Shamrocker All Ireland Rocker Day 2: Dunluce Castle

After wearing ourselves out wandering around Giant’s Causeway, our guide Dave and driver Fred took us on one last adventure before we headed to our stop for the night in Derry. Our second stop of Day 2¬†just happened to be what I’d been waiting to see the most on this vacation – a¬†castle!

Dunluce Castle is not just any castle. It is hauntingly beautiful, with what remains of its towers and structure on the edge of a cliff! It’s exactly what you expect from a trip to Ireland!

Hauntingly beautiful ruins of Dunluce Castle

At first sight, my heart soared and I almost forgot about my leg pain, windswept hair and windswept face! The ruins are in the most beautiful setting: green grass, rolling waves below, rain swept sky above – what more could you ask for in a castle setting?!

The landscape sure adds to the beauty of this castle!

We didn’t get much background on Dunluce Castle because our stop wasn’t for very long. The castle is¬†located on the edge of a basalt outcropping in County Antrim. It is not a very far drive from Giant’s Causeway and is an easy stop if you want to do both sites on the same day!¬†If you are travelling alone and without a guide, it is possible to actually go inside the castle ruins. It costs¬†¬£5.00 for an adult and you get to go inside and explore what is left of the rooms! I was sad we didn’t have time to go in, but again, this is another reason for us to return to Ireland!

The bridge is the only way to get into the Castle nowadays

Dunluce Castle has a very long and tumultuous history, much like Ireland itself. I won’t go into very much detail because of the many layers behind its ownership but I will say: like with any Irish story, there, of course, is an element of myth¬†and folklore!

A strategic and epic setting for a castle!

It is said the castle was originally built in the 1500’s¬†by the Irish noble Richard √ďg de Burgh, with a¬†written record in 1513. The earliest features of the castle were two drum towers, which were up to 9 meters high. In the 1550’s, the castle was taken over by the MacDonnell clan who:

set about stamping their mark on the castle under the leadership of the famous warrior chieftain Sorely Boy MacDonnell during an era of violence, intrigue and rebellion.

In the 17th century, the castle became the seat for the Earls of Antrim, which led to the establishment of a small town in 1608.

One of the remaining walls

There are many tales and legends of ghostly beings that have made this castle home.¬†One such story is that of the Banshee that haunts Dunluce Castle. She is Maeve Roe, thought to be the only daughter of Lord MacQuillan. Legend goes that Maeve refused to marry the man her father had found for her and was instead in love with another, Reginald O’Cahan. Her father then locked her up in one of the castle turrets and every night she looked out from her prison to the sea in hopes that Reginald would come for her.

On a stormy night, he did come:

With the wind whistling through the battlements and beating against the thick stone walls the couple secretly fled the fortress. Into the cold night air they descended to a large cave that opened in the rocks below Dunluce.  Their spirits high the two lovers set out in a small boat to cross the turbulent seas towards the seaside settlement of Portrush (Irish-Port Rois).

Sadly, they didn’t survive the storm and sank to the bottom of the sea. Maeve’s spirit is said to never have left the castle. She supposedly haunts what is known as the MacQuillan tower. Travelers often hear her shrieks and those who have heard the tale¬†before, know that it is Maeve’s:

soul forever looking out across the sea from her prison tower, searching for a rescue that will never come.”

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Is this Maeve’s Tower? It sure is eerie enough!

Sad story indeed! There are many of the like that go along with the castle, including one regarding the kitchens, but I’ll let you all learn about that on your own. ūüėČ

The cave in Maeve’s tragic tale¬†may be this one we saw here, as we explored the ruins around Dunluce Castle:

Could this be the cave Maeve and Reginald sought refuge in?!

We didn’t go down, and it didn’t look very safe, but there were people who went and it sure looked like an adventure and a splendid view from below!

The castle served as the seat of the Earls of Antrim until about 1690 when the MacDonnell’s were left impoverished. Since then it has began to deteriorate. It’s interesting how what is now just a rock facade can have so much history and folklore behind it!

The architecture is amazing and even this original archway is a perfect frame to the sea beyond:

Wonderful piece of architecture leading to a glorious view of the Sea!

For anybody who is a Chronicles of Narnia fan, it is said that Dunluce Castle was the inspiration for Cair Paravel! It has also been used in several music videos and CD covers over the years. And more recently, it stands in as the House of Greyjoy in a little TV show called Game of Thrones. Its amazing setting is obviously the reason for its popularity!!!

Sadly, our time at Dunluce Castle had come to an end and we started walking back up the steps to our bus, but not before snapping a couple more shots of the beautiful landscape.

