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!


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.


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! 🙂


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 – the 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 😦 )

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! 🙂

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 😦

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!


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! 


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

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

© Letters of Wanderlust, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!


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!


We arrived at our hostel – Sheep 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!


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


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.


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.


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.


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


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!



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 – through 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.


Looking back at Ballintoy from the coast


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 – blending into the sky but at the same time in contrast with the ground.


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!


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

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

© Letters of Wanderlust, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

Shamrocker All Ireland Rocker Tour Day 1 – The Dark Hedges

After our stop in Belfast, we headed north through County Antrim.

The next destination on our All Ireland Rocker Tour was the Dark Hedges. This beautiful tree-lined avenue was meant to awe visitors as they made their way towards the Stuart family mansion – Gracehill House. These beech trees were planted in the 18th century. Even in the year 2015, we were awed at the sight of the hauntingly beautiful trees and the dramatic avenue.

Even though the Dark Hedges are a beautiful natural phenomenon, there was another reason drawing our tour group and thousands of other visitors here.

The Dark Hedges were made famous as “The King’s Road” in season 2 of Game of Thrones. I don’t watch Game of Thrones (I watched one episode and it just so happened to be the Red Wedding episode. Let’s just say… I didn’t have the appetite to watch any more episodes!), so here’s Ioana: “For those of you who watch the series and don’t remember the scene – this is the road Arya Stark travelled down when she escaped from King’s Landing, disguised as a boy, to join the Night Watch.” This very popular show is filmed in Northern Ireland. Given its dramatic and beautiful scenery, it’s not surprising that Northern Ireland was chosen as a filming location. Since the rise of this show, tourism in Northern Ireland has increased – particularly with Game of Thrones fans visiting various filming locations. There are guided tours dedicated to visiting the show’s filming locations – including The Dark Hedges, Larrybane and Ballintoy Harbour. There is even a Game of Thrones afternoon tea that you can partake in!

We got off the bus at the bottom of the avenue and made our way slowly to the top, where we would meet up at the bus. As we wandered through the Dark Hedges, we noticed there were some trees with broken branches and there were some tree stumps by the avenue – if you look closely in our photographs, you might be able to spot them. The life expectancy of a beech tree is about 150 – 200 years. Since these trees were planted in the 18th century, they are quite old! Some trees have broken branches, while others have died and all that is left are the tree stumps. I wonder whether new beech trees will be planted to preserve the Dark Hedges… Or whether nature will be allowed to take its course.

Since the rise of Game of Thrones, the number of tourists searching for this previously quieter and relatively unknown site has increased dramatically! Dave, our tour guide, told us new signs had to be put up to guide wandering tourists to the Dark Hedges. If you are planning to drive to the Dark Hedges, check out these directions given by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board.

Due to its popularity, there are often many cars, buses and visitors on this avenue. Make sure you are mindful of cars and buses while walking down this public road!

Tip: If you are traveling in a tour group, you might end up with your trip mates’ heads in your photograph – unless you arrange something with your group! 😉 Maybe you can all take turns taking a photograph of the Dark Hedges at the bottom of the avenue before walking up as a group?

If you are travelling to the Dark Hedges independently, you can be more flexible and visit during the quieter hours of the day, when the tour buses aren’t there!

You could also plan to take advantage of a rising or setting sun – which would make for a spectacular and memorable photograph!

Trying to get a clean shot of the Dark Hedges can be difficult with lots of people and cars travelling up and down this avenue!

To get a good photograph of the Dark Hedges, I waited for the rest of our tour group to walk on ahead, then turned around to look back down the avenue. I was lucky enough to snap this photograph while there were no cars or people in my shot and it is one of my favourites!

The Dark Hedges, County Antrim, Northern Ireland


Review: For any Game of Thrones fan, I’m sure I don’t need to say it – but this would be a must-see if you are in Northern Ireland! Another plus? There is no admission fee to see the Dark Hedges , although it might require some navigating to find it. You might even consider doing a Game of Thrones roadtrip through Northern Ireland, taking in other filming locations in the area. The Northern Ireland Tourist Board even has a (very comprehensive!) suggested itinerary for Game of Thrones fans!

Even if you’re not a Game of Thrones fan, the Dark Hedges showcases nature in a beautiful way and make for some memorable photographs. If you’re in the area, we would suggest stopping by for a quick visit – perhaps earlier or later in the day, if you want it all to yourself. 


Next up is one of our favourite of the trip – Ballintoy!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

© Letters of Wanderlust, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

Shamrocker All Ireland Rocker Tour Day 1 – Belfast

After an early night, we woke up bright and early (trying not to wake the rest of the people in our hostel room), packed up our things and grabbed a very quick (included!) breakfast in the Barnacles Hostel kitchen. We were extra rushed that morning because we were also trying to check in for our Ryanair flight to Edinburgh in a week’s time and print our boarding passes before leaving for our tour! Unfortunately the WiFi wasn’t great at the hostel and we weren’t able to send our boarding passes to reception. We just couldn’t get it figured out in time, so we grabbed our bags and decided to figure it out later.

