17.04.2009 - 19.04.2009
By cancelling some weekend duties, we had 5 days off to explore N Ireland. We headed up to Belfast and located Helga’s Lodge near Trinity University, which we had found on the internet. What a hellhole! It was grubby and tacky, and they wanted me to pay £60 before going to the room. I insisted on seeing the room first, and I refused the first room offered because there was no en suite bathroom [which we had booked]. The next room was like a box, with a “toilet and shower” inside a shoebox within. By now I was starting to get the flu with rigors and chills setting in, so we settled for a large room, cluttered with 3 beds and broken furniture, downstairs. The TV had a broken aerial, so did not work and Sandi spotted an open, discarded tampon flung up onto the pelmet!
I was in no mood to argue any further and collapsed into bed for a night of fevers and chills. In the morning we felt obliged to consume parts of the stale, substandard continental breakfast offered, surrounded by 25 different types of kitsch in the breakfast room. We didn’t even risk the shower and fled Helga’s “Hellhole”.
We decided to drive around the scenic Ards peninsula, heading for Portaferry at the tip. We stopped for several hours at Mount Stewart, where they were having a “Doggy-day-out”. It was a beautiful day and everyone [except us] brought their dogs to compete, show off or just yap!
We had a tour of the Manor House which was splendidly furnished with 19th century period furnishings, and is still occupied by the Londonderry family. An exquisite painting of the racehorse Hambletonian by George Stubbs is displayed on the staircase.
The gardens, which were laid out in the 1920’s, are magnificent. We found topiaried hedges,
Italian and Spanish gardens, dodo statues, fountains and pools,
and loads of exquisite flowers,
including a rare Trifolium in bloom. We had just seen it on TV the day before.
We were so inspired that we joined the UK National Trust on the spot.
We then traveled up to Bushmills on the northern coast, from where we visited the Bushmills Whiskey Distillery the next day. Irish whiskey is spelled with an “e”. The distillery has been distilling since 1490 and licensed since 1608, making it the oldest in Ireland. Unfortunately the distillery was on recess for the week, but we had an interesting tour and tasting at the end.
The Giant’s Causeway was next, and just around the corner. It was again a sunny, calm day for us to explore the amazing multisided columns of basalt, which form a pathway leading into the sea.
Legend has it that the causeway was built by the Irish giant Finn MacCool. He wanted to do battle with a rival giant in Scotland called Benandonner so he built a path of enormous stepping stones across to Scotland. As Benandonner approached across the sea, Finn fled in terror and got his wife to disguise him as a baby in a cradle. When Benandonner saw the size of the baby, he assumed the father must be gigantic and fled back to Scotland, ripping up the causeway behind him.
The Causeway was really formed about 60 million years ago by molten basalt lava, which cooled very slowly forming cracks which extended down into column shapes. Later further shrinkage caused them to fracture horizontally forming concave and convex joints. The columns have 5, 6 or 7 sides mostly, but apparently one has only 3 sides. These geographic formations are truly spectacular!
After briefly looking at Dunluce Castle
and Portstewart, a holiday seafront town, we bypassed Londonderry and drove into Co Donegal.