The Beauty that is Ireland
They say mother earth is breathing
With each wave that finds the shore
Her soul rises in the evening
For to open twilights door
Her eyes are the stars in heaven
Watching o’er us all the while
And her heart it is in Ireland
Deep within the Emerald Isle
That song by Garth Brooks exemplifies the beauty that is Ireland. And on a weekend break from work, hubby and I travelled to visit Northern Ireland to see as much as we could off the perennial must see list.
Instead of staying in Belfast, we opted to stay at a cosy B&B in the Bushmills region of County Antrim that was equidistant to most of the attractions we wanted to see. It was lovely, and really Irish, even if it was just my imagination on the lilting Irish tone. 😉
1. Titanic museum
My Hubby writes, having been an avid Titanic enthusiast since my childhood there was only one thing we would do when we reached Belfast, ‘The Titanic Museum’. Seeing where this magnificent ship was born was a dream come true. The museum’s exterior is built to represent the size of the Titanic. We opted to do ‘The Titanic experience’ tour.
The information available from the plans of Harland and Wolff for the Titanic to its unique and grandeur design all through to its premature unthinkable end it absolutely mind blowing. Not to mention the many conspiracy theories surrounding the actual sinking. The life size reconstruction of various parts of the ship as well as the projected images makes the experience a bit surreal and realistic at the same time.
Dry Dock and Pump House
Once out of the building just to the rear were the very slipways that the Titanic and her sister ships Olympic and Britannic were launched from, now concreted over. We then walk about a kilometre or so from the building to where the Pump house and dry dock are located. Only now does the actual size of the Titanic hit me. It’s one thing to know the dimensions of the ship but it’s completely another to see the dry docks where it once stood and be astonished at it. After all we are talking about a ship that was built in 1911, 106 years ago. (launched 31st May 1911, completed 02nd April 1912).
The dry dock holds 21 Million Gallons of Water which can be emptied in under 2 hours. Standing at the bottom knowing that all that is between you and 21 million Gallons of water is a very rusty looking gate is a bit unnerving.
Another great option while you’re in Belfast is going on one of the Game of Thrones tours from Belfast. Have you tried them?
2. Dunluce Castle
After the Titanic, driving to Portrush we stumbled across this ruin built right on the cliff face. Although a lot of it now lies in ruin, Dunluce Castle still creates a magnificent silhouette against the sea.
According to legend, part of the kitchen next to the cliff face collapsed into the sea with one sole survivor, the kitchen boy, escaping from this disaster.
We walked around where remnants of the kitchen are still there. (The same one, who knows?)
The Northern wall did collapse into the sea, but luckily for us the rest remains; and leaves much to the imagination as to what this castle looked like in its original glory.
The view of the coastline from Dunluce towards Portrush was quite similar to the view from Carrick-a-Rede the next day.
3. Portrush and the Annual Air show
Portrush is a small seaside resort town in Country Antrim. We were lucky enough to stumble across this beautiful seaside town during their annual air show. Although the weather didn’t play along, we still managed to see helicopters shooting flares, Gliders landing on the beach, Wing Walkers, WW2 airplanes and to finish it off, it could only be the Red Arrows.
55 degrees north
Once you’ve completed your rounds of Portrush, why not stop by at 55 Degrees North. It’s a family run restaurant, with awesome views of the North Atlantic Ocean. They have a diverse menu with something for everyone. I do highly recommend booking a table in advance. Or if you, like us, stumble across here on an airshow day, get here when the doors open since the queue starts forming long before and the restaurant fills up quickly. Well naturally, the food at this family restaurant overlooking East Strand Beach that was established in 2005 is as good as it gets.
With a plan to visit Bushmills distillery the next day, we stayed at Lismar B&B in Bushmills that came very highly recommended, especially with full Irish breakfast. Plus, it meant that we could simply walk over to the distillery the next day and not have to compromise on tasting the delights held within.
4. Old Bushmills distillery
As the world’s oldest running whiskey distillery established in 1608, and as whiskey lovers, Bushmills was second on the to do list (for my husband, first on mine). Due to the limited time we had, we opted to do the early morning tour.
It was quite early for us, but as we were walking around we noticed that nothing was running. After raising this concern with our tour guide he pointed out that the staff were on their break. I didn’t want to ask what time they started as I already felt foolish. So, with that I would recommend enquiring about the operation of the factory when you book your tour to avoid going during their breaks.
After sampling the goods, you are then left with the difficult choice of purchasing your poison. The difficult part being how many bottles can you fit into your luggage to take home. I highly recommend getting the 12-year-old Bushmills Whiskey which you can only purchase at the distillery, and can also be customised with a personal message. A great 30th Birthday gift for the man in your life, even if he’s right alongside you when you buy it. 😉
5. The Giant’s Causeway
Once you complete your tour of the Old Bushmills Distillery, it’s good to continue your walk into the centre of Bushmills where there is a free shuttle bus service to the fascinating Giant’s Causeway. Once at the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre, there is a host of informative and interactive exhibits on display. We pondered on doing the walk ourselves, but opted to do a guided tour instead.
We were glad we made that decision as our tour guide was very passionate about his job, full of life and exuberant whilst bringing to life the legends behind the Giant’s Causeway. Beats reading about it any day.
We then check out of our B&B and drive to Carrick-a-Rede before starting the journey back to Belfast.
6. Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge
15 minutes away is the Carrick-a-Rede Island, which can be accessed by the short Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge.
It’s quite a scenic 3 mile drive getting from Bushmills to here. Once there, it’s a short walk to the bridge itself where fishermen once put their lives at risk whilst fishing for salmon.
The man at the ticket counter was kind enough to tell us about the chiselled cliff face on our right. Those rocks were cut centuries ago and shipped across to Scotland where they were used to pave the Royal Mile and streets in Edinburgh (not sure if this is true).
It’s about 20 meters across to Carrick-a-Rede Island and can be a bit scary when the wind picks up, especially if you’re just reaching the middle of the rope bridge. Or if you have that one person who always has to rock the bridge right behind you.
Luckily it wasn’t busy when we went, so we took turns to walk across the bridge instead. We could see the beautiful green water below.
Once across we could see the salmon fisherman’s cottage, but couldn’t enter as it was closed that day. Probably as it was super windy that day.
7. Coastal route back to Belfast
With a few hours to kill before our flight back we elected to take the scenic A2 road back to Belfast. This road follows the coastline from Cushendall and gives you great views across the ocean.
Up until Cushendall, the road follows a more inland route, but gives you opportunities to venture off to see places like Torr Head from which on a clear day you can see the coast line of Scotland.
These two days in Northern Ireland were perfect. If you haven’t been there yet, you should. If you have, tell me, would you have done it any different?