Northern Ireland

In the summer of 2019 my family had the chance to live in Ireland, specifically in Dublin, for almost three months. Naturally we wanted to visit as much as possible from this beautiful green island and I’ll try to describe every place we saw.

We spent a weekend in Northern Ireland, from Dublin we took a bus. I wrote about the trip here.

Our second day there was planned for a tour around some of the most beautiful places on the east coast, simultaneously passing through some of the locations used for the TV show Game of Thrones.

Our family is a big fan of the show and we just had to see them, but one of the highlights of the tour was the Giant’s Causeway – a long time dream of mine. But first thing’s first…

I had chosen a tour from reviews on the internet and would gladly recommend it. It was perfectly organised and I had nothing to add. Here’s their site where they have a lot other options – City Tours Belfast.

The tour starts from the Belfast’s center, opposite of the Town hall and had chosen an apartment with direct transport to it.

But you can imagine my surprise when we got up early in the Sunday morning ( I had checked last night that the drive would take us about half an hour) only to see that in the exact hour I checked google maps and to find out that the bus will come in one hour! Total shock, panic and horror! It turned out that in Sunday the buses travel every hour and a half and there is no other transport nearby… The only good thing is that I organise pretty fast and downloaded the Uber app, it had a car nearby and for about 10 Pounds and 30 minutes we arrived just in time. I’ve never had such a surprising experience abroad, I never thought it was possible that the public transport in such a big city could be so unreliable and passing in such a long term. Now I’ll know better and would check everything in advance.

We have already gathered a lot of people for the tour and headed on this adventure. The excitement, at least for me, was quite big and I anticipated a lovely day.

Our first stop was the Carrickfergus castle.

The castle seen over 800 years of military occupation, the castle was besieged in turn by the Scots, Irish, English and French and it continued to play a central part in a military role until 1928, today it is maintained by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

Proudly ranking as one of the best preserved medieval structures in Ireland, it is a popular destination for tourists worldwide wishing to delve deeper into its historical content. Surrounded by sea, the keep of the castle is a four-storey tower, 90 ft high, with a second-storey entrance.  Its entry chamber, originally one large, poorly lit room with a double latrine and no fireplace, served as the public room. A shaft gave access to a well below and a mural stair led down to the vaulted storage cellar.  The fourth storey, a high, brightly lit room with windows in all four walls, a fireplace and single latrine, was the principal chamber.

Life size bronze statue of King William III close to landing site at Carrickfergus harbour. Situated overlooking the harbour, the life size bronze statue was commissioned to mark the Tercentenary of his landing in Carrickfergus on 14th June 1690.

After that we went to see the first location of the show but not before we saw the decor used for Castle Black (only fans will know).

Located at the foothills of Glencoy – one of the nine Glens of Antrim, and on the shores of Carnlough Bay, this sheltered and compact harbour is the focal point of Carnlough village.The harbour is used by pleasure boats and small fishing boats and offers opportunities for sea angling. Pleasure cruises are also available with Carnlough Bay Boat Tours.

Carnlough Harbour is one of the must see stop offs along the Causeway Coastal route for Game of Thrones fans. Fans will recognise the stony staircase leading down to the sea, filmed as part of the Free City of Braavos Canal, where Arya Stark crawled up from the waters after being stabbed by the Waif.

Our next stop were the Cushendun caves but not before we saw this amazing views.

Cushendun is a small picturesque coastal village in Northern Ireland, nestled just off the coast road between Ballycastle and Cushendall. It has a stunning sheltered harbour and lies at the mouth of the River Dun and Glendun, and is also known as one of the stunning 9 Glens of Antrim.

Despite it’s rather picturesque appeal and stunning views of the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland 15 miles away across the North Channel, which easily seen on clear days. It holds some sinister secrets.

During the 1567, the Irish King Shane O’Neill was brutally murdered by his enemies – The Macdonnells. His home, Carra Castle, can be seen lying in ruins to this day. He was decapitated and his head sent to Dublin Castle, to the representatives of Elizabeth I. His headless, vengeful spirit is said to be seen haunting the nearby coastline and caves.

Cushendun Caves is a hidden famous landmark in Northern Ireland, formed by over 400 million years of extreme weather conditions. The Game of Thrones will recognise them as the place where Melisandre and Davos moor.

Next was one of the tour’s highlights and the area and views were amazing.

And finally our goal, the Carrick-a-Rede bridge:

The bridge is a 1km walk from the car park, please allow enough time to reach the steps of the bridge for your crossing. The last arrival time to collect your ticket from the ticket office is 15 minutes before the expiry time on the ticket. If you arrive late, you wont be able to use your booking and you will not receive a refund. The amazing views are everywhere and on the left there is an abandoned mine.

Larrybane Quarry served as the setting for an important Game of Thrones scene when it was used as Renly Baratheon’s Camp.

Carrick-a-Rede one of Northern Ireland’s most loved attractions in Northern Ireland, cared for by the National Trust, a registered conservation charity founded to protect beautiful and special places for ever, for everyone.

The rope bridge has woven its way between Carrick Island and the County Antrim mainland across the Atlantic Ocean, Carrick-a-Rede Island is the final destination and home to a fisherman’s cottage steeped in history and heritage. The one kilometre from the park can took you a lot of time since you will stop to take photos endless times.

