Too Many Castle Photos You Say?

Our last day in Ballintoy greeted us with more haze and clouds, but still warm and no rain! We’ve been very fortunate thus far.

This morning I tried the white pudding for breakfast and found I quite like it. White pudding is broadly similar to black pudding, but does not include blood; modern recipes consist of pork meat and fat, suet, oatmeal and breadcrumbs formed into a large sausage. It had a nice crunch and wasn’t as spicy as the black pudding from yesterday. Would I go out of my way order it again? I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t turn it down if offered.

 

We met a nice older couple from southern England over breakfast this morning and shared pleasant conversations about travel and places we’ve all visited. The O’Rourkes were lovely.

We shared our day’s plans with Theresa and she told us to take any of the breads and muffins we’d like with us for our lunch. I had just enjoyed a piece of what I believe was strawberry bread that was delicious, so I grabbed two pieces of that and two muffins. Theresa gave us a small container of butter and two plastic bags to take. Great idea!

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If you have tired of descriptions and photos of ancient castles, then look away, because this one is a doozy. Our last castle in Northern Ireland was Dunluce Castle. Even though it was abandoned in the late 1600’s it was amazing how much of this castle remains, especially with it’s ocean-side, cliff-top setting.

It has easy access and an easy-to-read map describing each area. A lot of archeological work has been done on the grounds and some of the photos and artifacts are on display.

I was fascinated with the “lodgings” or guest quarters where each room had their own fireplace. This was actually OUTSIDE the castle grounds. One of the two-feet thick walls had fallen over at some point and it has been left right where it fell.

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The views out every window and ledge were stunning. Dave and I both took so many photos from different angles and locations. We would rate this attraction high on our list of must-sees.

We kept seeing this spectacular sand beach while touring Dunluce and were able to pinpoint where it was. A short drive along the coast and there it was…just ready & waiting for us. It’s called White Rocks Beach in Portrush and it’s wonderful.

Dave and I settled into a nice spot on the sand, enjoyed the rolling waves and people watching and had our baked treats we had brought with us from the B&B. A terrific spot. And, yes, it does have white rocks,

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Our next destination was to  Carrick-a-rede rope bridge. Although both of us had already agreed we probably would NOT walk across this narrow, rope bridge, we DID want to see the way to get to it and enjoy the view on this suddenly warm, sunny day. The path TO the bridge wasn’t too bad, but it would have been a bear for both of us to complete on the way back. So we enjoyed the tremendous views.

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We went back to the B&B for a rest before dinner and the TV was on in our room. Really odd since we haven’t turned on the TV since our vacation started.

Then we went back to the Fullerton Arms for dinner. When we walked in to the place, it was noticeably quiet and dark. The power was out. Just as we were deciding what to do, the power came back on. I had fish n’ chips and it was fantastic. We then drove to Ballintoy Harbour for a final look. It was lovely being bathed with sun this time instead of haze.

We returned to B&B and the TV had come in again in our room. Then we learned there was s power outage here as well. I guess it’s not that unusual.

Dave andI go inland to Strabane tomorrow. I will miss Ballintoy, it’s scenery and the very friendly people. Thank you!

 

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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!

The Heavenly Highlands with Helen

We awoke to yet another foggy morning, but it was dry and breakfast was waiting! And what a wonderful breakfast it was. Michelle and David were wonderful hosts as a lovely arrangement of fresh produce and other locally-produced goodies were on display.

Cold items like cereal, yogurt, granola, meats, cheese and breads were offered, but the hit of the morning was the rhubarb jam. It was so sweet and tasty. None of us opted for the full Scottish breakfast, but instead had mostly eggs & toast. Just the right amount.

After being invited into the kitchen and checking out, we had a wonderful chat with Michelle & David again and told them how much we enjoyed our stay, the B&B itself, and the room. They also exchanged business cards with Helen as I know she enjoyed it too.

Then we headed out into the foggy mist to drive inland. We made a very quick stop at Crathes Castle, but it wasn’t open yet, so Dave just got out and took a few pics.

Then we headed to Balmoral Castle, the private royal residence for members of the British Royal family since 1852, when the estate and its original castle were purchased by Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria. Balmoral remains the private property of the royal family and are not the property of the Crown.

As we headed west, the fog started to rise and sunshine greeted us by the time we reached the car park at the castle…just as Helen said it would. However, we did make one small detour right before going to the castle by visiting Crathie Kirk (Kirk means church) which is best known for being the regular place of worship of the royal family when they are holidaying at Balmoral castle, which is right next door. It’s a wee church with some wonderful history. Then onto the big house – Balmoral!

The castle is an example of Scottish baronial architecture, and after many additions by successive family members, it now covers an area around 50,000 acres. It’s a working estate that employs around 50 full-time employees. There are grouse moors, forestry, and farmland, as well as managed herds of deer, highland cattle, and ponies. The Queen DOES love her horses.

