Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sun 18th- No sightseeing today

Over the last three and a bit years we’ve stayed at more than 30 B&Bs throughout the UK, Europe and now Ireland and unfortunately the one we stayed at last night was the first one that we’ve had a bad experience with. The B&B itself was very lovely and the hosts were nice people but they were quite heavy smokers. This didn’t become apparent until after we were settled in bed; the bedclothes and linen stunk of stale smoke and they were also smoking downstairs in their quarters which were underneath our room. After a restless night where we put rolled up towels along the doors and opened and shut the windows many times we were up at the crack of dawn and as soon as we heard movement downstairs we checked out before breakfast. We were meant to be there two nights but there was no way we could stop another night.

Not only was it very early on a Sunday morning and we hadn’t had breakfast but it was also pouring with rain, freezing cold and howling a gale. Great, we are meant to be visiting the Giants Causeway and Carrick-a-rede rope bridge. We were now cursing that we didn’t visit them yesterday when we had that brilliant day. We drove through the Ballycastle to see if there was a café or something similar where we could have breakfast and decide what to do for the day. There was nothing open and nothing looking like it would be opening any time soon. That’s one thing I have noticed on our travels, there aren’t the cafes and restaurants offering breakfast or brunches like in NZ especially in the smaller villages and towns.

The rain eased a little but it was still bitterly cold so we decided to head up the coast to the Causeway and see if it was any clearer up there. There was a hotel near the car park and as we really did need some breakfast we asked reception if we could purchase breakfast without being guests. The Causeway Hotel looked like it used to be a grand old hotel in it's day but now it was a little worse for wear and with what looked like “package holiday” guests all lined up for their Full English Breakfasts. We were grateful to be allowed to tag on the end.

Obviously not taken on the day we visited!

Unfortunately while we were having breakfast the rain returned with vengeance and after I made a quick dash to the Giants Causeway ticket office to check the lay of the land we decided sadly, that it just wasn’t going to be a nice experience. There was no one about and the shuttle bus was empty and waiting too.

The Giants Causeway is the most popular tourist attraction in Northern Ireland. It’s an area of approximately 40,000 interlocking basalt columns that are a result of an ancient volcanic eruption. The tops of the columns form stepping stones that lead from the cliff foot and disappear under the sea. Most of the columns are hexagonal although there are some with four, five, seven and eight sides. The tallest are 12 metres high and the solidified lava in the cliffs is 28 metres thick in places.

Although there is another story which most people believe to be true.

The Giants Causeway was built by the most famous Irish giant, Finn MacCool! Finn lived on the North Coast of Ireland and had a great rivalry with another giant, Benandonner, across the sea in Scotland. The two giants would shout at each other across the water, and after a dispute about their respective fighting ability, Finn grabbed a rock and threw it towards Scotland, issuing a challenge to settle this claim. Benandonner responded with another rock, saying he could not swim. Finn MacCool then tore slabs of volcanic rock from the plateau around him to pave a causeway to let his rival cross.

Benandonner had to accept his challenge, came across the causeway and entered Finn MacCool's house to find the comparatively small (by giant standards) Finn dressed as a baby. Upon seeing the size of the "baby", and working out what size his father must be, Benandonner fled all the way back to Scotland, destroying the causeway as he crossed the sea to prevent Finn’s father from following . The remains are what we now know as the Giants Causeway
These aren’t my photos, I “stole” them off the web but I wanted to show you what we missed.

We would have also have had to wait it out for an hour or so as it is best to visit the stairway at low tide. There would have been a lot of walking involved and clambering over slippery rocks and in the end we just decided it was too darn cold and wet. What a pity, this was one of the main things, in fact the most important thing, I wanted to do in Northern Ireland. I guess it’ll have to wait for another time. Along with the Carrick-a-rede bridge! We gave that a miss too. Only a couple of cars in the car park and a few brave souls walking the kilometre along the cliff edge to the bridge. We chose to stop at the lookout further up the road and even walking that short distance to the viewing area we froze our butts off!

Can you see the brave soul(idiot) on the bridge?

This is what we should have seen, these ones aren't my photos -

The Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is a rope suspension bridge that links the mainland to tiny Carrick Island. The bridge spans twenty meters and is thirty meters above the rocks below. It was originally used by salmon fishermen who lived in the tiny cottage(you can see it in my photo) on the island during the fishing season. Today the bridge is mainly a tourist attraction, with over 250,000 visitors during the season and although no one has fallen off the bridge, there have been many instances where visitors, unable to face the walk back across the bridge, have had to be taken off the island by boat. The bridge is taken down every year in late October- early November, depending on the weather conditions and put back up in March.

We headed back towards Ballycastle not too sure what to do with no B&B now booked for tonight and any sightseeing off the menu because of the weather. Not too far from the town on a sharp right hand bend we came across some major skid marks back and forth across the road and up and down a bank and then over the bank on the other side. As we drove on we looked at each other and both decided at the same time we should turn around and make sure there was no one in the car that we saw down the bank as it had crashed head-on into some small trees. It was a bit scary clambering down the bank because I wasn’t sure what I would find but luckily there was only empty take away packages, bottles and rubbish scattered about. Some blood on the driver’s seat and a deflated airbag but nobody (literally) in the car. It had obviously happened sometime during Saturday night.

We drove on into Ballycastle and stopped at the Marina for a short wander and a look at their boats. They were all very small, short and stubby, obviously to cope with the rough seas and short chop of the waves. The rain had again eased but not for long.

Back in the car and we made the decision to head to Belfast one night earlier than planned. Another area south of Ballycastle that we’d hoped to visit too were the Glens of Antrim, an area comprising of nine glens, or valleys, that run down from the “mountains” to the coast. This area is meant to be very beautiful and is also another major tourist attraction. Unfortunately the whole area was shrouded in low cloud and heavy rain so after a quick stop to watch some sailors fight the elements in the small seaside village of Cushendun then we drove up and over Glenariff. We came across some crazy cyclists that we had to crawl behind for about 10 minutes, there was no way we could see ahead of them and they were spread out across the road. Not the best way to endear yourself to motorists.

They have some serious backup boats!

We saw virtually nothing of the area and it’s such a shame as it certainly looked interesting and very beautiful with deep green valleys, autumn colours, and rocky cliffs. It rained all the way to Belfast, we didn’t have too much trouble finding our B&B. I had called ahead and luckily the B&B we had planned to stay at on Monday night had our room available for tonight also. Ravenshill House was very well located just south of the city and within walking distance of a small area of shops and restaurants. After catching up on emails and work at home we wandered down the road to the pub and had some good old pub grub! Back home to bed and it was still raining, I think this is going to be the end of our run of fine weather in Ireland.

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