My English mate Jono’s impression of my accent goes something like “Oh fiddle de dee I’m from Oreland”, but laugh though he may, my Irish tongue served me well throughout my 11 years living in England, everyone seemed to love it. But there’s more to Ireland than just its natives’ indecipherable lilt and as I flew back home for Christmas, with Emily in tow, having left our life and careers in London behind for a life of travel, I realised that this should be the start of our round the world adventure and we should get out and see more of my little green island before hitting Bangkok in the New Year.
“Please remain in your seats with your seat belt fastened, we are about to experience some turbulence” and with that we dropped a couple of hundred feet as Emily jumped with a start, turned a lighter shade of pale and I was interrupted from my mental planning of what I could get up to back home other than just the usual getting drunk down the pub. We then swooped from side to side in the heavy winds on our descent into Derry Airport and made two failed attempts at landing before being diverted to Belfast International. “Well” I thought “no point getting annoyed, there’s the first thing for my Ireland action plan sorted – a scenic bus drive over across the country!”. Although some of the drive is motorway, it’s actually quite a pleasant route from Belfast to Derry. We travelled up over the Sperrin Mountains, through the rugged Glenshane Pass and arriving home to an Ulster Fry my mum had cooked, Emily and I weren’t too bothered by the diversion.
We settled in the first few days with us meeting and having meals with A LOT of family – I think Emily found meeting my almost entire extended family a little daunting but good craic all the same! My sister had kindly lent us her car and we got Emily insured on it for about £50 for the month of December, so it was a cheap way to get about and see Ireland. It’s probably the best way, especially in winter when cycling is just stupid, as public transport is not very comprehensive. For the first week in Ireland I showed Emily some of what my hometown of Derry has to offer.
Derry is steeped in history and so I took Emily a wee jaunt around the city’s historic walls. Built in the 17th century, the walls still survive intact to this day and you can now walk around the circumference of the walls to get a great view of the city and read about its history on the numerous information boards.
The modern history of my city is infamous given that Derry was, and to an extent still is, severely affected by The Troubles from the late 60’s. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Bogside, the area of the city where I grew up, and where the tragedy of Bloody Sunday happened on 30 January 1972. I showed Emily round my old neighbourhood with the landmark Free Derry Corner and the political murals showing historic and harrowing events of our recent past. Growing up there in the 80’s, the Troubles were still in full flow with bomb scares and the British army smashing down doors. So it’s probably natural that Derry people can maybe go a bit over the top when speaking to young English people about it, young people who had nothing to do with it I should add. I can definitely be guilty of that as I have a big mouth and I didn’t think I was very objective when explaining the situation to Emily – whoops!
Then in true Irish style to add a bit comic relief and lighten the mood, we hit the pubs. The best street in Derry for a pint of Guinness is Waterloo Street and the Gweedore Bar and adjoining Peadar O’Donnells’ are perfect pubs for visitors to our town. There are traditional Irish bars full of characters from the city and decors stuffed full of Irish historical memorabilia. Here are a couple of pics of Emily enjoying a pint with my mates, Sean McLoone and Rory Mcivor in Peadars…
Tucked away in a little nook of the city centre there is a cool wee area called the Craft Village. It has loads of little authentic souvenir shops and traditional eateries and although it can be a little over-priced, it’s definitely worth a visit. Emily really liked it, although that may have been the influence of a few pints in the bar beforehand!
The Hills of Donegal
In our second week in Ireland my mum and dad had left to visit my brother in Perth, Australia for Christmas and so left to our own devices, we had time to see a bit further afield.
In the first few days we took my dog Maisy to some of the beaches in the neighbouring county, Donegal. Maisy was depressed missing my mum (no joke – proof below) until she got to run about the long stretches of sand and bark at other dogs five times her size. She was fine after that!
I wrote about hitting the beaches of Donegal in in my latest “Ohne Alkohol” periodic photo post, which you can read here if you like and these are a few extra photos to whet your appetite…
Donegal is a wonderfully mountainous and green land with miles and miles of astounding coastline to get lost in and luckily it’s right on the border with Derry. In order to appreciate the landscape, it’s best to get high…into the hills that is. So I took Emily up to Grianan of Aileach, an ancient ring fort perched high on a mountain/hill overlooking Lough Swilly and only a 10 minute drive from my house! It’s free to visit and although it’s usually windy and fucking freezing up there even in “summer” (we don’t really get a summer in North West Ireland), it’s worth the windchill that sends your balls back up inside you (or equivalent for women!) for these kinds of views…
The Antrim Coast and the most annoying tour guide in Ireland
We spent Christmas Day and Boxing Day at my aunty Margaret’s house for our dinner – she lives next door, so it was very handy indeed. Our bellies were stuffed full of ham, turkey, roasties, mash, gravy, onion rings…yep onion rings, it’s a weird traditional in our family to have onion rings at Xmas – everyone else seems to be missing out on the delicacy at that time of year. Emily found it weird though. Anyway, after sitting like two prize pigs round my aunt’s eating & drinking for a couple of days, we decided we needed to get out and see some more of Ireland.
Even after glorious Boxing Day morning at the beach with the dog, the next day it was raining, snowing, sleeting, windy and generally pretty shitty weather. Nevertheless, we braved the elements to take the Causeway Coastal Route from Derry to the Antrim coast to visit the world famous Giant’s Causeway and the daunting Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. The weather looked like it was to get worse in the afternoon which would have meant Carrick-a-Rede would close, and so we set off very early morning. If you intend to take a trip there and want to cross the bridge, a little planning is definitely useful so you’re not disappointed.
