Our Own Dark Hedges

Although we never made it over to visit the Dark Hedges (we might have shown more interest if we’ve ever watched Game of Thrones), we DID find this little bit of Irish heaven on one of the many, many back country roads.

Nothing but hedges, hills, trees, hedges, stone walls, farms, sheep, did I mention hedges? Oh, and my Maine Man behind the wheel of our rented Audi. A stunning drive.

Past, Present, and Future

This morning Dave and I checked out of Fir Tree Hotel. I can honestly say we will not miss it and will not be visiting again. You’ll notice we haven’t posted any photos of it or our room. Onward…

We are now headed to Belfast to drop the car off at the airport, get a cab into the city and check in to our hotel for the next three nights.

Dave indicated I had not taken a photo of him driving the car. I took a short video in Scotland of him, but realized he was right. So here it is!

He did a great job driving, despite my nagging him he was too close to the curbs and hedges and a GPS/SatNav that died and having to use a different one. We really liked the Audi we got upgraded to by the nice man inside the airport at the Hertz desk. He was great even taking us outside to let us know where we’d be returning the car.

Dave got us safely back to Belfast airport today. It was a shame the young men who man the outside Hertz rental car pick up & return were so unhelpful and rude. Both at pick up and return, they were unpleasant to deal with.

Anyway…the taxi driver and hotel receptionist more than made up for the airport dudes. Both were extremely friendly and helpful and answered all our questions.

We were both hungry and walked over to White’s Tavern for lunch and a pint. I had Bangor’s (sausages) and Mash (potatoes) and Dave had fish n’ chips and we both had Guinness. What a cool pub. Supposedly haunted, it originally was established in 1630. Which means it has been a pub since around the times the Pilgrim’s landed. Think about that.

Our first order of business after checking in at The Premier Inn, was to take a hop-on, hop-off bus tour of the city. We walked to the first stop and were glad to see the tour was just about to leave. We sat on the outside, upper deck of the double-decker bus and were whisked around the city for an hour and a half tour.

Unbeknownst to us, there was a woman’s rights march today in Belfast and the bus had to wait for the march a bit and drive a slightly different route.

The tour showed the good, the bad, and ugly. Unfortunately, there is still some major bad and ugly in Belfast with the religious differences and segregation. There has been peace, but you can tell the unrest could bubble up at any time. After photographing a few of the murals dedicated to those who sacrifices or were innocently killed, I stopped photographing them. I hate war, I especially hate violence, and I wasn’t crazy about it all being a focus of a tour bus. It is, however, part of Belfast’s past and should be remembered to not repeat in the future.

There are some historical buildings in Belfast NOT associated with The Troubles, and they were pointed out and they drove through what could be considered the “slums” of the city as well as the more affluent neighborhoods. It was uncomfortable to me to not only take the tour bus down the streets of these poorer neighborhoods, but for the tour guide to be talking on the speaker about how poorly they live….while driving down the street and people who live their walking about. Edinburgh, this was not. And perhaps that is WHY they do it. They need to show the world.

We also drove to the Northern Ireland parliament building which is very grand, but way outside the main city.

After the tour we walked around the city for awhile and did a wee bit of shopping. Dave picked up a free Guinness hat and I bought one of the two things I’ve been looking for in Ireland: a Claddagh ring.

There is an old Irish saying that goes, “With These hands, I give you my heart and crown it with my love.” The Claddagh ring consists of a heart with a crown held by two hands symbolizing love, loyalty and friendship. There are specific ways one is supposed to wear them as well.

Dave is still not quite over his cold and I was starting to get a sore throat so we cut our night short and hope to get some rest.

Belfast Bound

We’re off to the big city today. I want to apologize to Belfast for the smelly Americans walking around. We brought FAR too many heavier pieces of clothing for these warm & muggy temps. I’d buy more cooler clothing, but getting my luggage through check-in at airport in four days is already going to be an issue.

Coastal Irish Coziness

The Premier Inn provided a lovely breakfast buffet this morning as Dave and I looked through our travel itinerary today. It was just a tick cooler, cloudier, but still nice out. A heavy fog over the ocean would obscure a more brilliant vista most of the day.

