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Trip Report Ireland with a Northern Twist

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First … thank you so much to all who helped with suggestions. The impetus for this trip was to return to the annual Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival. Belfast & Nashville are sister cities and the festival is fantastic. This was our fifth trip to Ireland and we’ve explored (and loved) much of the island. Our plan for this trip was to concentrate on the north—the Antrim Coast and Derry/Londonderry in Northern Ireland, and County Donegal in the Republic.

We landed in Belfast, and before we had even left the airport I was reminded of how exceptionally warm and friendly the people are. It took about 40 minutes to sort out a problem with my work visa. By then, all the other arriving passengers had left and the immigration agents chatted with us like old friends. They repeatedly apologized for the delay, offered to bring us some water, and when I mentioned that the nose-piece on my glasses had broken, they even offered to bring me a “plaster” (Band-Aid)! We enjoyed the “craic” so much I was almost sorry to leave.

Rented a car from Europcar and headed to our first stop—the Bushmills Inn in Bushmills. We loved it there. The staff was exceptional and the hotel has a lot of charm and character. When we slept through breakfast (jet lag!) the first day, they insisted it was no problem to serve us. Once again, plenty of craic with the servers and desk clerks.

On previous trips we had stayed at Limepark Cottages in Armoy (near Ballycastle) and absolutely loved it, but decided to try Bushmills this time, to be closer to the Giant’s Causeway and some places we hadn’t seen before. The room was quite nice and reasonably priced at around $160 U.S.D including an enormous breakfast. The restaurant had enormous windows that overlooked a lovely courtyard, making you feel like you were dining in a garden.

There were advantages to staying in both places. On a previous trip we had enjoyed stops in Cushendall and Cushendun, and LOVED the waterfall walk in Glenariff – in the Glens of Antrim. This time, we didn’t get down that far, concentrating on sites more to the north. But I’d say that Glenariff –and the waterfall walk -- is a “must-see” for those who haven’t been there.

The Giant’s Causeway is the star attraction on the Causeway Coastal Highway—and it is SPECTACULAR. The setting itself would be enough, but the octagonal geological formations are fascinating. But, there’s so much more on that route. In the past two years I’ve driven California’s Highway 1 from San Francisco to L.A., and Australia’s Great Ocean Road. The Causeway Coastal Highway is absolutely on par with both of these. The scenery is nothing short of stunning.

“The Dark Hedges”—a “Game of Thrones” filming site—is inland a bit, and is a photographers’ paradise (as is most of this area). I’m a bit of a photography nut and took one of my favorite photos ever there.

Really enjoyed a photo stop at Dunseverick Harbour—which was only marked “Harbour” by the sign. A seventy-year-old kayaker (it was late February—and the wind was blowing!!!!) told us the name. The Irish are a hearty lot!!! We had a nice conversation. It seems everyone wanted to chat—and it was so nice.

But hands down, my favorite place of the entire trip was Ballintoy Harbour—that was another filming location for “Game of Thrones.” The beauty of that part of the Antrim coast is nothing short of breathtaking. Some of the rock formations look like sculptures carved by the sea, and one of them looked exactly like an elephant. There were enormous caves to explore, too. I could gush on and on, but you’ll understand when you see the photos.

We stopped to snap pix at every pull-off: White Rocks, Rinagree Coastal Park, Portrush, and Dunluce Castle which is simply incredible. It’s a gorgeous setting and so interesting to explore. This was another fave. Did a long walk at Carrick-a-rede, with its famous rope bridge. Sooo beautiful. (Help! I’m running out of superlatives.)

Portstewart was not on my radar, but a local suggested it as a great place for a coastal walk. The town is a beach resort that’s very popular with locals. We did “the Nun’s Walk” aka “The Convent Walk” and the “the Clift Walk.” Whatever they call it, it was beautiful. It was bright and sunny, but when the wind blew it was quite cold, yet there were quite a few ice cream shops, including a famous one that makes its own. An amazing number of people were walking while eating ice cream!!! AGGHH. After the walk we enjoyed browsing the shops.

That evening we had an exceptional dinner in Bushmills at Tartine (at the Distiller’s Arms). It was surprisingly good food with beautiful presentation, and reasonable prices. Overall, our meals exceeded expectations.

Will post a link to photos at the end.

Next stop: Derry/Londonderry …

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