The Causeway Coastal Route is quite the drive. I think my parents may have taken me on it when I was young but I couldn’t remember, and as we set off from Derry and past Limavady and made our way along the sandy beaches, rocky terrain, and dazzling white cliffs I cursed myself for not having done this before. The route definitely deserves it’s description as one of the world’s great road journeys and as an area of outstanding natural beauty. Here’s why….
We reached the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre about an hour and half after setting off from Derry, largely due to me wanting to stop and take photos, otherwise the journey could be done with little traffic in about 40 minutes. Although we had read online that the Causeway could be accessed over the top of the Visitor Centre for free, we decided for the sake of journalistic endeavour to stump up the £8.50 per adult for the Visitor Centre (it’s cheaper for groups and children) to see what it has to offer. The centre provides visitors with a range of multi-media information, a cafe, a souvenir store, audioguides and walking tours at no additional cost. You would think this was all great stuff, but you’d be wrong…well about the walking tour anyway, or maybe we just got a maverick, a lone dickhead tour guide.
We were having a brief look about the Visitor Centre and were approached and asked by a couple of employees if we wanted to go on a guided walk to the Causeway about 1km away. Sometimes I don’t like embarrassing people by saying no (although that’s definitely changing having been in Thailand and Cambodia these past two weeks where everyone wants money from you for something or other) and I thought it may be a good way to learn about the Causeway, so I somewhat hesitantly said yes. As we were handed our ear pieces to listen to the guide I could see Emily wasn’t impressed, maybe her women’s intuition sensed what was coming. Once we got out of the doors to the start of the tour, I knew I had made a mistake. He stopped for about 10 minutes in temperatures around 0 degrees Celsius with a wind-chill making it seem even colder to tell shit jokes, when he was only supposed to give a quick introduction about the Visitor Centre, the Causeway and some health and safety spiel. It should have lasted two minutes and been done inside – so we were freezing, annoyed and regretful before we had even set off.
He then walked very slowly down the road to the Causeway and stopped literally every 50m or so to tell us a little bit of information and even more shit jokes. I’m sure he could see how agitated me, Emily and the other unfortunate couple from England were getting…but he continued on the same. I don’t know what it is about our psyches in Ireland and England, but I didn’t want to embarrass the guy, or myself I suppose, by saying what I dearly wanted to: “You’re taking the piss here Mr Tour Guide, you can shove your shit jokes up your hole, am freezing and walking on, see you later meatbag!”.
But we stuck with him until the end of the tour, save the time when he told us to stand in a place called “Windy Alley” and Emily walked on her limit reached, and by the time we reached the Causeway things had gone awry. I couldn’t feel my fingers and Emily was on the verge of tears she was so cold. I tried to make the best of it and started snapping pictures in between trying to blow warm air into my clasped hands to save my fingers from frost bite. But as I looked around at the beauty before me, I forgot about the cold and I was hit with the vast history of the place, how repeated lava flows, glaciers and the sea had combined over millions and millions of years to create it…and then I was hit by the image of Emily hurrying along the road back up to the Visitors Centre after a few failed attempts to get my attention as I had climbed up onto the Causeway. I surveyed the area some more taking it all in and then made my own way back before I died of hypothermia.
Back at the Visitor Centre we warmed up with not-so-cheap coffee and caramel shortcakes and cursed the tour guide with every name under the sun. We came to the conclusion that he had done it on purpose, as he had been wearing full winter gear and so was nice and warm and having a little joke at our expense. Anyway, we brushed our mistake aside, said lesson learnt and wandered around trying out the various information points. They have touch screen computers whereby you find out how the Causeway formed and they have, among other interactive mediums, a huge plasma cinema screen showing a cartoon telling the different theories over the years of how the Causeway was formed, from it being giant fossils, to folklore legend that it was built as a bridge by Finn McCool, an Irish giant, to reach his Scottish enemy, to the accepted modern day theory of it being a lava formation. The content provided is relevant, informative and entertaining. That said, if I could have done the trip again, I would have went over the top of the centre and walked to the Causeway myself for free without that fucking tour guide and done my own research on the place – although if you’re going with kids, the centre would likely be a fun experience for them.
We checked with an official looking person at the Visitors Centre about Carrick-a-Rede and whether the rope bridge was open (both are national Trust properties) given the weather. The guy said it was but as the winds were supposed to pick up, we should hurry. We made the short journey north in about 15 minutes and it was still open. Schweet. We paid our £5.60 per person (there is no free option for the Rope Bridge, unless you sneak past the lax attendants – although I am not advocating that on this blog!) and hurried along the 3/4Km to the Bridge stopping only briefly for a few snaps.
The bridge is indeed a rope bridge and a lot less steady than I would have thought, especially when Emily decided it was a good idea to bounce up and down on it as I was trying to steady myself to take a few pics and the wind was picking up! I had expected the rails at the side would have been more sturdy given health and safety these days, but they were just looseish rope – making it a more authentic and scary crossing than I would have imagined. Apparently the fishermen who originally used the bridge had no side rails to balance themselves, just an overhead rope!
On the island at the far side of the bridge there’s a quaint little cottage and a tiny tiny pier surrounded by cliffs on all sides, making it a very picturesque place. The island is very small though and only a bit of it was open to the public, so we soon made our way back to the car taking pictures at the jaw dropping landscape all around us as we walked. All one has to do in that part of Ireland is point and shoot, no skill required…
Driving home to Derry as it turned dark and started to snow, I thought back to my time in Ireland over Christmas and my time in England since I was 18 and I was still finding it hard to believe I would be off soon on a potentially 5 year adventure around the other side of the world! But I had realised that great travel can be found on your own door step if you just get up off your arse to do it!
[THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY POSTED ON OUR PREVIOUS SITE ON 16 JANUARY 2014]