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.

Newcastle, Eire

We left Edenderry early morning and headed for the east coast to embark on our counter-clockwise crusade of Eire. We had no accommodation booked, no firm destination. November in Ireland is not a popular time for tourists. We arrived at Warrenpoint around Guinness time and related our previous days escapades to the very friendly barman. He advised us to stick to the coast as, “there is nothing in the middle worth seeing.” Warrenpoint is in Northern Ireland, separated from the Republic by the Newry River. It was the scene of the deadliest attack on the British Army during the 30 year conflict between north and south. Eighteen British soldiers were killed and six seriously injured by two roadside bombs, aimed at their army convoy. The Warrenpoint ambush occurred on the same day, 27 August 1979, that Lord Louis Mountbatten was killed by an IRA bomb aboard his boat at Mullaghmore. The pervasive tranquility belies the violent history, the views across Carlingford Lough were stunning.

1.Warrenpoint looking west2.Warrenpoint Beach looking east

I wouldn’t mind living in one of these apartments.

3.Warrenpoint

The barman suggested staying the night at Newcastle, only twenty miles further up the coast. We called in at the tourist information office for some advice on accommodation. Most of it was quite pricey but there was one hotel that was awaiting star status so, for now, could only be considered one star. We were happy to have a look and found the Avoca Hotel, though not terribly attractive from the outside, was clean and comfortable and they served an amazing breakfast the next morning.

4.The Avoca Hotel

Overlooking Dundrum Bay and the Irish Sea, there were no complaints about the scenery, either.

5.Dundrum Bay

Newcastle became a popular seaside resort in the Victorian era following the arrival of the railway in 1869. The gorgeous buildings along Central Promenade are testament to that time.

6.Central Promenade

They all seemed well cared for, apart from one ‘renovators delight’ in the middle of the row.

7.Central Promenade

The Mourne mountain range, home to Northern Ireland’s highest mountain, Slieve Donard, lends an impressive backdrop to the town.

8.Newcastle, Eire9.Newcastle, Eire10.Newcastle, Eire

As the sun was descending in the western sky,

11.Dundrum Bay

our thoughts turned to refreshments. We had passed a place on the promenade and returned to ponder the menu. O’Hares had a welcoming, rustic atmosphere

and after a Guinness, we advanced upstairs to enjoy a superb meal. On second thought, there may have been more than one Guinness.

15.O'Hare's Guinness

Lough Ree

With two nights accommodation booked at Edenderry, we consulted the map and decided to explore the middle of the island. Scotch whisky has been my favourite tipple for as long as I can remember, although I have never really taken to Irish whiskey. Tullamore distillery was only half an hour away so a perfect opportunity to educate my palate. We enlisted the help of Holly (the satnav) who, true to form, deposited us on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere and declared we had reached our destination. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, we returned to the main road and issued the instructions again. She performed a perfect replay of the first attempt, this time we narrowly missed being flattened by an oncoming truck and we realised Tullamore was not on our agenda after all. Back to the main road, we continued to the town of Athlone. The River Shannon was as grey as the sky

1.Athlone

and, although it is the second most populous town in the Midlands, there didn’t seem to be much happening.

2.Athlone

The 12th century castle was closed for the winter season so we reverted to the usual Plan B – a pint of Guinness and a spot of lunch. After a post prandial stroll through the park,

3.park walk

we followed the river

4.River Shannon

until it became a huge inland lake. Lough Ree (Lake of the Kings) is one of three major lakes on the River Shannon. Thirty-two kilometres long, it is the geographical centre of Ireland.

5.Lough Ree

Myths and legends abound with ghosts of high kings and fallen warriors and, of course, a rumoured lake monster lurking beneath the depths.

6.Lough Ree

Small lakeside towns were picturesque in their autumn colours,

7.Lough Ree

though the marina lay empty, perhaps awaiting some warmer weather.

8.Lough Ree

Lough Ree is dotted with small islands, many have ancient ruins of monastic sites from the middle ages.

9.Lough Ree island

It is believed that when out on the water, the eyes of ancient monks peer through the mist and linger in the air. I was pleased to be safely on land.

10.Lough Ree islands

We left Lough Ree and returned to Edenderry for another superb meal and a pint at Larkins.

11.Lough Ree

introduction to Ireland

On a grey, drizzly November day, we sadly farewelled England to spend the last 12 days of our holiday in Ireland. We had heard so much about the beauty and verdancy of the landscape, we were eager to see for ourselves. We wanted to avoid staying in the big cities on our trip to the U.K. and had managed to do it well so far. Rather than stay in Dublin, we had a B&B booked in Edenderry, about 60km inland. With time on our side, we thought it might be nice to spend a few hours in Dublin before heading west. The Tourist Information Office seemed like a sensible place to start so, after collecting the hire car, we set the satnav to assist us. After a few minutes, it became apparent we were driving back toward the airport and we were shortly informed we had reached our destination on the left!

1.Tourist Information Dublin

The Irish are well known for their humour but we didn’t think it had been programmed into the GPS (which, incidentally, we named Holly. Anyone who has seen ‘Red Dwarf’ will understand). We found our own way into Dublin without assistance but, I must admit, our hearts weren’t really in it. The overcast sky didn’t help, casting a gloomy pall over the city. We wandered along the River Liffey, admiring the beautiful Georgian architecture lining its banks. The Ha’penny Bridge, officially known as the Liffey Bridge, was built in 1816 to replace the seven ferries that crossed the river. The ferries had fallen into disrepair and the operator, William Walsh, was ordered to fix them or build a bridge. To compensate for lost income from the ferries, a ha’penny toll was charged to anyone crossing the bridge for the first 100 years.

2.The Ha'penny Bridge

The Ha’penny was the only pedestrian bridge across the river until the Millennium Bridge was installed in December 1999 to, obviously, commemorate the new millennium. The bridge further upstream was originally built in 1676, then known as Essex Bridge. Over the years, flood damage and pier collapses meant a rebuild and in 1874 the bridge re-opened as Grattan Bridge.

3.Millenium Bridge and Grattan Bridge

The main thoroughfare is downstream from the Ha’penny Bridge. Built between 1791-1794, the bridge was originally named Carlisle Bridge, a very impressive granite structure with a stone balustrade. The bridge was reconstructed and widened between 1877-1880 and re-opened in 1882 as O’Connell Bridge.

4.O'Connell Bridge

Not really knowing what else to do, we opted for a quick Guinness before making our way to Edenderry.

5.Ha'penny Bridge Inn

After navigating endless roadworks, we arrived at our B&B, Auburn Lodge, relieved to be back in the open air.

6.Auburn Lodge, Edenderry

We had seen signage for The Grand Canal and decided a walk was just what we needed. The canal was completed in 1804, connecting Dublin, 124km through the midlands, to the River Shannon. Closed to commercial traffic in 1951, the canal is now popular for recreational use.

7.Grand Canal, Edenderry

Edenderry is the home of the first car manufactured in Ireland in 1907, the Alesbury. There were very few cars built in Ireland, I wonder if this was one of them?

8.car wreck Grand Canal, Edenderry

The path closed in, surrounded by lovely autumn hues and falling leaves

9.Grand Canal walk, Edenderry10.Grand Canal walk, Edenderry

before returning to the water. Old stone bridges dotted the canal, more reminders of a bygone era.

11.Grand Canal, Edenderry

Refreshed by our walk, there was only one way to end the day. A short stroll into town on a crisp, clear evening for a fabulous meal at Larkins

12.Larkins, Edenderry

and, of course, a Guinness or two.

13.Larkins, Edenderry