We were leaving Carrickfergus and going on to Islandmagee. Now, although my mother’s family name is Maggie, this island, which is actually a peninsula, isn’t a part of OUR Magee family. Dave’s years or research indicates our Magee ancestry related to Islandmagee is incorrectly stated throughout Ancestry.com and that placing the family origin on Islandmagee, is merely a matter of convenience, instead of based on any actual fact. Nonetheless, we stopped and paid our respects.

The next place of interest was a statue in the town of Larne. Easier said than done! But Dave, being Dave, had googled it extensively and we were able to track it down. Surrounded by a pre-school, a caravan/camper park and a bowling green, the tribute was dedicated in 1992 to the memory of those emigrants who left Larne in 1717 to go to America. Leaving everything & everyone behind for a new life. It was a poignant reminder of that time and of our own ancestors. I’m very glad we found it.

The next stop was Glenarm Castle & the Walled Garden. Although the 400-year old castle itself is only open to the public on occasion and the castle trial, which goes by the castle was closed for repairs, the walled garden is open to public and is Ireland’s oldest walled garden.

Afterwards, we enjoyed a bite to eat at their lovely tearoom. We both had fruit scones. Dave had coffee, I had tea, of course. As we sat out on their deck, we enjoyed the sweet perfume of David Austin roses clinging the sides of the building and some sheep were grazing in a brilliant, green field.

Although we’re visiting during the last spring & early summer bloom period and the garden wasn’t as colorful as it could be, there were still some beauties and well worth a visit to see the attention to detail in maintaining the symmetry needed for some lovely angles and views.

As the drive took us north, we tried to hug the coastline as much as possible. The drive often turned into a winding, narrow single lane that was the width of a farm tractor or cart. Dave had to back up once or twice to allow an oncoming car to safely pass. The eye-level hedges in both sides of the road didn’t allow you to see what was coming around some hair-pin turns. Dave attempted to pull over in as many places possible to allow other cars past.

I’m unable to recall all of the places we stopped and what I’m looking at, but suffice it to say, it was all stunning! Even with the fog and haze that crept along the coast. Each small town we drove through and farm we drove past, gave us a wee glimpse into every day life in this cozy spot of the world.

The sun was trying it’s best to shine, but the haze/fog was too much. We lucked out in some of the higher locations where we were able to see for miles and enjoy the many farms, sheep, cows, horses, and accommodating farmers. I’m sure they aren’t as welcoming to the tourist cars clogging their narrow roads.

Out final destination was Ballintoy, where we will staying for four days. What day is today? Who cares…I’m in vacation.

The fog had followed us and was now getting thicker as we found the Ropebridge House B&B where owner Theresa greeted us warmly at the door. Having only had the B&B for about four months, she and her husband have done a great job in providing guests with a warm and inviting home. Our room is on the 2nd floor and looks out over the hills to the ocean. I’m sure Ill have mode to share in the next two days.

Our dinner tonight was the Fullerton Arms. Terrific staff and one of, if not THE best dinners we’ve had in our trip. I had a burger & Dave had a steak & ale pie WITH Guinness of course.

After dinner we went down to the rocky Ballintoy Harbor and explored. The fog and haze was still hanging around, so it only made for an atmospheric setting, the HBO series GAME OF THRONES films around here a lot.

When we arrived back at the inn where I heard one of the two front sitting room calling me. So it grabbed a cup of tea and say there writing my blog. As we were sitting there speaking to the owners, the sun started to peek out from behind the clouds, giving us spectacular sunset at around 9:30.

I’m looking forward to not having to pack each morning the next few days!

Deer, Duncan, and Downpours

The quiet morning by the Loch. The birds chirping. The spectacular views. Ah…Scotland!

Dave and I enjoyed a restful night and arrived in the breakfast room ready to meet the day. There was a lovely woman from England at the table and we were shortly joined by another couple from the Lake district of England. The food was excellent and company was as well. We spoke of history, travels and language. Enjoyable.