Helen, Dave and I picked up the audio tours and set out to explore the sprawling estate. Helen had never visited here either, so it was fun to experience HER first time there as well. The tree-lined roads and paths offered a lovely respite from the hot sun. Yes, I said hot sun!

The working vegetable gardens were compact, but highly efficient. All planted to ready for harvest during the Queen’s annual August holiday. They were growing a lot of potatoes, root crops, leafy greens, peas & greens.

There were also hundreds of wee flower seedlings just freshly planted to be ready in time for fresh floral bouquets in August as well. The rose garden was just getting started with new growth. It must look lovely in the sunken garden when they’re in full bloom.

We didn’t hit all of the tour highlight, but many of them within a comfortable distance. A water garden area was lovely and many of the perennial bushes were blooming throughout the grounds.

The castle itself is small, by castle standards, and because it’s also a private residence the only room open to the public is the Ballroom. And because of that you spend more time outside, so we were truly blessed with great weather.

The ballroom is actually the last stop on the tour and it has some wonderful artifacts like all of then Queen’s Christmas card photos on display. And for those fans of the Victoria series on PBS, there is a painted portrait of her beloved dog Dash hanging there. We were NOT allowed to take photos, but it certainly gives off a warm, cozy feeling as it was not very large. I found a fun video on YouTube of the Queen, Queen Mother, Princess Diana. and Prince Philip dancing in this ballroom. WATCH VIDEO ON YOU TUBE.

Lunch was next and we enjoyed some meat pies and sandwiches from the small cafe then we were on the road our last adventure visiting, but not going in to Breamar castle and driving through the stunning Glenshee area.

Helen is often accompanied by a wee stuffed sheep named Morag and she was featured in many photos from Helen’s tours. Five years ago on our first trip to Scotland, Dave and I adopted Duncan. Well, Duncan and Morag had a lot to catch up on. Mainly little Morag, who is now traveling with Morag. We allowed them some privacy to get reacquainted before parting ways again.

As we left Breamar, the fog was starting to move in quickly. We were able to see some amazing mountain vistas before it overtook the glens and stopped in one area to take some photos.

Perth was our destination city for the evening and wouldn’t you know it, the sun came out again. Helen dropped us off at the car rental office, so Dave and I could pick up our rental car for the rest of our journeys in Scotland. Many hugs all around and many, many thanks to Helen for her hospitality, friendship, and touring expertise. We are blessed to know her.

Our B&B for the night is the Rowanlea Guest House where we checked in, met the owners, ordered our breakfast, and settled in. Unfortunately, the brand new GPS Dave bought is suddenly not working. We may have to go old school and use Maps! Stay tuned!

Castles, Views, and a Wee Lass

Today we were greeted by more cloudy, cool weather, but it wasn’t raining! After enjoying another breakfast at the Ibis hotel, we checked out and set out to meet our friend/guide for the next couple of days.

Although we found the hotel a little too modern & European for our tastes, it served our needs sufficiently and we would recommend it to any of our smaller and thinner friends because the room & specifically the bathroom was very small. Figuring out the lights was 15-minutes we won’t get back and keeping the bathroom door open was annoying. Other than that, the hotel was in a great location for us and we applaud their efforts to create a environmentally friendly atmosphere and establishment. Fewer towels, lighting restrictions, and one-size fits all “bubbling” cleaner are a great start.

As Dave & I waited outside on the curb with our baggage, we were transported back to five years ago when we met up with Helen from Afternoon Tea Tours for the first time. Then her smiling face appeared in her car. Hugs all around, and we were off.

We were instantly reminded of Helen’s passion for her homeland of Scotland and her generosity with guests in making each adventure special. Although we have kept in touch via social media, it was wonderful to catch up in person.

As we headed north, the morning fog over the water started to lift and by the time we reached our first inland destination the sun was shining and the air was warm…TOO warm in fact. That thermal shirt I wore this morning really wasn’t necessary here and jackets were soon shed.

Our first stop was at Glamis Castle (Pronounced ‘glams‘) in the county town of Angus. Glamis Castle has been the ancestral seat to the Earls of Strathmore since 1372. It was also where the mother of the current queen, was born and where the sister (Margaret) to Queen Elizabeth was born.

I had seen an older YouTube video of the spectacular entrance drive to the castle, so I decided to film it as we entered. Shot through the windshield, I think it came out pretty good.

The castle is really stunning and we arrived just as a guided tour was beginning, so we latched on to it and followed along. Our guide was wonderful and led the group through only a dozen or so rooms with humor and just enough history to keep one interested. The thickness of the castle walls was amazing and there are even a few ghost stories to be told. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed inside, but once outside we were able to shoot the castle and surrounding gardens and woods, which were spectacular.