Suspended almost 100 ft (30 m) above sea level, the rope bridge was first erected by salmon fisherman nearly 300 years ago.

Brave the exhilarating experience by crossing the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge high above the water and open to the elements – feel the creak of wooden slats in the rushing wind. Hear the waves swirling in beneath your feet. And breathe in the salty spray rising from below.

When we arrived at the bridge, there was a huge crowd, and the bridge itself was closed… It turned put that the security people are constantly checking the wind powers and if people are allowed to cross. We had to wait at least half an hour before it was our turn after reopening.

The wait was worth it, the views are amazing! The entry price is 10 Pounds, kids under 5 go for free, between 5 and 17 the price is 5 Pounds.

Thanks to the excessive fishing and the river pollution, there is no more salmon in this area, the last one was caught in 2002. Back in the days there were 80 fisherman everyday, now only the tourist are left.

After we were completely blown away, both literally and not, we headed to our van and the biggest attraction in Northern Ireland – Giant’s Causeway.

This is nature at its most primal: carving the land into mad formations that send the imagination into overdrive… No wonder dreamy and fantastical myths surround it. 

Stand on the hills that gently arc this precious place and you’ll look down on thousands of basalt columns tumbling down into the Atlantic Ocean. It’s an epic sight, with a whopping 40,000 or so of these hexagonal-shaped stepping stones, which date back to a volcanic age almost 60 million years ago.

Step into the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre and you can discover a story that’s close to the heart of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. The star of the show is Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool) – an Irish giant who picked a fight with Scottish big man Benandonner.

Legend has it that the giants loathed each other. And so one day after enduring insults from Benandonner, Fionn built a path to use as stepping-stones to reach Scotland, which was then ripped up by Benandonner. The result was the Giant’s Causeway. 

And what a truly unique place it is. An enjoyable walk of just under a kilometre will bring you down to the Causeway itself, where you can hop over the stones, explore the surrounding hills, or just sit and contemplate the puzzling geology that has led to one of the most remarkable natural sites in Europe. You can also take the small bus, costing only 2 Pounds.

Keep in mind that the entry fot the site is free, only the visitor’s center is paid. But if you want to buy a souvenir of any kind you get it only from there. This was an unusual paradox for me and had no desire to get in. The price is 10 Pounds, besides the shop there is an exhibit about the site. Many people claim that it is mandatory to go through the center but that’s not the truth. You just have to pass it and go under a bridge close to it where is the beginning of the path taking you to Giant’s Causeway.

So, with full hearts we went on the road again. Had a little stop at the iconic ruin of Dunluce Castle, which bears witness to a long and tumultuous history. First built on the dramatic coastal cliffs of north County Antrim by the MacQuillan family around 1500, the earliest written record of the castle was in 1513.

It was seized by the ambitious MacDonnell clan in the 1550’s, 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 Dunluce was the seat of the earls of Antrim and saw the establishment of a small town in 1608. Visitors can explore the findings of archaeological digs within the cobbled streets and stone merchants’ houses of the long-abandoned Dunluce Town.

The dramatic history of Dunluce is matched by tales of a banshee and how the castle kitchens fell into the sea one stormy night in 1639.

Next was our last stop for the tour made popular by the Game of Thrones show – the Dark Hedges.

Everything down to the evocative name, “Dark Hedges” screams atmosphere, but when the rows of trees on this lane were originally planted, they were simply meant to welcome visitors to a manor house.

Planted in the 18th century by the Stuart family, the opposing rows of beech trees were meant to create an impressive, scenic road leading up to their estate, Gracehill House. However as the trees matured they began to bend over the road and their upper branches intermingled creating a shadowy arboreal tunnel.

The bent trunks and gnarled branches give the road an aura of the supernatural, which has landed the Irish thoroughfare a number of background roles in both movies and television shows such as Game of Thrones. The Dark Hedges have even developed their own ghost story featuring a “Grey Lady” who floats along behind the rows, and disappears just as the lane ends.      

And so, after this beautiful view we headed back to Belfast. Arrived around 6.30 PM and the only thing we waited was some food and to go back to Dublin. We had pre-bought tickets for the bus at 8 PM but the search for food was almost impossible since everything was closed. Finally we found a Burger king that was good enough.

Then we went to the bus stop and started to wait… No matter that the bus was supposed to come in 8 it was pretty late and was here around 9. You can imagine our frustration when we were just waiting, having no idea what is going on, on the sidewalk next to hotel Europe and it was starting to rain. There was a huge crowd gathered and no one seemed worried. Apparently it was normal but I thought that nowadays there are no issues like such delays and schedule problems.

When the bus finally came the people with online tickets got in first and some of the others had to wait for the next one.

This experience clouded a bit my wonderful impression from Belfast but quickly forgot it. The beauty that we saw and the pleasant experiences we had in the city overwrote the end of the trip. I recommend to visit if not the city than some of the sites around it, the views are unforgettable and incomparable.

Stay tuned for my Ireland diaries and don’t stop to travel!

Author: marinelapetrunova

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