Dunluce Castle

The light was beginning to fade as we left the Giant’s Causeway and we had yet to find accommodation for the night. Heading to Portrush to do just that, we diverted to investigate Dunluce Castle. The ruins of the medieval castle perch precariously on the edge of a cliff and are reached by a bridge connecting it to safer ground.

1.Dunluce Castle

The first castle at Dunluce was built in the 13th century by the 2nd Earl of Ulster. In the 16th century, Sorley Boy McDonnell arrived from Scotland and based himself at Dunluce Castle, consolidating his territories in both Ireland and Scotland.

2.Dunluce Castle3.Dunluce Castle

He certainly couldn’t complain about the view.

4.Dunluce Castle

There is a pathway leading down to the cove, looking back at the castle gives a rather startling perspective.

6.Dunluce Castle7.Dunluce Castle

There is a story that the castle was abandoned in the 17th century after the kitchen , along with the kitchen staff, fell into the sea when the cliff face collapsed. It’s easy to believe but apparently a myth, as paintings from the 18th and early 19th centuries show that end of the castle intact.

8.Dunluce Castle

There are caves under the castle, although we didn’t venture that far.

9.Dunluce Castle10.Dunluce Castle

The north wall of the residence building collapsed into the sea sometime in the 18th century, I wonder how long before this one follows?

11.Dunluce Castle

Giant’s Causeway

The Giant’s Causeway was discovered by the Bishop of Derry in 1692 and much debate ensued as to the origin of this amazing phenomenon.

1.Giant's Causeway

One theory was that it was created by an Irish giant called Finn MacCool who was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Finn built the causeway across the North Channel to meet his foe but he chickened out when he saw the size of the Scot. Instead, he disguised himself as his own son. Benandonner took fright at the thought of just how big his rival must be and retreated to Scotland, destroying the causeway as he went. The mystery was solved in 1771 when French geologist, Nicolas Desmarest, announced the structure was the result of volcanic activity around 60 million years ago. Almost 40,000 basalt columns were created as the molten lava cooled, forming a pavement from the cliff to the sea.

2.Giant's Causeway

Most of the columns are hexagonal,

3.Giant's Causeway

the tallest being around 12 metres high.

4.Giant's Causeway5.Giant's Causeway

Some of the formations have been named after objects they resemble. In the distance are the Chimney Stacks and about two thirds along the cliff to the right, the Organ Pipes.

6.Chimney Stacks

There was a lot more to see along the Giant’s Causeway Walk but unfortunately, it was too late in the day to tackle that. I was happy just to be standing in this spectacular location,

7.Giant's Causeway

Michael was a little more adventurous.

8.Giant's Causeway

Causeway Coast

The coast of Northern Ireland has some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. The present coast road was engineered in the 1830s and is now known as the Causeway Coastal Route, 190km hugging the Atlantic Coast from Belfast to Londonderry. Amidst the geology and greenery, there was the unexpected. Just before we reached Ballygally, a very happy bear appeared out of nowhere. The origin of the polar bear persona is unknown but every year, the locals touch up the paint and ensure his smile never fades.

1.Bear Rock

The village of Ballygally nestles along the shore of Ballygally Bay.

2.Ballygally

At the head of the bay, Ballygally Castle has an interesting history. Built in 1625 by Scotsman James Shaw, it would have been surrounded by four walls and withstood several incursions during the 1642 rebellion. It remained in the Shaw family into the 1800s and then passed through a few different families. In the 1950s, an entrepreneur bought, refurbished and opened the castle as a hotel and further development in 1966 created the hotel as it is now. Reputed to be one of the most haunted places in Ulster, there are a number of resident ghosts. The most active is Lady Isobel Shaw who had been starved and locked in her room by her husband. Tragically, she fell to her death from the window. She now has a habit of knocking on the doors of the rooms and disappearing.

3.Ballygally

The rest of the houses around the bay look very peaceful and undisturbed.

4.Ballygally5.Ballygally

Looking out to sea, The Maidens are visible 9km offshore. The two lighthouses date back to 1829, the lighthouse keepers and their families lived for a year at a time on these islets. The isolation was no obstacle to romance; in the 1830s, the assistant keeper of one lighthouse fell in love with the daughter of the keeper of the other. He often visited by boat until the families had a falling out and her father forbade them to meet. They found a solution, they eloped to Carrickfergus. No longer inhabited, the West Maiden was abandoned in 1903 and the East Maiden was automated in 1977.

6.The Maidens

The Mull of Kintyre broke the horizon, only 10km from the coast of County Antrim.