We enjoyed a nice sandwich lunch outside on a picnic table with a view of the castle and continued to catch up with one another and discuss our trip. Glamis is lovely and I can see why the Queen Mother had such affection for it.

As we headed east for our next destination, Helen took us through her hometown of Forfar where she grew up before leaving for Edinburgh when she was 18. Forfar is famous for it’s meat pies called Bridies. What a delightful area amongst the rolling fields of brilliant yellow rapeseed and Hawthorne bushes. Looking across the Valley of Strathmore provided a wonderful view of country life and the large amount of farming that is done here. Potatoes, strawberries and raspberries are among the chief crops.

Our next stop on the east coast of Scotland to visit the highly-anticipated 13th century ruins of Dunnottar Castle. (Pronounced ‘done-otter’)

Dave and I had read and seen it was going to be quite a walk to get there, and it’s all true, but OH is it worth it! As we began the walk from the car park and approach the first view of the castle, we heard bagpipes and instantly thanked Helen for arranging that just for us…but alas, even her magical tour powers could not take credit. What a special surprise though.

There is a sandy path, wooden steps and then stone steps that leads one to the entrance to the castle. It’s a hike…especially for Dave and I. We are SO out of shape, but feel we’ll be in better shape when we leave Scotland than when we arrived here due to entrances like this.

From photos we had seen online, we weren’t prepared for the number of intact buildings and rooms we found and the views…well, there aren’t enough words to accurately describe it. Spectacular! And I’m always a sucker for the sound of the ocean crashing along the shore. Waves, a view, and castle ruins…perfect.

Of course as we finished our tour, then we had to walk BACK to the car park along the same sandy, wooden, and stone path. It was harder on the way back, but we did it. This is by far MY favorite castle we’ve seen in Scotland. Dave moved it up to 2nd on his list behind Urquhart Castle we visited in 2013.

Other than some gusty winds, which you’ll get on the coast you know, the weather couldn’t have been nicer for our two castles today. And Helen’s tour of her home town and areas she grew up around added that personal touch.

We then drove to the coastal town of Stonehaven where we checked into the Chapel of Barras Farm B & B for the night. Owners & cattle farmers Michelle & David met us at the door and gave us a lovely warm welcome to their beautiful 5-room B&B.

Dave and I had a very nice room on the second floor and Helen was below us on the ground floor. Our room was nice roomy with terrific view overlooking their fields an garden. It was so nice to hear birds chirping and no buses or people yelling outside your window as we did right in the city. And as we were resting for a bit, the cows sauntered into the field outside our window.

After a quick shower, we went in to Stonehaven Harbor and enjoy a lovely dinner overlooking the wee harbor…even though it was VERY low tide. No, I did NOT have a third try at fish n’ chips, but Dave tried it and said it was very good. I opted for lamb kabobs which were delicious.

We walked around the harbor a little bit and headed back to the B&B where Helen surprised us with a gift of Belhaven Black Scottish Stout (because she had read in my blog how the pub we’d stopped in had none), also a bottle of Schiehallion Lager, a box of shortbread, and some Melrose Tea. What a sweet and thoughtful gift! But then that’s just Helen — sweet and thoughtful. Dave and I drank a toast to Helen with Drambuie and the three of us enjoyed each other’s conversation and planning for a potential return to Scotland and where we might go! That’s the spirit!

At 10 pm, it was still this light out.

Day 0 – Travel Day

I always count the day/night we fly over to Europe as day zero because we basically lose a good chunk of a day. Thankfully, the weather gods were smiling and our two bus trips and two flights went off without a hitch.

This was our first time flying with Aer Lingus. We had to wait at Logan Airport in Boston for almost an hour and a half on the outer fringes of the airport because there were no Aer Lingus employees there to staff the check in. Interesting they always tell you to get there two-to-three hours early to avoid delays. Frustrating to say the least. We weren’t able sit down and rest with our luggage comfortably and get a bite to eat because we weren’t in the actual airport where all the good stuff lived…like food and better seating.

Once that got straightened out, everything else went very smoothly. Other than not being able to understand the head flight attendant on the loudspeaker (think of the teacher on The Peanuts cartoons) and the sheer audacity of an Irish airlines to not have tea on board, we were happy with the experience. The meals were actually terrific. One drink option, then a beef meal and a yummy blueberry muffin with orange juice about an hour before landing.

Neither one of us slept on the flight. Oh, joy!

Our flight landed in Dublin at the lovely hour of 4:30 a.m. Dublin time. Our body clocks said it was about 11:00. We had a brief stay here then headed out to our walk-on prop plane to fly to Edinburgh. Although the plane looked scary, it was actually great with some incredible views over Scotland. Sadly, as we descended, the fog bank took over and we weren’t sure we’d actually SEE much of Edinburgh, but it turned out great.

We’re both so happy to be in Scotland again!