Well, the weekend I have been waiting for since god knows how long finally arrived - my first visit to Northern Ireland - not to mention Ireland as a whole! I have always wanted to visit Ireland as it is a stunning location with such a rich, vibrant culture that can only be admired. Although we were only there for a little amount of time, we managed to fit in a lot of sightseeing on the Eastern coast which was where we were staying as well as venturing up to the Causeway Coast!
Our long weekend of adventures started by boarding the ferry to Belfast at the Cairnryan Port. We were treated to stunning views of both Cumbria and Dumfries and Galloway, I even managed to spot a ruin or two although we were unable to pull over at these points! We stopped for a brew break along the coastal route in a small but quaint tea room located at the side of the road with stunning views across the water - naturally, I couldn't resist climbing down to the water's edge to get some photos! When we boarded the ferry were again treated to magnificent views of Scotland such as Killantringan Lighthouse and Ailsa Craig. Although there was a bit of a chilly wind in the air, it was really nice to sit out and watch Northern Ireland slowly appear on the horizon once we'd gotten used to the rocking of the boat! As a lighthouse lover, I was delighted to spot more appear on the Irish coastline such as Blackhead Lighthouse as the ferry turned towards Belfast. Once on land, we travelled through the capital and down to the Eastern coast to the tiny coastal village of Cloughey, close to Portaferry, which was our base for our Irish adventures! We spent what was left of the day wandering down the shore at Cloughey, as well as going down to Portaferry, which is located in Strangford Lough, for some fish and chips!
On the Saturday we had plans to be 'proper tourists' for the day by visiting the Giant's Causeway and Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge on the Northern Coast of the island. We drove the route entirely by the coastal route - all 4 hours of it - although we did get lost in Belfast at one point trying to find our connecting road! However, the magnificent views made it worthwhile, and if we weren't short of time we would have been stopping every five minutes or travelling down every side road as everywhere we passed had a feeling of magic to them! We did stop off at Ballygally for some fresh coastal air and a little rest from driving, so we popped into the shop to get lunch and some snacks for the rest of the day. The shop had a takeaway coffee machine (if you know me in real life, you'll know how much coffee I drink in a day!) so we sat on a picnic bench by the shore and ate whilst looking across the sea, watching the swimming part of a triathlon in the distance. After our adventures in the north, which I will get to soon, we travelled back to the east of Belfast via the motorway and stopped off in Bangor to stretch our legs as we were a little early for meeting my grandad in Portaferry. We had a little wander down the shore which had a little lighthouse at the end of the pier which overlooked the ferry crossing back to the mainland UK, so we stopped for a while and watched the ferry gradually grow bigger on the horizon before making our way back to the car.
Our first main adventure for the Saturday was to visit the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge which is surrounded by stunning coastal views that can transport you from Ireland to the Mediterranean on a sunny day - fortunately for us, the sun arrived at exactly the same time we did! The vista was coloured with vibrant blues and greens as the sea kissed the cloud scattered sky, and the rugged coastline of Rathlin Island stood proud in the distance. As we had arrived around lunchtime there wasn't too many people around the entrance area and main paths so as we approached the rope bridge I had plenty of photo opportunities! As we walked along the path we could just make out the Scottish isles of Giga and Islay beginning to form on the horizon - the latter somewhere we have previously visited and absolutely adored! I was a little anxious whilst we were waiting to cross the bridge as I can get vertigo-like symptoms when I am on heights surrounded by water whereas my mum was extremely excited to cross. When it was our turn to cross, there was a slight breeze in the air which meant that the rope bridge was rocking slightly... despite my previous concerns, this didn't falter me one bit and I really enjoyed crossing the bridge - it would have been better without my mum panicking behind me, though! Once we were across, we managed to find a quiet spot away from the other visitors where we sat in the September sunshine, admiring the fabulous scenery around us. After a little wander around, we made our way back to the car, ready to head to the Giant's Causeway!
