Friday, 6 December 2013

Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty - The Coastal Causeway Route

Brace yourself for a massively long post...

Northern Ireland, especially the Coastal Causeway Route, is one of the most outstandingly beautiful places on earth (in my humble opinion). 

Our driving expedition started in Belfast where we made our way to Londonderry via the Coastal Causeway Route. 

The Coastal Causeway Route

Our first stop was at Carrickfergus Castle. Mel, Tim and I had an amazing time exploring the 800 year old history of the castle.

Carrickfergus Castle

Surveying my lands

Tim getting ready for a fight

Apparently Mel was on the other side!
Carrickfergus has been in the hands of the Scots, Irish, English and the French (the old castle gets around!) and was used during the First and Second World Wars as a garrison and an air raid shelter respectively. 

After spending about 2 or so hours in the castle we finally started on our way toward Bushmills.

The scenery along the coastal roads are amazing. Here are a few shots taken during the car ride.

We ended up getting a wee bit lost trying to find the hostel in the dark as it wasn't really signposted all that well. 
The hostel we stayed at (TripAdvisor reviews found here) was called Finn McCool's Hostel.
Us three were the only ones staying that Friday night so we were offered a free meal of spicy Pork belly. The meal, served with veg, was DELICIOUS! But, even if it wasn't, who can pass up a free meal?! 
William and Irene made us feel very welcome and just like a family we played a game of darts to see who would end up with the dishes.

I am sure all of my housemates in London will be very surprised to see this bloke at the sink!
Dart game loser!

One of the main tourist attractions along the Coastal Causeway is the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. 
The bridge is 20 metres across and 30 metres high above some real nasty looking rocks.

Tim looking back at the rope bridge
Now, I am possibly a wee bit (read: shitloads) scared of heights. So, naturally, I needed proof that I am actually amazing! Luckily, the National Trust offers Completion Certificates for just a £1!! 

damn proud of my achievement!

The bridge is open all year round, depended on weather, for about £6. 

Next on our to do list was the Old Bushmills Distillery.
You can't go to Northern Ireland and not go see how whiskey is made. 

 The Old Bushmills Distillery produces single malt whiskey, which means that the WHOLE FRICKEN PROCESS happens in the one place. It is also one of the oldest distilleries in the world.
The tour goes for around 40 minutes. Unfortunately it is a bit loud inside the factory so it is difficult to hear, but on the plus side a shot of whiskey is included at the end of the tour!

12 year old Irish whiskey
I tried the 12 year old Irish whiskey, which you can only buy on the premises, but as I am not much of a spirits drinker, it didn't go down all that well - however it did taste quite delicious mixed with Coke!

The night before I did enjoy a nice drop of Bushmills Irish Honey Whiskey, compliments of William (who pretty much poured the bottle down our throats!) Again mixed with Coke. 

The Distillery tour was a good experience, but I probably wouldn't recommend it for anyone who wasn't all that interested in the makings of whiskey. 

Next on the to-do list was the Giant's Causeway.
Even in December there were quite a few tourists around. 
Tim at the top of the Causeway
 The Giant's Causeway was made a UNESCO world heritage site in 1986 and it the most popular tourist attraction in Northern Ireland. 

Now, who hear is a Game of Thrones fan?

You might recognise this avenue - 

The Dark Hedges is seen in the scene (see what I did there?) where Arya, dressed as a boy, escapes King's Landing. 

House of Greyjoy

Dunluce Castle is represented as the seat of Greyjoy on the Iron Islands. 

The final attraction we saw before hitting our destination of (London)derry was Downhill Demesne and Mussenden Temple. 

Downhill House

Mussenden Temple
The first photo is of Downhill House. Now, by looking at that it seems that the old digs had been in ruins for years! However, it's last occupation was during World War II - just over 60 years ago!
The temple was built by the Earl in memory of his cousin. It was actually used as a library (my kind of place) and back in the day a horse and carriage could make it's full way around the temple. 
Unfortunately, with erosion of the coast, you can barely fit two feet across on the coastal side!