Leaving Dunluce’s beautiful view behind!

Being a romantic on the inside, my imagination continued to go wild with all the possible stories that may have happened at Dunluce Castle! I’m so glad we made the stop as this was one of my favourite locations in all of Ireland.

Have you read the Kitchen Tale? Can you spot the remains in the Sea?!

Now we started to make our way to the town of Derry! Stay tuned for more about its turbulent past and hopeful future!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie
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Shamrocker All Ireland Rocker Day 2: Giant’s Causeway

As day 2 started, we found ourselves having to leave beautiful, quaint little Ballintoy. For me, this little town stole my heart! It was exactly what I was hoping to see in Ireland and much more. It had beautiful scenery, great food ‚̧ – never mind having a whole bunch of Game of Thrones filming locations to explore!

Even as we left, Ballintoy didn’t disappoint. The sunrise was amazing, to say the least. Look at the green – Ireland isn’t called the Emerald Isle for no reason!

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A Stunning Ballintoy Sunrise

Those rolling hills, sheep (I have come to love sheep), and dramatic coastlines made us want to return to Ballintoy ASAP!!

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Little Ballintoy Looking Beautiful in the Early Morning Light

Crossing our fingers that the weather would keep, our guide Dave and driver Fred herded us onto the bus (after taking a million pictures of that sunrise) and we made our way¬†across County Antrim to one of Northern Ireland’s most popular tourist destinations: Giant’s Causeway! Laced with both geological wonders¬†and Irish Legend, Giant’s Causeway was an amazing experience.

A little background on Giant’s Causeway: As of 1986, Giant’s Causeway was designated as a World Heritage Site protected by UNESCO and as of 1987, it became a national nature reserve! It’s great to know that sites like this will be protected and preserved for future generations to see.

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The Giant’s Causeway Coastline

Once our bus made it down the winding road, we disembarked and again we were given a time frame and free rein as to how we wanted to explore. The tickets to the Giant’s Causeway were included in our All Ireland Rocker tour price so we did not have to pay anything at the gates. If you are travelling on your own, it costs¬†¬£9.00 for an adult to enter. The price includes “access to the new Visitor Centre, use of outdoor audio guide, orientation leaflet and parking.”

Tip: It’s really important to take the outdoor audio guide so you know where you are going and you can hear the legend that goes along with the name of Giant’s Causeway. ūüėČ

Note: The Causeway is a bit of a walk from the visitor center. If you do not want to walk to the Grand Causeway,¬†you can take a bus from the Visitor’s Centre down to the water and back.

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You Have the Option of Taking the Bus Down!

As we walked out of the Visitor’s Centre with our audio guides, sadly the weather turned. Thank goodness it wasn’t pouring rain (we would eventually find that Irish and Scottish rain is much different than Vancouver rain) but it did start to drizzle as we headed out for our walk. Being from “Raincouver”, we were used to rain and it didn’t stop us from having a grand adventure!

**TIP: Remember to bring rain gear and a windproof jacket as the Causeway does get very windy! AND don’t forget those comfy walking shoes because this will definitely be another Leg Day!**

Our guide Dave gave us a very helpful hint: we were told to do the red trail backwards! Instead of following the maps and doing the trails the way they recommend, we did the red trail (the middle hardest) from the tail end.

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This actually saved us a lot of time and effort. With Giant’s Causeway, there is a lot of walking (Legs Day #2!)¬†and with the red trail, there are A LOT of stairs to climb up and go down. By doing the red trail backwards, instead of climbing the 162 “Shepherd’s Steps”, we descended them!

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Steep Shepherd’s Steps – To Think Farmer’s Had to Carry their Sheep Up! Can you spot the Amphitheater, in the top right hand corner of the photo?

Exploring the scenery before us was breathtaking at every turn! We stopped every few minutes to take pictures. And behind every corner, there was another story from the Legend that explained the fascinating geological landscape before us. I don’t want to give away much of the Legend so you can hear it for yourself when you visit but the basic idea is this:

“According to¬†legend, the columns are the remains of a¬†causeway¬†built by a giant. The story goes that the Irish giant¬†Fionn mac Cumhaill¬†(Finn MacCool), from the¬†Fenian Cycle¬†of Gaelic mythology, was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Fionn accepted the challenge and built the causeway across the¬†North Channel¬†so that the two giants could meet.”

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Panorama of the Coastline

There are different outcomes to the Giants’ fight, depending on which side of the channel you are on ;), but either way the story has a certain truth that the landscape proves!

