Northern Coast of Northern Ireland - May 28, 2017
I am sure I've overworked words describing the countryside as something special to see. As we travel in and out of the lands outside of cities, the landscape is amazing. People, I'm telling you, it is amazing. First, very little trash is seen here; no billboards or roadside signs, and no yards filled with accumulated junk. Lord knows, people here have had much more time than we to accumulate junk. It is truly clean. Occasionally the vine-covered ruins of what once was a house or farm building can be seen, but generally speaking, rural UK is well-preserved and well-kept. It looks loved. Even the hedge rows are kept neat and frequently trimmed. Second point, Northern Ireland, particularly the coastline, is just simply beautiful. I thought the English countryside, like the Cotswold's and the lands around Hadrian's Wall were the most beautiful I'd ever seen, but then we saw the Highlands of Scotland—wow!. Now, here we were today on the northern-most coast of Northern Ireland and . . . the sights almost hit us in the chest, it is so, so beautiful! Driving along the narrow, high roads, fields of sheep or cows in green pastures were on the right and steep black cliffs and steep white cliffs, rocky beaches and white sandy beaches, and the Atlantic Ocean were on the left. I could never dream of such a natural concoction.
We struggled last night, we did, studying map after map and many brochures trying to decide how to spend our little time here. We finally decided to avoid the long-day organized tour bus option and chose to rent a car and just drive independently - it was a great choice. Our car was cute but tiny; we barely got in all our luggage. Stan's head almost hit the car'offs ceiling but it fit me just right.
Even though we have had a few days experience, GPS navigation was a bit nerve wracking still, especially with all the round-abouts and very few street or road signs, but we did it. It probably would be amusing to hear a recording of our conversations as we navigate our way on unfamiliar, tiny roads, driving a standard shift car, shifting with left hand, with steering wheel on right side and keeping the car in the left-hand lane of the road. . . Sometimes Stan and I are driving along pointing out sights along the drive and also discussing our next turn (trying to plan ahead), and then navigation lady blurts out something. I usually have a map in hand and try to compare it to the map on screen. Yikes, do we take the first left turn or the second?? The little car on screen is not at the intersection yet!!!. What do we do?? Sometimes it is a little chaotic. We make a choice. Then she often says, "Re-routing."
We planned to drive directly to Giant's Causeway. On the route we passed towns like Ballymena, Ballymoney abd Ballyclare--curious, we learned that the word, Bally means "place of." Hmmm. As we drove on toward the causeway area, we saw a sign that read, "The Dark Hedges," and we went that way for just a little detour. Used as one of the many on-location site sets for the TV show, The Game of Thrones, this lane of over 90 Birch trees was planted in the late 1700's to compliment the mansion, Gracehill. Originally there were 170 trees. The remaining birches are splendid and the lane was well-worth seeing. I was not happy with people making tree carvings on these wonderful old regal trees, but one old and scarred carving was dated 1948 - and the date was still readable.
Once we left the Hedges, the ocean's coast began to make its appearance. I won't try to describe it. My words would totally be inadequate. Please see the photos.
We perused the museum and hiked several trails of the Giant's Steps, or the Giant's Causeway. Oh, this is a geologists' dream, for sure! Stone columned-formations of basalt were created about 60 million years ago when a huge catastrophic phenomenon caused our land masses to separate. Lava and existing minerals caused this high-cliffed coast to occur. As the laval accumulated and began to cool uniformly under the sea, stone and basalt was eventually formed. Basalt is dense, more dense than granite. As time prevailed on it washing away other minerals and stone, tall columns of basalt remain. As much as 40 feet high, with five to seven sides each, these tall basalt columns stand bunched together like pipes of an organ and have survived eons of weather and water. They form a causeway linking Northern Ireland to Scotland in a line of columns under the sea.
Yesterday and last night I was not so much encouraged about visiting the Giant's Causeway but today, I give thanks to Stan Weeks for urging us to see this point. It is a place on earth I will never forget.
We had lunch of Irish stew with wheaten bread at village, Ballycastle. The day's weather was so fantastic that crowds were everywhere and the restauarnt was very busy-we asked permission then shared an outside picnic table with a couple from England. He was from Manchester and she was from . . . Sorry, I just don't remember.
I imagined we'd just sit there, having a meal and sharing an umbrella covered picnic table in the rare warm Irish sun. But . . . ohhhh! I am married to Stan Weeks! That means there will always be great interesting and probably funny conversation. But, you know, it might have me who started this one off as Stan ordered our lunch. We had such fun talking with this couple. We discussed concerts - we both liked many of the same singers and groups. We discussed politics - everyone here loves to talk politics. And we discussed vacation spots. Travel well and it was a true pleasure meeting you, John and Lynn.
The drive back to Belfast was so, so pretty. The coast of Northern Island has some beautiful, tropical-looking sandy beaches but the Atlantic waters are cold, always cold. We grovee through a coastal area called the glens. The mountain ridges form fingers going out to the sea; the valleys below the ridges are galled glens. A quaint coastal village sits on opposite spots of each ridge; on the far tip reaching out toward sea and on the inward point where the ridge first reaches the sea. The villages have names like Glendun, Glencorp, and Glenarm. Once little fishing and farming villages, the Glens have become popular and compelling tourist destinations. Today Irish folk, during this three-day weekend, were out of their homes enjoying their beautiful landscapes and their beaches with one another at the foot of the mountains and in the little towns alongside the ocean. It was a happy sight.
We arrived back at Belfast at our new home for tonight and tomorrow's night . . . and it is good.