Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Antrim and the Causeway Coast

Normally good weather and Irish public holidays are allergic to one another. They simultaneously occur at the same rate as solar eclipses in these parts. The May Bank holiday was exceptional and proved for me again that Ireland is a great place to holiday - if only we got the weather; just like Zimbabwe would be great if they did not have Mugabe...

On the spur of the moment we packed the kids into the car and headed for Antrim. To our shame neither me nor Siobhan had ever been there before. But we will be back! The North Antrim coast is less than 3 hours from Dublin and the roads for the most part are excellent - therefore Antrim is very accessible compared with Kerry, Cork, Clare, Galway or Mayo where distances are greater and the roads are considerably crappier.

We stayed in the Ramada in Portrush for £198 B&B for 1 night in 2 adjoining, spacious and pleasant rooms. The only complaint that I would have with the hotel is that there was a (noisy) refuse collection at 7am on the Bank Holiday Monday which is admirably efficient but hardly very customer-friendly. We did not spend a whole lot of time in the town of itself - as with most seaside towns in Ireland it seemed a little faded and jaded but it was a very good base from which to explore the coastline. Everything we did was within 15 miles of Portrush. So what did we do?

Well we arrived "topside" around 2pm on Sunday - the rain had not quite cleared the north at that point so we decided to go with tradition and have our "picnic" in the car. This was not a very auspicious start! Luckily the weather cleared and after checking in we visited the perilously-placed Dunluce castle, the famous Giant's Causeway and then headed west to see the enigmatic and surprising Downhill Estate and Mussenden Temple.

Dunluce Castle

Dunluce is more than just another ruin - first of all it is quite extensive and well preserved, secondly it is perched right on the edge of a cliff - perhaps too close, given that the kitchen wall and some residents ended up in the sea at one point; lastly the views from Dunluce are spectacular. West towards Portrush, Whiterocks and Whitepark beaches, Northeast to Rathlin and East to the Giants Causeway.

Giants Causeway

The Giants Causeway itself is a huge attraction for tourists - I had heard mixed reports of the place in the past - some people have come away with an "is that it?" view of the place. I was not one of them. I found the place very interesting and engaging. The hexagonal columns of rock are highly improbable, despite the descriptions given onsite I am still not sure HOW the rocks ended up as they did - I certainly can think of no other place on this island where you feel more connected to the center of the earth. If you are going be sure to take in the "Organ pipes" to the East - it was only then that it clicked with me that the entire mountain was made from hexagonal columns of basalt, not just the familiar bit which sticks out into the sea. If you are fit it is also worth taking the walk up to the top of the cliff - you get some great views there.

Mussenden Temple

Before light faded we (just) made it to Mussenden Temple which is the far side of Coleraine and is a little bit further away that you (I) might first have figured due to the Estuary of the River Bann. Nonetheless we found the trip worth the journey. The main attraction at the site is the "temple" which sits right on the edge of a cliff with great views. The site also contains the ruin of a large stately home and a mausoleum. The 3 edifices were build by a clearly very worldly Bishop of Derry. He evidently crossed his fingers when it came to his vow of poverty...

Carrig-A-Rede Rope Bridge

The next morning after our enforced early start we set out for the Carrig-A-Rede rope bridge. I am not at all good with heights so we approached the place with a little trepidation. Suffice it to say that it was great fun and the place itself is very beautiful.

Whiterocks Beach

Because it was such a beautiful day we decided to skip the Bushmills distillery and we headed for Whiterocks beach near Portrush. This is a terrific beach - it was busy but not over-crowded. The kids loved running and tumbling down the 60ft sand-dune which adjoins the world-famous Royal Portrush golf club. From what I saw of the course it is not surprising that this is ranked as the #12 golf course on the planet.

We decided it was time to head for home - so we packed the kids and about half a ton of sand into the car and drove the "Causeway Coastal Route" stopping off in Cushenden for "Linner" (the kids name for a meal which serves as both lunch and dinner). About 5pm we stopped at Carnfunnock Country Park near Larne. This was a great idea. There was a maze, a walled garden and activities like mini-cars, trampolines and an activity playground to name but a few. It was brilliant to give the place a good run around before the 2 hour journey home.

I would recommend Antrim to anybody. Next time we will go for longer. For more pictures click here

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