**I won’t go into the geological explanation here because I do believe that the Legend is more exciting! And what better way to explore Ireland than from the point of view of a mystical legend?! There is much more information about the hexagon shaped basalt columns¬†at the Visitor’s Centre, if you do make a visit!**

As we followed in the footsteps of the Giants, we made our way to another landmark: the Amphitheatre. On the way, we began seeing evidence of the basalt columns:

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Sheer Grandeur of the Basalt Columns

If you follow the red trail, it will lead you directly to this site. We took a¬†few pictures from what is known as the Hamilton’s Seat, a little path that faces the Amphitheatre.¬†The basalt columns in this alcove, between two cliffs were amazing and it truly did look like an Amphitheatre!

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A Part of the Amphitheatre

After we got our fill of that beautiful scenery, we¬†continued downwards towards the coastline as the clock was ticking and we had much, much more to see!¬†As we descended and got down to the water, we came across another part of the Legend: Finn MacCool’s boot!

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Finn’s Giant Boot

It was so interesting that this rock actually did look like a Giant’s boot! The National Trust Website states that this site is one of the six best to view on your trip to Giant’s Causeway! They state that the boot was:

“Apparently lost by Finn as he fled from the wrath of Scottish giant, Benandonner, the boot is reputed to be a size 93.5!”¬†

It’s the only rock of its type in the whole landscape so obviously the Legend is true ;)! Looking out from where the boot is located, we finally caught a glimpse of the Grand Causeway!

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View of the Grand Causeway from Finn’s Boot!

After that photo session was over, we continued onwards and finally came upon the famous hexagonal columns of the Grand Causeway, which lead to the sea. It was mind-blowing how nature (or rather Finn himself!) could create such a landscape. The scenery was spectacular, even on a cloudy, rainy day.

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Grand Causeway: Hexagons All Around!

It is here that you can find the Wishing Chair! It’s a naturally formed stone throne, which is shiny and smooth from all the people who have sat on it through the decades! Don’t forget to make a wish if you come across it and take a minute to rest! When we were there, we actually didn’t know about the Wishing Chair so we didn’t get to sit on it. But this is just another reason to go back to Ireland and explore even more!

All in all, the view from this site is spectacular! If Finn MacCool built his bridge from this point, it was really a feat to place all those stones on top of each other in such a perfect formation.

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Grand Causeway: Beautiful Even on a Cloudy Day

We enjoyed it so much that we didn’t want to leave! If our next few days were going to be as exciting as our first two, then Ireland would exceed¬†my expectations! Sadly, we had to make our way back to the Visitor’s Centre and continue our journey. While walking¬†back, we came across The Camel:

“Portnaboe’s most famous resident is Finn McCool’s camel. Once a living and lively beast, the camel was turned to stone and forlornly lies along the bottom of the cliffs. Apparently he was the only steed capable of carrying Finn home across long distances.”

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Humphrey’s Story!

If you look closely, you can see the Camel’s head and hump as it lies in the water. I just loved how each little part of our walk had a story related to it. It made walking around the landscape even more exciting and magical.

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Can you Spot Humphrey?!

To say the least, at the end of that walk we were all a tad tired. It’s not easy traversing cliffs and rocks for nearly 3 hours in the wind and rain!

Was it worth it? DEFINITELY!!!!

As we got back to the Visitor’s Centre, we decided it would be a good time to grab lunch. They have a lovely cafeteria serving sandwiches, salads and even warm food to comfort you after your long walk. After our lunch, we got back on our bus and sadly left the Legend of the basalt columns behind. Good thing we got 100’s of pictures to remember our adventure.

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Our next stop would be a short one: Dunluce Castle!

Stay tuned for the next post showing the gorgeous ruins.

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie
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Postcard from Ballintoy

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“Something always pulls me towards the ocean. Gazing out at the seemingly infinite ocean makes everything seem possible.” – N

Ballintoy Harbour, County Antrim, Northern Ireland ‚Äď Taken September 19, 2015

From Ballintoy with Love,

Ioana and Natalie
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Shamrocker All Ireland Rocker Tour Day 1 – Ballintoy

Welcome to Ballintoy! This was home for the first night of our All Ireland Rocker Tour!!

Entering Ballintoy!

Ballintoy is a small village in Northern Ireland, on the Antrim Coast. Although it is small, with a population of under 200 residents, Ballintoy more than makes up for it with¬†its¬†friendly people and the gorgeous scenery.¬†Earlier in the day, we went¬†on a “wee” walk around the area (a couple hours), checking out the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge and Ballintoy Harbour.

The Gorgeous Antrim Coast

While walking along the coastline, we could turn back and spot the main street of Ballintoy. We could even spot the pink tractor that stands in front of our hostel!

