Last Sunday we boarded the overnight ferry from Birkenhead to Belfast to take a few days holiday in Northern Ireland. It’s probably not the most obvious place for a holiday, particularly given recent history. But things have moved on. Some parts of the region have become popular – the Giant’s Causeway and parts of the Antrim coast in particular, and the region hasn’t been slow in capitalising on the popularity of the Games of Thrones TV series which used a number of locations in Northern Ireland and on the fact that the Titanic was built at the Harland and Wolff shipyards in Belfast. However, much of the countryside remains relatively unknown and unexplored by tourists from Britain.
(By Andrein – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6244638)
I’d been to Northern Ireland a couple of times – flying visits, literally – for meetings but had not had much chance to look around. But brief views from the windows of cars and planes made me want to see more. So we booked an overnight ferry out and back and four nights in hotels – 2 north east of Belfast and 2 at the south end of Strangford Lough – which gave us 5 full days to explore. I consulted a friend beforehand to get some ideas when planning our visit but we decided to base the trip mainly around the National Trust sites which are scattered across the region. It was a grey start on the Monday, although it brightened up a the day went on. Tuesday was something of a washout, but didn’t spoil the day. Overall, we were lucky with the weather with the Wednesday and Thursday being warm and sunny.
We discovered some beautiful country and the visit also confirmed what I already knew – the people are extremely friendly, helpful and welcoming.
Arriving in a grey Belfast at the unearthly hour of 6:30 we disembarked by 7 and set off towards the north coast, intending to visit the Giant’s Causeway . We had some breakfast at a motorway services north west of Belfast before driving up past Antrim and Ballymena to Ballycastle before turning west along the coast road.
First stop was White Park Bay, a section of the north coast owned by the National Trust
It’s a spectacular white, sandy beach between two headlands, backed by ancient dunes. Despite the grey skies it was very attractive. Photos really can’t do it justice. Scotland is quite close and from the viewpoint on the cliffs above the bay we could just about make out Islay and Jura on the horizon. We parked up and took the path through the dunes down on to the beach.
and a couple of heavily laden walkers making their way across the sand.
We stopped to chat for a short while. They were a young French couple who were trekking along the Antrim coast.
At the far west end of the bay, huddled in a rocky bay below the cliffs, there’s a small village, Portbraddan, which translates as “Port of the Salmon”.
Dark clouds had started to drift over from the north west so it was time to head back tot he car. The sun in the south east, however, was lighting up the whitewashed houses in the village as well as the cliffs and the sand, making for a dramatic view and photograph opportunity.
The rain came in but we were soon back into the car and heading through the showers towards our next stop – the Giant’s Causeway.