Friday 16 December 2016

PHOTO DIARY: Northern Ireland, May 2016

Earlier in the year I took some friends (Elodie, Lily and Sarah) to my house in County Antrim, Northern Ireland for a long weekend. My entire family are from Northern Ireland, in fact I was born in Belfast (but moved to England at the age of 2) so it's a country very close to my heart. I visit every year to see family and to spend some chill time at our house on the coast. It's lovely.

The weather is notoriously bad in this part of the world so I couldn't believe our luck when we arrived to vibrant blue skies and vivid green grass. It stayed that way for the entire weekend which was bliss.

Day 1:

We arrived late on the Friday evening so didn't really do much apart from gossip and crack open the supplies my Mum had left in the fridge a couple days previous.

My Mum's old jumper looks like something straight out of Urban Outfitters

My house is situated in Bushmills, a short walk away from the Giant's Causeway which makes for a great location when showing newbies around. Up bright and early we walked along the coast to the Giant's Causeway where we spent a few hours clambering over rocks and posing for photos. I don't visit the Causeway every time I'm in Ireland but I've still been about 20 times in my life and the scenery never ceases to amaze me. It's free to visit (don't be fooled by the greedy visitor centre which charges you to use the gift shop) but make sure you give yourself an hour or two to take it all in. 

After the Causeway we stopped for lunch at local pub, The Nook. My Granny came to meet us which was lovely as I hadn't seen her for such a long time. The Nook is themed like an old Victorian school house which is an interesting experience to say the least. The food is standard pub fare and I can definitely recommend steak sandwich with chunky chips.

You absolutely need a car in Northern Ireland as the public transport is practically non-existent. I managed to rope in my Uncle James, who lives nearby, to drive us around for the weekend. If you don't have an Uncle James then definitely look into renting a car from the airport.

The afternoon was spent doing one of my favourite drives, the Causeway Coastal Route. We stopped at Dunseverick Castle to see the ruins of the 5th century fortress. The next stop was the tiny hamlet of Portbradden to visit the smallest church in Ireland. All around the coast is Game of Thrones filming locations, especially those used for Pyke and the Dothraki sea, so if you're a fan you should definitely keep a look out.

We then stopped at one of my favourite locations, Ballintoy Harbour, for cake and more Game of Thrones action (Pyke harbour). I only started watching Game of Thrones this year so it was the first time I'd visited a lot of these locations since becoming a fan, it definitely shines a new light on the entire experience.

Further along the coast is the famous Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge which to my amazement has becoming insanely busy. We had to queue to cross which is something I have never experienced before. But it is worth it as the bridge has some incredible views out to sea whilst also doubling up as a bit of an adrenaline inducing activity. I love to give the bridge a bit of a shake when crossing because I'm a terrible person who enjoys giving her friends a fright. It's around a fiver per person to cross and is 100% worth it, especially on a lovely day. Larrybane Quarry aka the nearby car park doubles up as another Game of Thrones filming location, Renly's camp in season 2 to be precise.

Our last stop for the day was somewhere I'd never actually visited, the Dark Hedges. The is a road out in the countryside, lined by a tunnel of trees. It's beautifully atmospheric and it was even used as the King's Road in Game of Thrones season 2. This is somewhere I'm definitely going to return as it's such an incredible location. Beware the Game of Throne coach tours as it can get a little busy.

It was back to the house, via Bushmills to buy ingredients, for a homemade dinner and chill evening.

Day 2:

Our second day in Ireland was another great one. We walked into Bushmills along the coast and stopped at one of my favourite breakfast spots in town, The Copper Kettle. Don't expect avocado on toast here, instead it's traditional Irish fare for cheap as chips prices. I had the mini fry which set me back £3.50, an absolute bargain.

After brunch we had a wonder around Bushmills (it's a tiny town with not that much going on) before heading up the the famous Bushmills Distillery. Bushmills Distillery is the oldest operating whiskey distillery in the world, it's been in operation since 1608. The distillery is open to visitors, offering tours with a whiskey tasting element at the end. I've done the tour a few times in my life and whilst I'm not a whiskey drinker I find the entire distilling process very interesting.

Uncle James picked us up and we headed along the Causeway Coastal Route but in the opposite direction than the previous day. We stopped at Dunluce Castle, an attraction I've only visited once or twice despite driving past hundreds of times. The castle is in ruins but it makes for an interesting stop due to it's cliff top location. There's lots of legends surrounding the story of the castle's decline including a horror story about the kitchen falling into the sea during a particularly bad storm. The castle is of course a Game of Thrones filming location, specifically House of Greyjoy on the Iron Islands.