Our first stop today was to drive down to a viewing point to see Castle Stalker. It is one of the best-preserved medieval tower-houses to survive in western Scotland. The castle is privately owned and apparently the family that lives there DOES give private tours, but we were just going to stop and take a few photos from it.

The weather was perfect and we enjoyed a short stroll to the edge of the lock. Upon doing so, I spotted something tall in the field and it turned out to be a very large deer. We were surprised how unaffected he/she was by our presence and allowed us to walk quite close to take videos and photos.

Castle Stalker has been featured in many television shows and movies throughout the years. We can see why. What a picturesque setting as it rises from the rocky island.

We continued our drive and stopped for another castle drive-by. This time is was the ruins of Kilchurn Castle across the loch through the trees.

Our next stop was the ancestral home of Clan Campbell at Inverary Castle. What a stunning building inside and out. A very unusual entrance, at least compared to other castles, with the hanging flowers.

However, we needed food! So we stopped into the on-sight tea room for a bite to eat. Dave ordered some coffee and a ham salad, which he loved. I had a fruit scone, butter, jam, and a wee pot of tea. We sat outside in the shade (yes, it was very warm again) at small bistro tables with the castle directly beside us.

The Duke of Argyll, Chief of the Clan Campbell lives in the castle with his young family and they’ve done an amazing job of allowing the public to view a certain number of rooms, maintain a fabulous garden & gift shop, and keeping it their ancestral home as well.

The grounds are very sprawling and the large garden is lovely. Many of the early spring flowers had gone by, but all the rhododendrons and azalea were in bloom. Some of these bushes/trees must be VERY old because they were very large.

The rooms inside gave one a real taste of the 17th century through the Victorian age sprinkled with photographs of the present Duke and his family.

Although, I hate war of any kind, I have to admit the armory room is impressive. They indicated the last time these weapons were used was at the Battle of Culloden. One certainly looked at them with a sense of sadness and respect.

The extremely large silver bowl on the formal dining room table was given to the Duke at the time by Queen Victoria and we learned the gilded sailing ships are actually filled with soup, the top is removed and they roll them around the table for the soup to be served.

Dave and I walked around the beautiful gardens admiring the grounds and expansive tree collections just like Balmoral. There was one HUGE tree truck that caught my eye and I had to have Dave take a photo of me with it for perspective.

I snapped a few photos of Duncan at the entrance as this would be his last castle in his homeland of Scotland then the clouds moved in and we could see rain was coming.

We were able to stay ahead of the rain for awhile and enjoy still more stunning scenery around Loch Lomond. Dave’s ancestors went to Northern Ireland from an area/river here called Glen Douglas, which we were able to find. Dave walked along the path his ancestors walked 450 years ago and he paid his respects. I snapped a photo of him walking the road and also a massive tree that MAY have been there at the time. Who is around today to prove us wrong, right?

Then the skies opened up as we tried to find our B&B for the night. The GPS was leading us in all sorts of directions and finding certain places proved difficult. Those darn back, country roads!

We finally found the entrance gates to the 19th century lodge, the Mulberry Lodge and were greeted at the door by owners Yvonne and David. Our room was a lovely back room facing the lovely gardens and a small deck overlooking the gardens with a bistro set. Fresh flowers, interesting artwork and a painted bookcase on the wall…literally! The sitting room and breakfast room were great. Like an old country manner.

Dave and I wanted to eat some place nearby and Scottish, so Yvonne generously offered to make reservation for us at the Clachan Inn/Pub for dinner. We cleaned up and drove in to Drymen and discovered this lovely, very old white-washed stone building.

The Clachan Inn is the oldest registered licensed pub in Scotland (1734). It has a lot of character and warmth and we thought we’d give Scotland ONE last change on their fish n’ chips. They did NOT disappoint and they also had Belhaven Best, so I was happy.

Glencoe Valley VIDEO

There are no words, photographs or videos that do this area of Scotland justice. It’s truly awe-inspiring, breathtaking, hypnotic, haunting, majestic, and any other sparkling adjective you’d like.