Ballintoy and the rolling green fields – love!

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Our hostel was aptly named –¬†Sheep Island View Hostel. And here is Sheep Island, which you can see from the hostel! It is said that residents used to ferry their sheep over to this island to keep them safe from thieves.

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Sheep Island!

The hostel is run by a lovely local family, who were always happy to chat with us visitors. You really can’t miss the hostel when you are driving through Ballintoy. Just watch for the bright pink tractor!

Our group was housed in separate male and female dorm rooms. We thought we would be assigned to our respective rooms, but, as with the rest of our Shamrocker trip, you get to pick your own rooms. This was good, in that you can choose your own room mates for the night. However, it did take some time and organizing – particularly since different hostels had different number of beds per room. So at each hostel, we would gather all together and sort ourselves out in to the correct numbers of people per room and then check in. Our room at Sheep Island View Hostel had 12 beds – both bunk beds and single beds. As our tour guide Dave pointed out, the hostel is really good, clean and comfortable, but could make do with an extra bathroom! Our group was really good though – some showered in the morning and some in the evening, so it made the process much faster. It helps when you have cooperative trip mates! ūüôā

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After our coastal walk and a freshening up at the hostel, 6 of us headed off for a meal together! Usually choosing a restaurant for dinner can be quite difficult when you are with a group. But in Ballintoy, our choice was made easier because there were only 2 restaurants on the main street Рthe Fullerton Arms Restaurant and the Carrick-A-Rede Bar and Grill. We decided to go with the Fullerton Arms Restaurant.

Ballintoy’s Main Street with the Fullerton Arms Restaurant

We were only a table of 6 but because it was a small restaurant, we had a bit of a wait. So we grabbed a drink at the restaurant bar next door and chatted with our trip mates while waiting for a table to be ready. (I asked to pour my own Guinness but unfortunately the answer was no ūüė¶ )

We were pleasantly surprised when we walked into the restaurant. It was well decorated, plush, cozy and looked like a restaurant in a much bigger city! It also had a little alcove dedicated to Game of Thrones – complete with armour, quotes on the wall and a replica “Iron Throne!” Pretty cool – even if I don’t watch the show!

We didn’t have much expectations for the food, thinking it would be typical bar food in a village of two restaurants. Boy, were we ever wrong! The food we had was delicious and definitely could have rivalled restaurants in bigger cities! The food was fresh, tasty and plated up nicely. Besides that it was decent priced for the caliber of food we received!

I had the sea bass with vegetables and potatoes – tasty and filling! ūüôā

I believe this was: “Lemon and Lime Baked Seabass – with potatoes and vegetables medley.”

Ioana had the Steak and Guinness Pie – such a light and airy version, delicious!

After our lovely dinner, we wandered over to the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge Bar, where some of our group had gathered already. Our drinks of choice? Since we were in Ireland, Guinness and Jameson with gingerale. Sláinte!

We forgot the lime ūüė¶

We were excited to listen to some lively traditional music in the pub. Pretty soon we noticed something wasn’t right… Let’s just say the two musicians were a little “off” that night. Later we found out that the lead singer had a gig somewhere else and the remaining two just weren’t the same without their leader. Luckily our bus driver Fred saved¬†the night – taking a guitar and singing us some songs. That quickly woke¬†up the pub and we were all clapping along! It was a great night – getting to know each other, comparing travel plans and swapping stories. There may have even been some attempts at Irish Dancing…… It was a fun night and a great start to our¬†All Ireland Rocker Tour!

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Review:¬†We really loved our time in Ballintoy. It was one of our favourite stops in Ireland – quaint, quiet, friendly and beautiful. You almost feel like you are in another decade, in a simpler time. And I really liked that! The¬†gorgeous scenery just adds to the draw of this village. Ballintoy is also a good location for a home base while exploring the Antrim Coast. Besides being close to Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and Ballintoy Harbour, Ballintoy is also close to the Dark Hedges, Giant’s Causeway, Bushmills, Portrush, Rathlin Island and Ballycastle. So it makes sense to situate yourself here and make day trips out to the surrounding area. Saves you from having to pack and unpack daily!

Ballintoy is also on the Causeway Coastal Route, winding through picturesque towns and villages along the North Coast from Belfast to Derry (Londonderry). The Causeway Coastal Route is¬†rated to be one of the top road trips¬†in Europe. So I think a road trip is in order! If you’re planning a road trip, here are some itineraries from Tourism Ireland and Northern Ireland Tourist Board. Ballintoy and the Antrim Coast are¬†definitely worth a stop, if you’re in Northern Ireland!¬†

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Day 2 takes us to¬†a very famous Antrim Coast stop – Giant’s Causeway!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie
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Shamrocker All Ireland Rocker Tour Day 1 – A Coastal Walk and A Rope Bridge

After a day of travelling, we drove into the beautiful village of Ballintoy – one of our absolute favourites! And I think you’ll see why soon enough!