Opposite the castle is a lovely tea shop where we stopped for hearty, homemade sweet treats. There are so many excellent cafes around these parts that it would be rude not to visit them.

Back in the car, we headed to Downhill Demesne and Hezlett House, a National Trust owned park near Castlerock. I'd never been here but I was keen to visit Mussenden Temple as it's such a striking building, set high on the cliff above Downhill Strand (on the west) and Portstewart Strand (on the east). Downhill Strand was used for the scene in Game of Thrones series 2 where Melisandre burned the seven gods of Westeros in sacrifice to R’hllor. Whilst Portstewart Strand is where Jaime and Bronn, disguised as Martell soldiers, approach the gates of the Water Gardens in Dorne.

This is also where my parents had their wedding pictures taken so it was nice to put a location to all the photos I've seen from their special day.

After a busy day of sightseeing we heading into Portrush for the evening. We spent a few hours at the infamous Barry's Amusements, enjoying the crappy rides. The ghost train is a particular favourite of mine because it really is beyond terrible. The rollercoaster feels like it was erected 100 years ago and the log flume is so bad you basically have to pull yourself along. But Barry's has a fond place in my heart and as long as I spend summer's in Northern Ireland I wont stop visiting it.

After a few hours of adrenaline we headed to the Ramore complex for dinner. This harbour-side location hosts a number of restaurants from the Ramore family, from a pizza joint to a fish restaurant to a traditional Irish pub. The food isn't amazing but the craic is mighty. We had dinner at the Wine Bar which serves all the classics like burgers. The food is good value but don't expect to have a gourmet meal here.

Day Three:

Our third and final day in Ireland saw us get up early to catch the train to Belfast from Coleraine. Despite being born in Belfast, spending the first few years of my life here, and flying into the city every time I visit Ireland I really don't know the city well at all. I've only visited as an adult about 3 times and always for just a day. The trip saw me visit parts of the city I'd never seen before and I finally feel like I've got a better idea of that this great capital has to offer.
We spent the morning at Titanic Belfast which is an incredible museum, detailing the tragic story behind this famous ship that was built in the city docks. The museum is located right next to Titanic Studios, the very location that Game of Thrones is filmed. You can't visit the studios but you can see them from the museum which is pretty neat.

After the museum we headed to the other side of town to visit the University area and Botanical Gardens. Belfast is quite a small city with an intercity train system, but wanting to save time we hopped into an Uber for a few minutes instead. They're so cheap in Belfast so if you're in a rush it's a not too ridiculous way to get around. We stopped in student favourite Maggie May's for a snack. What I thought would be small plate of chips, cheese and beans turned out to be an almighty mountain of food. But I'm not complaining because it tasted great.

Thank goodness the sun was out as it meant the Botanical Gardens looked absolutely gorgeous. The Palm House is a beautiful greenhouse and the entire park is such a pleasure to stroll around. There's even a rose garden.

Situated on the edge of the gardens is Ulster Museum. We didn't have time for a big look around but considering it's free to enter I wanted to check out what sort of exhibitions it has to offer. There's a section dedicated to Irish history as well as local artists. I definitely want to go back another day to visit properly.

Our final stop in Belfast was dinner at Home restaurant. This gorgeous dinning spot in the city centre serves hearty food using locally sourced ingredients. There's an emphasis on healthy dishes but don't let that fool you into thinking it's all kale and quinoa because that isn't the case. With Asian influences the menu is incredibly varied and what I liked most of all is that most dishes come in starter and main course size so you can mix and match as much as you like. This is somewhere I will definitely be visiting again next time I'm in the city.

It was soon time to head back to Belfast International to catch our flight home. I had such a lovely weekend showing friends around some of my favourite places as well as visiting a few new sights. I'm in Ireland for Christmas and New Year and I can't wait to get out on the road with Steve and see even more of this beautiful country.

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  1. So blessed by the weather and had forgotten about your pink hipster jumper! x

  2. Looks such a beautiful place. x x

  3. I can get flights from Cardiff for about £20, really fancy visiting at some point. It looks really similar to the West Wales coast which I love so will have to try and persuade Martyn who is only really interested in the Alps.

  4. I'm still sulking that I couldn't come in the end with you girls!
    A Story of a Girl

  5. I have bookmarked your blog, the articles are way better than other similar blogs.. thanks for a great blog!


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