7.Mull of Kintyre from Glenarm

It was a pleasure to drive the coastal road surrounded by mountains to the left and ocean to the right. This fence line reminded me of Michael’s engineering feats when we lived in the Adelaide Hills.

8.Ballycastle

The next town was Ballycastle,

9.Ballycastle

the sunlight through the clouds illuminated the clifftops of Fairhead.

10.Fair Head

Rising 196 metres above the bay, Ballycastle’s headland formed as a result of volcanic activity 60 million years ago. The upper half of the cliff is composed of gigantic columns of dolerite up to 12 metres in diameter.

11.Fair Head

Further up the coast, rocky islands are scattered throughout the waters of Larrybane Bay.

12.Larrybane Bay

The dolerite cliffs of Sheep Island were magnificent.

13.Sheep Island, Larrybane Bay copy

Remnants of old machinery remain on Stackaboy Island from the days when dolerite was carried on overhead lines to the island and then loaded onto steamboats for the trip to Scotland.

14.Stackaboy Island, Larrybane Bay

I had mentally prepared myself for the heart-stopping walk across the rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede, not realising it was another icon that closed down for the winter season. First erected by salmon fishermen in 1755, the 20 metre long bridge is suspended 30 metres above the sea. The waters around Carrick Island were teeming with salmon migrating to the North Atlantic and the fishermen would walk the bridge in all weather and return with their catch. Whether due to changing migratory patterns or over-fishing of the area, there are now very few salmon left and the tradition ended in 2002. Carrick Island is the first bump from the headland (it looks attached from this angle).

15.Carrick Island, Larrybane Bay

These photos may look familiar to anyone who watches Game of Thrones, much of the filming took place along the Causeway Coast.

Carrickfergus

Travelling north from Belfast, we followed the coast to Carrickfergus, hoping to explore the magnificent Norman castle perched on the northern edge of Belfast Lough.

1.east side & keep

We were once again disappointed to find, not only was it closed for the winter season, the imposing entrance was covered, undergoing restoration.

2.entrance under repair3.west side

In 1177, Sir John de Courcy, an Anglo-Norman knight, decided he wanted some lands for himself. He gathered a small army and headed to northern Ireland. After a few battles along the way, he conquered eastern Ulster and built the castle as his headquarters. Strategically placed, surrounded almost entirely by water, the fortress has withstood invasion by the Scottish, Irish, English and French over the centuries. No wonder there is always someone on guard.

4.soldier

We would have liked to wander around the castle and the historical displays that are housed within. We had to settle for a glimpse of the 17th century cannons just visible along the battlements.

5.cannons6.cannon

Belfast

We had a lot of ground to cover after leaving Newcastle, and so spent only a brief time in Belfast. The inclement weather didn’t encourage us to explore too far but what we did see was extraordinary. Founded in 1868, this fabulous wedge-shaped building was originally called the Shakespeare, the clientele mostly from the theatre. We should have ventured inside Bittles Bar but it was a bit early for a pint, even for us. The traditional Victorian Bar is apparently adorned with interesting artwork and portraits of Ireland’s literary and sporting heroes.

1.Bittles Bar

Adjacent to Bittles Bar was a rather ornate bright yellow drinking fountain. The Jaffe Memorial fountain was erected in 1874 by Otto Jaffe, Belfast’s first and only Jewish Lord Mayor, to commemorate his father. Daniel Joseph Jaffe was a merchant from Hamburg who came to Belfast in 1850 and set up a linen export business. He was quite the philanthropist, funding the building of Belfast’s first synagogue and Otto followed in his footsteps, giving much to the community. This is without doubt the most spectacular drinking fountain I have ever seen.

2.Jaffe Memorial fountain

I did not expect to see a giant Ferris wheel in the centre of the city. Belfast’s answer to the London Eye, the Belfast Wheel opened in 2007. There was much controversy over the location of the wheel, it had been built around and on top of the Titanic Memorial on the grounds of Belfast City Hall. Following objections from the Belfast Titanic Society and the Environmental Agency, the Belfast Wheel closed for business in April 2010.

3.The Belfast Wheel

The criticism was based on the location, not the wheel itself, it had proved to be a great tourist attraction. It did seem out of place next to the majestic City Hall for which planning began in 1888 after Belfast was awarded city status by Queen Victoria and construction was completed in 1906. Built mainly from Portland stone, it covers an area of one and a half acres. The four copper-coated corner towers and central dome are the distinctive green seen on other Victorian buildings.

4.Belfast City Hall

The 53 metre lantern-crowned central dome dominates the city skyline.

5.Belfast City Hall

There was so much more to see in Belfast, we may have to return one day.