Ballintoy!

We arrived at our hostel РSheep Island View Hostel, home for the first night of our All Ireland Rocker tour. After dropping our bags off at the hostel and claiming our beds for the night, we were ready for an adventure. For a small village like Ballintoy, there was actually quite a bit in the area to see!

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The beautiful Antrim Coast, approaching the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and island

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One of the famous local attractions is the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. This 20m long rope bridge stretches from the mainland to Carrick-a-Rede Island. Salmon fishermen used to cross to Carrick-a-Rede Island frequently during the salmon season. Nowadays, it is a tourist attraction. For the adventurers, there is the thrill of walking on a swinging suspension bridge 30m above sea level. For the nature lovers, there is plenty of flora and fauna on the island for you to observe and enjoy. On a clear day, it is said you can see clear across to Rathlin Island and Scotland!

Can you spot the boat towards the right side of the photograph? It is supposedly used to ferry scared tourists who cannot bear to cross the rope bridge back to the mainland!

Another increasingly popular attraction is Ballintoy Harbour. Some of you might recognize it from a little TV show called Game of Thrones? Exterior shots of Pyke and the Iron Islands were filmed here at Ballintoy Harbour.

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Before heading off on our adventure, there were several recommendations given to us by our tour guide:

  • We could head down to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and walk back to the hostel via the main street; or
  • We could head down to Ballintoy Harbour and back via Harbour Road; or
  • We could head down to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, walk down the coast to Ballintoy Harbour, walk up Harbour Road and back to the main street.

Guess which option we took? Let’s just say it was LEGS DAY #1!

Tip: Make sure you bring a good, sturdy pair of walking shoes for all of the adventures and exploring you will be doing! Preferably waterproof!

Our kind bus driver Fred drove a group of us down to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, to save us time and a walk. We got there rather late and since they were closing in 15 minutes, we unfortunately didn’t get a chance cross the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. We didn’t think it would be worthwhile running across the bridge and taking a quick look and running back across. So we’ll have to save that for our next trip!

The good news was that only the bridge was closing. The coastal walk down to the bridge was still open. So we decided to go for a nice walk along the North Coast from the car park to the actual Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.

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As we neared the rope bridge, we turned around and were treated to this beautiful scene of towering cliffs and rolling waves. The raw beauty of nature never ceases to amaze me! And for¬†any sharp-eyed¬†Game of Thrones fans out there, you might even recognize this as the Stormlands and the scene of¬†Renly Baratheon’s camp in Season 2.

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Here we are looking out at the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.

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We stayed awhile here watching tourists cross the rope bridge. It didn’t look that swing-y from afar, but I¬†think¬†it would be a fun adventure!

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After admiring the view from around the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, we started our trek back.

We walked from the rope bridge back to the car park and from there, took a leisurely coastal walk Рthrough the fields, just admiring the vibrant green of the Emerald Isle, the slightly gloomy but atmospheric skies that afternoon and the ocean stretching out towards the horizon.

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Looking back at Ballintoy from the coast

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Can you spot Ballintoy Parish Church? It’s in the background, blending in with the sky.

Our coastal path led us to the Ballintoy Parish Church. We took a right turn from there and followed the road down to Ballintoy Harbour. Or, some of you might recognize it better as Pyke and the Iron Islands. But even without being featured on Game of Thrones, we still thought it was a very charming and quaint harbour.

As it was getting late, we started heading back up Harbour Road towards the main street of Ballintoy. Be mindful of the traffic when you are walking up or down the road to the harbour.

About halfway up Harbour Road, I took this photograph and it is one of my favourites. This is the Ballintoy Parish Church, which has a long and rich history in the area. A lone white building standing fast Рblending into the sky but at the same time in contrast with the ground.

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And of course, we can’t be in Ireland and not talk about the sheep! Look at these fluffy guys! We were told not to chase sheep at night. Not sure why specifically at night… And no, we didn’t chase the sheep during the daytime hours either!

We promise we were not chasing these guys! One started running and the rest followed. Brought to mind the ‘flock’ or ‘herd’ mentality…

After our lovely coastal ramble, we wandered back to our hostel. Stay tuned for more on our evening in Ballintoy!

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Walking back to our hostel to get ready for a night out in Ballintoy! ūüėČ

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie
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