It was a good thing we picked the Barnacles Hostel – as it was literally 30 seconds away from the Shamrocker Tours departure point. We knew, as much as we planned to wake up early and be ready to go, we would need as much time as possible! So it worked out really well for us to stay at Barnacles – it was in the heart of Temple Bar, clean, breakfast was included, close to airport transportation and close to our tour’s departure point.

*We’ve just checked the Shamrocker Adventures website and it seems their office has moved – to the Four Courts Hostel. We have not stayed at this hostel before, so we can’t vouch for it. But it would sure be convenient to stay there before your tour starts!*

We got into the queue to check-in. There was also the option to sign up for the Optional Add On’s. We had already added on the Blarney Castle months ago, but because we didn’t do much research on Belfast or Derry, we decided to opt in for the Black Cab Tour in Belfast and the Derry Walking Tour, as well. The last thing – we also picked up our bright green wristband. Fan-feckin-tastic indeed!


Once everyone was checked in, we followed our guide for the short walk down to where the bus was parked. Once the luggage and people were loaded, our guide did a quick headcount and we were off!

Our guide was Dave – or Disco Dave as we would later find out. Our bus driver was Fred and he did a wonderful job getting us safely to where we needed to be! (He could also sing!)

Dave introduced himself and began our tour by telling us a bit about the city of Dublin and its history, as we made our way out of the city. He pointed out some famous landmarks – Ha’penny Bridge, O’Connell Street, the Spire and the Samuel Beckett Bridge (Dave loves bridges). Just with that introduction, you could see the passion Dave had for Dublin, for Ireland and how proud he was of being Irish.

Once we were on the highway, we had a round of introductions to get to know our fellow trip mates. There was a good mix of different nationalities on our trip – Australia, New Zealand, United States, India, Germany, Singapore, France and a couple of us from Canada!

Our first stop of the day would be Belfast in Northern Ireland. Dave then told us about the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and the “Troubles”. I will admit that I didn’t know much about this at all. Although much of the conflict occurred before we were born, I was still a bit surprised that I hadn’t heard anything about the more recent conflicts, considering some of these events did occur in my lifetime. Dave explained the history of the plantations, the conflicts between the Catholics/Nationalist/Republicans and the Protestants/Unionist/Loyalist, the violence, the bombings and the terror that occurred during the Troubles. There has been some progress in peace making and there is hope that this will continue in Belfast and all over Northern Ireland. As we would be taking the Black Cab tour of Belfast later on, it helped to have this introduction.

Over 2 hours later, we had crossed the border from the Republic of Ireland into Northern Ireland and were driving into Belfast.

*Remember: If you are visiting Northern Ireland, don’t forget your £ sterling. Some larger stores may accept Euros but this is not a guarantee; and smaller stores will likely not accept Euros. The other option is to use your credit card or withdraw money from an ATM.

Here we are in the city of Belfast:

Once Fred parked the bus, Dave gave us a return time and set us loose. One thing we liked about this Shamrocker Adventures tour is that you have the option to opt in or out of certain activities, according to your own preferences. So in Belfast, there is the option to take the Black Cab Tour, or plan your own itinerary – wander the streets of Belfast, go shopping, check out the markets or visit the other well-known Belfast attraction: the Titanic Experience. Unfortunately due to the limited time we had in Belfast, we were told that by the time the Black Cab tour finished and you made your way to the Titanic Experience, you might not have enough time there to do it justice. So we’ll just have to save that for our next visit! Some people from our group chose to visit the Titanic Experience instead of doing the Black Cab tour, so they headed off in that direction.

Those of us on the Black Cab Tour waited by the bus for the cabs. We split up into groups with our 3 cab drivers and set out on our tour of Belfast.

Our little black cab

We had a lovely cab driver guide, who wanted to hear about our stories, as much as we wanted to hear his. (He asked us about Canada and hockey – we were more than happy to oblige!) He had many personal stories about living through the troubles and shared these with us as he drove us from stop to stop.

At each of our stops, we all got out of the cabs and met up as a group. Then one of the cab driver guides would tell us about the stop, the history and significance of that particular stop – whether it was a mural, a monument, a memorial or a peace line.

We appreciated how the tour and all the stops were conducted. We could take a guess as to whether each of our cab driver guides were unionists or nationalists – and there was a mix of both. Yet, there were no jabs at each other or blaming each other for events that occurred in history or are occurring now. The entire tour was presented as objectively as possible, with personal stories from both sides. And this allowed us to see the events from different points of view.

First, we stopped in a Unionist/Loyalist (and mostly Protestant) area. We walked around to look at several murals and learned about the history and the individuals for whom the murals were dedicated. It was also very easy to identify which area you were in – by the banners and flags that were on prominent display.

