million years ago, this very rock was being formed somewhere south of the equator. I don’t know about you, but I find that little fact fascinating. I’m sure my geologist neighbor, Ed, would agree. He would undoubtedly have been able to identify the dark streaks in the rock as flint, which was highly prized for its sharpness, and its fire making properties.
Our route along the Antrim coast took us past picturesque little fishing villages like this one.
I loved that the windows of this vacant building were painted to look like they were festooned with flower boxes.
Our final stop before Ballycastle was at the Glenariff Forest Park, which gave us the opportunity to get out of the bus and stroll along the river to our restaurant.
Ballycastle’s Marine Hotel was a bit quirky, but the entire staff was so friendly and accommodating, and the location across from the beach was fantastic.
Because the weather was so wonderful, we couldn’t resist a walk along the beach, before we strolled into town for a delicious and inexpensive dinner at the Anzac Restaurant.
Ballycastle was the perfect jumping off point for the following day’s excursions to Dunluce Castle and The Giants Causeway. Although Dunluce Castle is in ruins, you get a feel for what life was like way back in the 1600’s. The castle was built high on a cliff, surrounded by water, with access only via a drawbridge. Clearly, those were scary times!
Joe quickly figured out that Janet and I are the walkers in this group, so he always made sure to tell us about more challenging hikes. The Giant’s Causeway offers several trails, plus a shuttle bus for those who prefer to ride. We chose the red course, labeled the most difficult, because of the spectacular views Joe promised us. He was right!
Even if you do opt for the easier trail, the scenery is still pretty dramatic, especially if you are intrigued by rocks, volcanic activity and ocean views.
Our last stop in Northern Ireland will be Derry —or Londonderry, if you are aligned with the British, or the Protestants, before heading back into the Republic of Ireland and to our hotel in Donegal.