When we arrived at the Giant's Causeway, the sunshine was beginning to retreat behind the clouds and the sky wasn't quite as blue as it had been earlier - but this just added to the moody ambience of the causeway itself! I have never been to such a touristy area with my camera before - those who complain about the Lake District being overcrowded would faint at the amount of people who were visiting here all at once - but the area was vast enough that I was able to get many photographs with ease without people in them, as well as being able to wander down parts of the shore which other people hadn't quite reached yet! I felt that the high amount of people in the area meant I had to focus a little more creatively on my shots - looking over my shots, I was pretty successful given how many brightly coloured jackets there were!. We made our way off from the main path to a quieter bit of shore underneath the cliff face that formed the Giant's Causeway to have our lunch - if we had been feeling a bit less lethargic after driving for over 4 hours we would have had lunch at the top of the cliff, but we still had a magnificent view to admire whilst we ate and it was accompanied by the moody soundtrack of cold winds weaving between rocks and the waves atching in the breeze. I would love to properly explore the Causeway coast as there is so much to see at every corner, so if ever I visit Northern Ireland I would probably travel to Larne and stay closer to that area rather than Belfast as we did this time so that I could really take advantage of the beautiful northern coast and more of what this beautiful country has to offer within its rural regions!
The following day, we decided to have a peaceful time with no concrete plan other than to see which roads took our fancy. We started our morning with a visit to the National Trust area of Kearney which rested on the coast looking back towards mainland UK with quaint little cottages dotted up and down. There were quite a few geocaches in this area so we used them as our guide as we strolled along, initially south towards Portaferry which was quite a rocky coastline with waves crashing against them creating a beautiful soundtrack for a lovely Sunday morning. We looped back and found a few more geocaches heading north up the shore before sitting for a while as sunshine shared some heat between the clouds. It was lovely to see how much of the coastline was open to the public, with well maintained paths and plenty of benches for you to sit at and enjoy the vista - we also had a little chat with a lady and her two dogs about nature and photography which was lovely. We then decided to head down the quieter roads towards Portaferry and Strangford Lough for our next adventure of the day (and some lunch!). We boarded the car ferry across the water and found a cute little coffee shop to grab a brew and bite to eat, whilst deciding we would head down to Downpatrick. On our way to Downpatrick we were surrounded by beautiful green fields and trees, some were speckled with patches of yellow or orange as a few leaves were slowly starting to turn as Autumn approaches. Once we arrived we paid a visit to the grave of 'St Patrick' which was at the church in Downpatrick - it is a contested subject as to whether it truly is the remains of the St Patrick, particularly as the body was originally buried elsewhere - but it was still nice none of the less to visit a place where such a large and vibrant part of the magic of Ireland!
We ended our final evening in Northern Ireland back in Cloughey where our guesthouse was, primarily taking walks down the beach and looking for anything pretty shells of other interesting that had washed up on the shore. It's not often that I get to visit the beach, and usually they are quite rocky but Cloughey has beautiful soft sand which brushes against several naturally formed grassy banks marking the start of the Green Isle so I really wanted to take advantage of it by taking my cuppa coffee out with me several times! We were also lucky enough to have majority of the shore to ourselves each time we went on our wanders, very few people walked past us and most were just a small speck moving along in the distance. The best thing about the coastline was that when it was clear enough you could faintly see the Cumbrian fells, so it was nice to have a little taste of home whilst we were away! The weather was warm for early September in Ireland, but we could see the heavy rain moving across the Isle of Mann and the Cumbrian fells several times over the afternoon. At one point several rainbows started to form across the ocean, framing the rainclouds and the fells on the horizon. I knew to appreciate the rare occasion of being this side of the rainbow because, sure enough, when we landed back to mainland Scotland the following morning, we were greeted with torrential downpours!
Northern Ireland is well and truly a stunning place, and I can see why those who live here are so proud of their homeland and independence. I could feel the years of love and appreciation which has nurtured this land and shaped it into the magnificent beauty which my camera cannot truly capture no matter how hard I tried! If you do get the opportunity to visit this stunning country, grab it with both hands - you won't regret it!