Shamrocker All Ireland Rocker Day 2: Discovering Walled Derry

Leaving Dunluce Castle behind us, our driver Fred and tour guide Dave took us to where we would be staying for the night: Derry, or as I now like to call it (Legen)Derry! It is the second largest city in Northern Ireland and as with Belfast, not without a very extensive and turbulent past. Dave told us a few stories as we drove onwards, but we were all so tired that it didn’t really sank in until we actually got a tour of the city!

Medieval Derry with its Walls and Historical Buildings

But first, Derry was the only location on our All Ireland Rocker Tour in which we actually got to stay in a hotel!!! Not to say that the hostels didn’t provide us with lovely accommodation, but having a private room with a private bathroom was heaven, to say the least! We ended up staying at the Travelodge. The room was clean, quiet, and had comfortable beds! Its location was also ideal. It was close to the city centre and as such there were many good food options for the evening.

After we arrived, we had a bit of time before setting out on our walking tour. This walking tour is one of the “Optional” activities that you could add on. If you find yourself in Derry when you do your tour of Ireland and Northern Ireland, we definitely recommend doing the City Tours Walking Tour. It is very affordable, £4, and it provides you with a good background on the city and its history! After dropping off our stuff and resting for a bit in the hotel, we headed downstairs to join our tour!

img_4435

The Promenade with its view of the historical buildings!

City Tours provided us with a wonderful tour guide to take us about Derry! Sorcha was brilliant. She was extremely knowledgable and could answer any of our questions! She was also funny and that kept us all the more interested in her stories. After our group got together, Sorcha took us out and we began with a brief history on the name of the city.

The Guildhall – look at the amazing architectural details!

We stopped in front of the Guildhall, which was built in 1890, and Sorcha explained to us the history behind Derry’s name. The city’s official name is Londonderry, but as some of you may know, such a name would obviously cause a debate between the Nationalists and Unionists in the city and Northern Ireland. The Nationalists prefer Derry and, of course, the Unionists prefer Londonderry.

“Despite the official name, the city is more usually known as simply Derry, which is an anglicisation of the Irish Daire or Doire, and translates as “oak-grove/oak-wood”. The name derives from the settlement’s earliest references, Daire Calgaich (“oak-grove of Calgach”). The name was changed from Derry in 1613 during the Plantation of Ulster to reflect the establishment of the city by the London guilds.”

I prefer “Legenderry”, as Sorcha said! Less of a debate and more epic of a name for such an important city! After we learned about the name, Sorcha took us up and into the walled city. I won’t go into too much background about Derry seeing as you will definitely have to explore it on your own. But we do want to pique your interest – so you do go and check out Derry!

Walking up the Wall and looking at the lovely buildings and different coloured doors!

Derry is the last remaining fully intact walled city in Ireland! It is so very medieval in its construction, seen clearly in both the wall and the plan of the city. It is also the first planned city in Ireland! We didn’t get to venture very far into the walled city itself (sadly) but we did get to walk along the wall and discuss the importance of certain structures and sites. Not to mention that a promenade on the wall offers you some of the best views of the Bogside and beyond the River Foyle!

View of the Bogside and Beyond from the Wall – Spectacular!

St. Eugene’s Cathedral as seen from the Wall

Sorcha started off by telling us more about the early history of the city with its beginnings as a monastery in the 6th century and then becoming a plantation in the 17th century. The walls were completed by 1619 and had four gates in which to enter and exit.

“The four original gates to the Walled City are Bishop’s Gate, Ferryquay Gate, Butcher Gate and Shipquay Gate. Three further gates were added – magazine Gate, Castle Gate and New Gate.”

The Gate names were marked into the ground for all to see!

They were built as a protection mechanism against early 17th century settlers from England and Scotland.

Can you spot the Gate?

Moving along Sorcha showed us the Saint Augustine’s Church, which is an original site from the time the Monastery was established in Derry. The actual church was built in 1872. It had a beautiful little garden when we were there, with flowers in bloom. Being the architectural geek that I am (being awed by different structures in every city I go) I rather liked this little church with its lovely facade and welcoming nature!

St. Augustine’s Church with flowers in bloom

Moving along we came to Walker’s Memorial Plinth. At this site, Sorcha told us, there used to be a giant pillar in memorial to Rev. George Walker. In 1973, during the Troubles, it was destroyed in a bomb explosion, the only part remaining to this day is the base. The spiral initially had 105 steps with a viewing platform from the top. Imagine the amazing view you would get of all of Derry from there!

The Plinth and the restored original Cannons that were used in the battles of the 17th Century

Sorcha continued to tell us more about the walled city itself and some of its history. From our position on the wall, we could see in the distance the “diamond,” which was the centre of the little city from which you could see all four gates! Sadly, we didn’t get to venture towards it to take pictures but definitely go see it if you get a full day in Derry!

Can you spot the Diamond in the background?

One of my favourite stories which Sorcha told us had to do with Society Street! Being the romantic that I am, of course I would remember how she told us that fashionable bachelors and ladies would promenade this very street in order to garner attention from each other. How very exciting and typical of that time (during the 19th century).