We then learned about the “peace lines” or the “peace walls”. These were first built at the start of the Troubles in 1969 and were meant to be temporary measures to help keep the peace by minimizing the movement and thus the attacks and violence between the Nationalists and Unionists. Unfortunately some 46 years later, these walls are still standing.

We stopped at this peace line, located along Cupar Way, separating the Shankill Road (Unionist/Protestant) and Falls Road (Nationalist/Catholic) areas. This was a particularly volatile area during the Troubles and to this day, there are still incidences in this area. 

We heard about how this concrete wall had to be extended up with corrugated metal sheets and up even further with weldmesh fencing. This was due to continued violence, with glass bottles, pipe bombs and other objects being thrown over the wall.

This particular section of the wall is a big tourist draw now and there are many messages of hope and peace written on the wall by visitors from all over the world. As we learned on the Black Cab Tour, there are some people in Belfast who want these walls taken down to continue the progress for peace and integration. They feel these walls are leading to further segregation instead of conversation and progress. However, the majority of Belfast residents, especially those living in the interface area between Nationalist and Unionist neighbourhoods, still believe these walls are necessary for them for their safety and to prevent the violence and attacks from occurring again.

There has been some progress since these walls were erected. Now, there are gates that allow for movement across some walls during the day time hours. Gates, such as this one on Lanark Way, stand open during the day to allow the flow of people and traffic but are closed later in the day to prevent any sectarian clashes in the evening and overnight.

Driving through the opened gates on Lanark Way

We had a discussion in the cab about segregation, integration and the progress that has been made. We learned that there are more integrated schools now – although mostly nursery or primary schools. But it is a start. Perhaps this represents a new generation, who will be accustomed to having friends and classmates of Catholic, Protestant or other faiths. Perhaps having the children learn and grow together will foster a sense of community, acceptance, peace and respect. We heard multiple times from our driver guides that no one wants their children or grandchildren to grow up with the terror and violence that was experienced during the Troubles.

Passing through these gates on Lanark Way, we entered the predominantly Catholic and Nationalist area – known as the Falls Road area. Our next stop was the Clonard Martyrs Memorial Garden on Bombay Street.

Entering the the Clonard Martyrs Memorial Garden, with the peace line or peace wall clearly evident in the background.

Here, we heard about the violence and conflict that occurred in August of 1969 – intense fighting, gunfire and the burning down of almost all of the houses on Bombay Street. This led to deaths, injuries, property loss and large numbers of terrified residents being forced to flee their homes.

The memorial garden dedicated to both the fighters and civilians killed as a result of the conflicts.

The last stop on our tour was at the “International Wall”. Here, the murals touch on human rights, political and other issues from Ireland and across the world. And that concluded our Black Cab tour of Belfast.

The International Wall


Review: We would definitely recommend doing a tour like this in Belfast, if you are interested in learning more about the history of the “Troubles”. It can be disheartening but it gives you an understanding of the history and what shapes the cultural fabric of Belfast and Northern Ireland. There are tour buses that also provide similar tours. However, we really appreciated getting to know our driver guide and sharing stories and thoughts with him. It made for a more personalized and intimate experience. Because we were part of a larger group, we were fortunate to meet 3 different driver guides. It was interesting having both Protestant and Catholic driver guides and seeing history through different point of views.


Since we had some time before we had to get back to the bus, we decided to check out the famous St. George’s Market. Our kind cab driver guide dropped us off just outside the market. He also gave us directions to walk back to the bus – very helpful. It wouldn’t do to get lost and left behind on the first day of our tour!

There were about 10 of us from Shamrockers all checking out the market. We decided to set a time to meet up after lunch, so we could make our way back to the bus together.

We enjoyed our time at St. George’s market. There were food and drink stalls, fresh vegetables and fruit stalls and vendors selling handmade goods, art, crafts and little souvenirs. We had a good wander through the stalls, before grabbing some food for lunch.

Inside St. George’s Market

And just like that, it was time to head back to the bus. We had a lovely walk through the city, taking in the beautiful architecture, back to where our bus was parked.

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Once we were all accounted for, we were back on the road, headed out of Belfast. The next stop on our All Ireland Rocker tour is The King’s Road! I’m sure some of you will know the reference! 😉 And if you don’t, you’ll just have to wait for our next post!

Final Thoughts:

It was too bad we didn’t have more time in Belfast. It seems like an interesting city, with lovely architecture, markets and history. It does have a history of conflict and strife and although most of our day was spent learning about its conflicted past, Belfast is more than that. It is more than the peace lines that curve their way through the city and more than the murals that dot the city. I see it as a city that is trying to move forward, to hope and to look to a future of peace and harmony.

What else should we see or visit if we are back in Belfast? Any off-the-beaten-track suggestions? We would love to hear them!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

© Letters of Wanderlust, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!