Have you traveled the Coastal Causeway Route? What was your favourite experience?

The Belfast Black Taxi Tour Experience

I just recently returned from an amazing 6 day holiday to the Emerald Isle. 

Myself, and two of my housemates Mel and Tim, decided that we would embark on a P.I.Y (Plan It Yourself). And I must admit, Mel and I planned an awesome adventure! 

Scouring Skyscanner for some cheap flights, we found an Aer Lingus and a return on EasyJet for £30 each. 

One of the things we decided to do (after getting ourselves settled in the hostel) was a Black Taxi Tour.

Our hostel booked our tour for us and we were lucky enough to get Paddy Kane, who has been on 60 Minutes! (Claim to fame!)
Besides a brief interlude in Liverpool, Paddy has lived in West Belfast all of his life and lived through the Troubles he gave a great insight as to what really went on. 

The first stop we made was to see a fence. 

This isn't an ordinary fence. It is known as the Peace Line and it separates the Catholics from the Protestants. As an Australian who doesn't practice religion (besides the obligatory Christmas and Easter church visits) it's kind of like, Catholics/Protestants - pretty much the same thing! But the issues went well deeper than just a religious thing. The way it was explained to me, I found it to be more of an Irish/British thing (Catholics on the Irish side, and the Protestants on the British side). 

What was interesting was that there was a linen factory built in the middle of the Peace Line, with entrances on both sides, and women working there who became the best of friends. 
However if a Protestant woman came across a Catholic work colleague on the street, they would be ignored for fear of family or friends seeing them getting 'friendly with the enemy'. 

Next we stopped on the Falls Road to view some of the Catholic murals displayed. 

This mural was my favourite. In July 1970, after a gun battle between the local youths and the British Army, the army imposed a curfew giving permission to shoot dead anyone who left their house. 
Two days later the curfew was broken by 3000 women from another area of Belfast marching into the area, pushing strollers and carrying fresh milk and groceries. 

In the '70s the IRA (Irish Republican Army) decided that a better way to make change come about was through the political route. Probably one of the most famous IRA members to join British Parliament is Bobby Sands.

In 1977 Sands was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment for his involvement in a gun battle with the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).

In prison Sands became Commander of the rest of the IRA jailbirds and they organised a series of protests to regain 'Special Category Status'. 
First the 'Blanket Protest', beginning in 1976 where prisoners refused to wear any prison clothes and went about in blankets instead. 
This didn't work so in 1978 the 'Dirty Protest' begun. The prisoners refused to empty their chamber pots or to wash AND they smeared all their poo on the walls. 
Again, this didn't work. 
In 1981 the 'Hunger Strike' began. 

During his time of starvation Sands was narrowly voted in to the House of Parliament. Unfortunately he died a month later of starvation.

Needless to say, the Brits quickly introduced the Representation of the People Act 1981 barring people who served prison time of more than 1 year in the UK or Ireland to be nominated as candidates for election. 

Moving to the other side of the wall we saw more murals that had a definite Loyalist attachment.
This bloke, Stevie McKeag, was a member of the Ulster Defence Army (UDA) and the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF). 
Stevie was the commander of a hit squad and he was responsible for at least 12 killings. Most were civillian Catholics, including one pharmacy-shop girl who he shot in the face 5 times, as well as Republicans.

The tour stopped at many more places, but for me, these were the highlights. 

For anyone travelling to Belfast I would HIGHLY recommend doing a Black Taxi Tour.

me, Paddy, Tim and Mel

All of the tour guides are very passionate about their jobs and Paddy threw in a couple of jokes to make you feel very comfortable. 
Tours can be booked through or give Paddy a call on 07 779 928 135 (UK number). 

If you are a little bit worried about getting caught up in any of the ongoing issues, Belfast is one of the safest cities in Europe! 

Have you done the Black Taxi Tour? Would you recommend it?