Apprentice Boys of Derry Memorial Hall on Society Street

Walking along, we were awed by the views from the wall promenade itself. On the other side of the wall we got a lovely view of the Bogside.

Peaceful Bogside from the Wall

Depending on where you live in the world and your age, you may or may not have heard of the Troubles, in particular the events of 1972 in Derry. The Bogside would become the:

“focus of world news with the worst ever atrocity to hit a European city since WWII on what has been named “Bloody Sunday.”

Bloody Sunday Memorial in the Bogside

Murals on the buildings of the Bogside

Today, the Bogside looks like a lovely, peaceful place to live. Sorcha took us out of the walled city at this point and down to the Bogside. The views of the wall from below were just as spectacular as the views from above!

View  of the Wall and the Plinth from below

Once we descended, we were told a little more about the Troubles that were said to have originated in Derry.

“The conflict which became known as the Troubles is widely regarded as having started in Derry with the Battle of the Bogside. The Civil Rights movement had also been very active in the city. In the early 1970’s, the city was heavily militarised and there was widespread civil unrest. Several districts in the city constructed barricades to control access and prevent the forces of the state from entering.”

Much like Belfast, as a result, the Bogside boasts many murals on buildings showing the major impacts of the Troubles and they make statements both about politics and religion in the area.

They are very stirring images that bring you back to a time when lives were endangered, bombs were still a viable threat and battles were fought in the middle of such a beautiful city. The divide was so obvious – it’s only natural that it be depicted in art, for what happened should never be forgotten.

The Murals are Haunting in their depictions

Our tour was coming to an end as was the story behind Derry’s past and hopeful future.

Hopes for a peaceful future for all generations to come

Sorcha told us a bit more about the Peace Bridge that links the two sides of the city, the Unionist Waterside and the Nationalist Cityside, over the River Foyle. This bridge allows people from both sides of the river cross over – encouraging change, peace, union, integration and reconciliation. It is a symbol that shows the progress that has been made between the two sides in today’s time. It is a beautiful modern symbol of Peace and it will hopefully remain so for future generations to see.

Peace Bridge in all its modern glory!

Our tour now being over, we all realized we were famished and couldn’t decide where to eat! Strangely enough, we passed an Italian restaurant as we were finishing the tour…Who would have thought we would be eating Italian food in Northern Ireland and that it would actually turn out to be amazing. The Spaghetti Junction served authentic Italian food and is the first Italian Restaurant in Derry! We definitely recommend going if you are planning on staying in the city. They have a variety of options on the menu and all our meals ended up being delicious!

After finally getting back to the hotel, we decided to take advantage of our luxurious bathroom (only because we had it all to ourselves…) and prepare to go out for the evening.

As we had gotten used to while in Ireland, we were to go to the Pub! (This would prove a very difficult habit to get over once we were back in Vancouver). Peadar O’Donnell’s Bar had a very boisterous setting! Its walls were covered with different flags and very specific decorations that were rather eccentric! Like with many pubs in Ireland, it has late night live music, which had us clapping and singing along with the rest of the pub, and loads of different brews for you to enjoy. 😉  It was filled to the brim with people (there may or may not have been a rugby game on) and it was a weekday! I still find it amazing how socially active people are on any given day of the week!

After a drink or two (or three…), we decided it was high time to go to bed. Our adventures in Derry had come to an end. If I could change anything, it would be the amount of time we had to explore the city. After the tour we really didn’t have much time and I really wanted to see more of the medieval buildings and see more murals. If you do decide to visit Derry, make sure you set aside enough time to explore the city!

Stay tuned for our next post on Day 3 of our Shamrocker All Ireland Rocker Tour!

Ioana and Natalie
LettersofWanderlust3


© 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!

Advertisements

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 Óg 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.”

img_4230

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. 😉

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
LettersofWanderlust3


© 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 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!

IMG_0232

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!!

IMG_0233

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.

IMG_0239

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. 😉

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.

IMG_0264

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.

IMG_0241

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!

IMG_0243

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.”

IMG_0236

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:

12656457_10101604491842491_1437750425_o-2

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!

IMG_0251

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!

IMG_0252

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!

IMG_0253

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.

IMG_0256

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.

12637223_10101604492017141_629206019_o

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.”

12632955_10101604491932311_54022139_o

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.

12631176_10101604491772631_1063754496_o-2

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.

image

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
LettersofWanderlust3


© 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!

Image

Postcard from Ballintoy

image

“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 – Taken September 19, 2015

From Ballintoy with Love,

Ioana and Natalie
LettersofWanderlust3


© 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 – 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.

image

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
LettersofWanderlust3


© 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!

Ballintoy!

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!

image

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.

image

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.

image

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

image

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!

image

image

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.

image

Looking back at Ballintoy from the coast

image

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.

image

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!

image

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

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie
LettersofWanderlust3


© 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
LettersofWanderlust3


© 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!