Saturday 28 July 2018 Derry – Bushmills
- Downhill Demesne and Mussenden Temple
- Dunluce Castle
This morning in Derry it was a fine day but by the time we arrived at Castlerock to visit the Downhill Demesne and Mussenden Temple site the weather had turned to a constant drizzle. The Downhill Demesne is an 18th century mansion built for Lord Bishop of Derry, who was said to be an eccentric and colourful person. It was rebuilt in 1870s after fire but fell into disrepair after the Second World War. As you walk through the ruins you realise how enormous the mansion was and the architecture that remains is very detailed. On another part of the estate perched on a 120ft cliff top high above the Atlantic Ocean is the stunning Mussenden Temple which was built in 1785 as a summer library with its architecture inspired by the Temple of Vesta in Tivoli, near Rome. It is dedicated to the memory of his cousin Frideswide Mussenden. We couldn’t go inside the temple as there was a wedding on today. We walked around the clifftops and the views of Ireland’s north coast are breathtaking, even in the rain. From one part of the cliffs you can see where the train passes through. As it began to pour we decided not to visit the remaining parts of the grounds which contain a building named Belvedere which was built for the Bishop’s daughter as a summer house for her to enjoy the view, a Walled Garden, Dovecote and Ice House which provided the big house with food, a Mausoleum, dedicated to his brother, Black Glen Pond, a constructed dam to provide the family with food, Hezlett House another family home and an adventure park. This Bishop must have had a lot of money to develop these grounds as this is an enormous site which is now managed by The National Trust and is therefore free to members.
We continued along the Causeway Coastal Route to Dunluce Castle. This castle was first built on the dramatic coastal cliffs in around 1500 and one stormy night in 1639 part of the castle kitchens fell into the sea and was later abandoned. It is now in ruins. As we approached the castle the rain was bucketing down and the wind had picked up making it very hazardous to drive in, so we pulled into a parking area at the top of the hill and waited it out. The noise inside the motorhome was deafening at times and the wind was buffeting the van.
After 2 hours the wind died down and the rain stopped pelting, it was too late and miserable to visit the castle, so we continued along the Causeway Coastal Route to Bushmills Park and Ride and stayed in the free carpark with about 6 other motorhomes. Bushmills is a quiet, pretty town.
Sunday 29 July 2018 Bushmills – Belfast
- Giant’s Causeway
- Carrick-A-Rede and Larrybane
First thing this morning we drove to the Giant’s Causeway and parked in the free visitor centre carpark. We were here 10 years ago and the only thing here besides the causeway was the Causeway Hotel. Now there is a Visitor Centre which has been ingeniously designed into the hill and made from basalt, a bus system to take you down to the causeway, way-marked trails across the headland and the causeway visiting area with a designated path past the main causeway to another section and guided tours.
The Giant’s Causeway is Ireland’s first UNESCO Heritage Site declared in 1986 and consists of 40 000 basalt stone columns left by volcanic eruptions 60 million years ago. This is a National Trust World Heritage Site and is free for us as members. Using the audio guide provided we began at the state-of-the-art visitor centre which has an illuminating exhibition explaining the stories and science behind the Giant’s Causeway, then we caught the bus to the cliffs and continued our walk along the path listening to information about each section. The tops of the columns form stepping stones that lead from the cliff foot and disappear under the sea. There were a lot of people climbing over this area. Most of the columns are hexagonal with the tallest about 12 metres high and the solidified lava in the cliffs is around 28 metres thick in places. The walk along the area, even though extremely busy is still a spectacular and fascinating sight to see, the jagged cliffs, the crystal-clear blue water and breath-taking columns of the Giant’s Causeway.
Continuing on the Coastal Route we stopped at Carrick-A-Rede and Larrybane in a remote area of Ballintoy. Tiny Carrick-A-Rede Island is accessed from the mainland by a 20m wide rope bridge, traditionally erected by salmon fishermen over 300 years ago. Before this, Stone Age hunters came here for the flint buried in the limestone cliffs and thousands of years later men were quarrying at Larrybane which is evidenced in the carpark. This is also where a scene from Games of Throne was filmed.
To reach the rope bridge you walk along a 1km cliff path. The scenery is spectacular, and the formation of the coastline is fascinating. Then you test your nerve by crossing the 20-metre-wide and 30-metre-deep chasm on a 3 cm thick board with rope handrails on a rope suspension bridge. The views of Rathlin Island and Scotland on the other side are fantastic. Also, from the rocky island underneath, large caves are visible and the fisherman’s whitewashed cottage and wooden stairway to the path and its winch are nestled in the only shelter on the rock. There is a permanent residence of nesting fulmars, guillemots and razorbills on the island as well. At Larrybane Head there are the remains of a fort more than a thousand years old. This site is owned and operated by the National Trust which means it is free to members.
After this we drove along another section of the Causeway Coastal Route to Ballycastle and then to Cushendall and then we headed to Belfast where we camped for the night at Lagan Towpath along Lockview Road. This is the same place we cmaped the firt time we were in Belfast .
Monday 30 July 2018 Belfast
This morning we drove into Belfast city and parked the motorhome in a paid parking station as we had organised a guided walking tour for 11 o’clock. We began the tour in front of the Belfast City Hall a Baroque revival style building opened in 1906. At the front of City Hall is an 11 feet high statue of Queen Victoria with life sized bronze figures representing spinning and shipbuilding.
From here we walked passing major sites such a, the Grand Opera opened in 1895; the Crown Hotel which is the most famous pub in Belfast dating back to 1826; Ulster Hall which is now a concert hall; Albert Memorial Clock completed in 1869 and slowly subsided into the underground river before being restored; the Big Fish which is a 10 m long printed ceramic mosaic sculpture on the waterfront constructed in 1999 with each tile decorated with texts and images relating to the history of Belfast and City Hall.
After lunch we went on a Taxitrax Tour which is the original Belfast Black Taxi Tour with a tour guide who lived through the conflict years in Belfast. He had a good local knowledge and drove us through sites of historical and political interest, explained the significance of the Belfast murals and took us to key landmarks where the fighting and bombings took place. It was a very enlightening tour. One of the bizarre yet interesting facts was the massive peace walls and murals separating communities and it is hard to believe that in a modern European city in the 21st century that such walls exist, and the security dividing staunch Catholic and Protestant areas where gates are closed every night at 6pm. We drove along areas such as Falls Road and Shankill Road as well as the city centre and the Europa Hotel – once known as the most bombed hotel in Europe.
We then returned to our camp along the Lagan towpath for the second night.
Tuesday 31 July 2018 Belfast – Dunleer
- Crumlin Road Gaol
Today we went on a tour of Crumlin Road Gaol built in the 19th century which opened its gates to prisoners in 1846 and for 150 years was a fully operational prison and closed on March 1996. On the tour the guide explained that during the 150 years the Gaol housed murderers, suffragettes and loyalist and republican prisoners. It also witnessed births, deaths and marriages and was the home to executions, escapes, hunger strikes and riots. On our tour we travelled in the footsteps of 25 000 prisoners, entered the tunnel that connects the Gaol and the Courthouse, explored C wing and saw prison life conditions and visited the condemned man cell and the area where 17 men were executed. It was a very interesting and a very sobering tour.
After filling up with water and replenishing our food supplies we drove to Dundalk to do our washing. We then drove 15 minutes along the R132 to Dunleer. Tonight, we camped on the Dunleer Harbour with 6 other motorhomes. A lovely outlook over the Irish Sea.