July 18, 2018
While I think bus tours are a great way to see the sights, I don’t like them when they are full to the brim with people. Unfortunately, my bus today had not one empty seat and those seats seemed extra narrow with no legroom even for my short legs. Fortunately, since we were embarking on a journey to a bucket list location, I was willing to put up with the slight discomfort. That I befriended a pair of quirky recent college graduates traveling Europe for the summer made conversation easy and the actual time on the bus passed quickly. The three of us kept count of the number of times our bus driver/tour guide said the word “wee.” In the span of 10 hours, he used “wee” in various contexts over 300 times. It was a wee bit much!
Our first stop was Carrickfergus Castle standing on the shore of Belfast Lough. With only minutes for a quick restroom, snack and ATM break, there wasn’t much time to look around, but the town looked quaint, including the little harbor. Apparently, the first battle involving the US Navy took place off the shores of Carrickfergus in 1778 – the Ranger was under the command of John Paul Jones.
I found poppies growing wild along the edge of the castle.
Our route took us right along the coast. The scenery was breathtaking. Pardon the greenish tinge, but the following photos were taken through the bus windows.
We arrived a tad bit early for our bus’ time slot for the parking at the Carrick-a-Rede (a rope bridge 100 feet up stretched between the mainland and an island), so we made a photo stop so everyone could see where the bridge they would walk across was situated. See the little dots on the line between the two rocks – they are people.
Since I am not a fan of heights, or crowds, I decided to opt out of the throng of people in line to walk across the rope bridge. Instead, I took a hike down to the lime quarry. Based on the comments from my bus posse who did the bridge, my hike was more exciting. I was able to get right down on the rocky beach and look into the caves carved into the cliffs.
We also made a quick photo stop at Dunluce Castle, which is perched precariously on the edge of a cliff. The castle was once a showpiece in the Middle Ages, but in 1639, during a dark and stormy night, a grand dinner was interrupted as half of the kitchen fell into the sea, taking all the servants with it. The lady of the castle was not pleased. She packed up and moved, allowing the castle to fall into ruin.
The highlight of the day, however, was the Giant’s Causeway, one of the many “must do” sites on my bucket list.
The scientific explanation for this coastal phenomenon is that the stones were formed by volcanic action. But how did the stones form perfect hexagons? The local legend of the area’s formation doesn’t explain the hexagons, but is much more fanciful.
Legend has it that there was a giant by the name of Finn MacCool who was being tormented by a rival giant who lived in Scotland. Finn built a stone bridge across the water so he could spy on his rival; however, when he got to the other side, he found out that the rival giant was much bigger and fiercer. In his retreat, Finn awoke his rival who began to chase him across the bridge. Finn made it home, explained to his wife that he was being chased. His quick thinking wife had him hide in the back room and put on a set of baby’s clothes. When the rival giant came looking for Finn, all he found was his wife tending their baby – a very big, hairy baby. The rival giant was so frightened by the baby’s size, imagining just how big the father would have to be to sire such a huge offspring, that he ran back to Scotland crushing parts of the bridge in his haste. When the coast was clear, Finn took off the baby’s clothes, broke down the rest of the bridge and stayed on his own side of the water.
They say the proof that the legend is true lies in the fact that the hexagonal stones can be found under the water and on both the coast of Ireland and the coast of Scotland. Whatever you believe, this is a magical place and one that really needs to be experienced. A few hours is just not enough.
After the day’s adventures, the bus dropped a couple of us off at the Big Blue Fish. I made my way along the channel back to my hotel for a nap before heading back out for dinner. Belfast is just beginning to develop a foodie culture. I wasn’t really feeling like pub fare, so I opted for Holohan’s, a slightly posher restaurant located on a barge not to far from my hotel.
The tomato and chili soup was full-bodied and not too spicy. The cheese bread paired with the soup was a little dry, but the herbed butter that accompanied it could have been eaten with a spoon (which I didn’t) because it was that tasty. I was in the mood for seafood, so I went with the special – a smoked cod, prawn and salmon boxty. The pancake was super light, but the cream sauce was a little dense, albeit yummy, so I ended up picking out the flavorful pieces of fish and shellfish so as not to go too far off my diet.
Although I was really tempted, I did not order the sticky toffee pudding sundae. Let’s rack that one up as a NSV (non-scale victory). Another day under my belt.