Sunday, May 3, 2009

I'll take the high road

We leave Belfast and travel up the motorway until we hit the start of the Causeway Coast - an incredibly scenic coastal route that travels up the east coast of Northern Ireland. Our first stop comes partway en-route where we see a sign to the Glenshesk Round Tower. We find it in the yard of a Church of Ireland in misting rain. The church is short and narrow and if the number of cars parked around it are any indication, the congregaton inside must be sitting on each others' laps. The tower is all that remains of a monastery established by a disciple of St Patrick in 460 AD. It certainly pre-dates the church as the graveyard has developed around it. Graves dated back to the late 1700s. We pass through showers for a while and then all of a sudden it is sleeting. Yep, ice falling! Wierd weather.

This coastal area is much like the west coast of Scotland - not surprisingly as on a good day from some spots you can see the Isles of Jura and Islay - LOL, we still can't tear ourselves fully away!! Van parks line the coast like coconut sprinkled on a lamington. Spots and spots and hundreds more - relocatable homes, on site vans, permanent vans, touring vans and motorhomes. You could be mistaken for thinking you were at Budgewoi or Huskisson!

We turn off the main route to Ballintoy Harbour. Yesterday we bought a small book on things to see in Northern Ireland at the Tourist Centre in Belfast and it speaks of this area. We were surprised by the number of people down here as the wind is blowing a gale. Very picturesque right on the coast where basalt folded rocks tell the story of a volcano and earth building long gone. I'm telling you - this photo does not do the weather of today justice - nor the swell! In the fields around here are countless cattle and the sheep. We have amazed before at the load on the blocks and it seems that up here in Northern Ireland where the rain is plentiful it is even more. The lambs are frisky and we watch them playfully jumping around each other like young deer.

We had wanted to go to the Giants Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge today. Silly us, we forgot that it was the May Day long weekend and you should have seen the traffic. Traffic! was likened to the tormented souls in Pieter Bruegel the Elder's' painting - The Triumph of Death; souls who are herded toward an unknown destiny. Well, not that macabre but just as tedious. They were bumper to bumper at a full stop and still a couple of miles from any sort or parking facility or the attraction itself.

In the nearby town of Bushmills there is a different memorial to the fallen right in the centre of the main roundabout; a testimonial to the local Irish who lost their lives needlessly during the Great War. However, what sets this memorial apart from others we have seen is the sculpture: an Irish Fusilier at the charge. The majority of sculptures depict a soldier standing at the last post - head bent and rifle reversed.

Further on we stop at the Old Bushmill's Distillery where the order of the day is Whiskey (and don't insult the Irish by quoting the Scottish whisky!) The Irish Coffee that followed a light lunch was deliciously smooth. And then we go back to take a ride on the Bushmills Railway Steam train around to their stop near the Giant's Causeway. But there is not another train for some time so in the meantime we drive a little further on to Dunluce Castle with its link to the Isle of Islay - Clan Donald.

The history of Dunluce Castle is a story of wealth, war, consolidation, betrayal and finally -destruction. Early records indicate the original fortification being established during the 14th century, within the then Earldom of Ulster. In 1565, the castle was wrestled from the grasp of the McQuillens by one Sorley Boy McDonnell after the Battle of Orla. Anyhow, being a lengthy story we'll leave you to follow the your leisure?

As we drive away from Bushmills on the Causeway Coast route towards Londonderry we get held up in a traffic jam along the foreshore in Portrush that would rival trying to drive in mid-summer along Campbell Parade at Bondi Beach or North Steyne at Manly Beach. In fact, the foreshore of Portrush reminded us of Coogee - pubs; seafood outlets; apartment buildings and concrete!

We are now at Groarty House/Manor B&B on Groarty Lane, Sheriffs Hill in the hills just outside Londonderry where Margaret and John (and their son Stuart who excitedly tells us he turns 12 in 2 days) gave us a very warm welcome. It was so good to get back to a more regular B&B where the house is the family home, and feels like one. Lots of parallels - Stuart, and John before him, is in Scouts, Margaret is into handiwork and none of us can understand young people's need for social networking tools like Twitter! Our room is at the front of the house with wonderful views across Londonderry (herein after referred to as the locals do - as Derry). By night the lights are just amazing.
Margaret points us to Rafters Restaurant about a 3 minute drive away for dinner. A steakhouse that we think has grown out of a pub. The menu has plenty of variety and we settle on:
A shared garlic and cheese breads
Jack Stack Rib Eye (rib eye cooked to your preference [blue] stacked with roasted bell peppers, onion, mozzarella cheese and rich roast herb juices) Michael
Chicken Teriaki (fillets of succulent chicken marinated in their 'secret' Teriaki spices served with a curry mayo) Maria
Tobacco Onions (Michael particularly liked the name!); fresh vegetables consisting of baby carrots and steamed cabbage (...for self propulsion); Parmesan fries.
Banoffi Pie (Maria)
Choc Brownie and cream (Michael)
Apologies for not supplying photos of our meals; we were quite knackered and couldn't be bothered going to the car to retrieve the camera.....

No comments: