The next leg of our Emerald Isle adventure is to head north on an express bus that links Dublin to Belfast. We jumped off in Banbridge, which is about 30 minutes from Belfast, to meet the couple we would be doing a 2 stage housesit for, Oliver and Barbara. They are retired farmers who wanted to head off to the National Ploughing Championships for a couple of days which was being held in County Kildare. The plan was that they went off for a few days, returned for 4 days and then headed off to Portugal for a 2 week holiday. For us, and them, this was perfect. We would have a few days getting to know Buff, the adorable 10 year old cocker spaniel, then we would head off in Bubble (their spare car) to explore some of Northern Ireland before returning for the main house sit.
Buff of Banbridge and Bubble
Of course Buff was a little wary to start with. The sight of luggage arriving and luggage going resulted in a lot of pacing and door watching but he soon settled down and we are going to be great friends. One of the best things about this sit is the rural location with lots of fields and two forests within walking distance to explore. Lord Buff of Banbridge though will use every trick in the book to get in the car. If you accidentally leave a door open he is in like a shot and the only way to get him out without a threatening warning growl is to take him for a drive.
The drive would be in Bubble. This is the name Oliver and Barbara have given their little Nissan Micra. It is in Bubble that we set off 3 days after arriving to explore.
Antrim Coast Drive
For our 4 days away, it looked like we were only going to get one dry, clear day so, with a little advice from Barbara, we had a last minute revision to our route. Her recommendation was to make the most of the clear views and head up the coast road. We could cope with rain for the rest of our plans. It was advice well worth taking. Unlike so many other coast roads we have driven this road literally runs along the shoreline the whole way from Larne to Cushendun. The view across to the Mull of Kintyre and beyond was so clear and it was hard to keep driving and not stop and every single parking bay.
At Cushendun the road heads inland but we decided to take the Torr Head road which sticks to the coast. It is narrow in places and climbs up over the cliffs but is nowhere near as horrific as some of the guide books describe. Although we did see a terrified pair of Americans who said they didn’t know how they had survived the journey!
After parking up we walked to an abandoned signal station and the views were amazing in every direction.
Our next stop was down a steep narrow road leading down to Murlough Bay. This was our first taste of Games of Thrones film location territory. We must be the only ones in our family not to have seen GoT but if the locations were anything to go by it might be worth a look, if only to spot jwalking locations. Titanic Studios in Belfast is where Game of Thrones is shot and it is close enough to all these dramatic potential film locations. For us, Murlough Bay was a memorable picnic lunch spot with 360 degree views.
Now we know that it is Slaver’s Bay in the Seven Kingdoms, we would have kept our eye out for Tyrion and Ser Jorah and that dastardly slave ship! Personally, I am glad we didn’t see them, any film location scouts or fans. I didn’t want anything spoiling my cheese salad roll with views.
The last place on this epic drive around the Antrim Coast on today’s drive was Fair Head. A rocky headland that is three miles east of our overnight destination, Ballycastle. The headland is private farmland and access is at the goodwill of the farmers and use of an honesty box to park the car in their farmyard. The previous two days heavy rain had made the going under foot really boggy at the beginning of our walk at the bottom of some fields but once we gained some height the going got better. The cliffs rise to around 196m above the sea and wrap around the headland for about 5km.
The views to Rathlin Island were so clear. Rathlin Island is the most northern part of Northern Ireland and the 200 or so people living there are served by a ferry. It also has a couple of other claims to fame. It was the site of the first viking raid in Northern Ireland and was also the location of the world’s first commercial wireless telegraph link. More recently, Richard Branson crashed his hot air balloon into the sea off the island in 1987 after cross the Atlantic.
We walked along the headland closely watched by the resident sheep and gazed down at pods of dolphins feeding below in the sheltered waters. If only we had borrowed some binoculars.
Even without the binoculars we could see Ballycastle clearly in the distance. We only had to negotiate the bogs of Fair Head. The route back to the farmyard and car was scattered with sinking mud which felt more like quicksand. It took us over an hour and a boot each full of mud (and sheep poo no doubt) to cross one particularly bad field. It was worth the sacrifice, although that decision was touch and go for Jonno!
Ballycastle Beach & Morton’s Fish Supper
Feeling wonderfully tired and wind swept and ready to sit down, the lure of the beautiful beach at Ballycastle bathed in sunshine meant there was one more walk we had to do. Putting the poo boots and wet socks on took some strength of character but we soon forgot the squelching as we walked along basking in the last light of the day.
The perfect end to the perfect day was a fish supper from Morton’s Fish’n Chip Shop on Ballycastle Harbour. The fish doesn’t come any fresher. Their own boats unload the daily catch alongside the little harbourside hut. With chips from locally farmed potatoes, how can you not support the local economy?
For me the perfection continued when I discovered the roll top bath in our Airbnb. Heaven?
Final note: The Chief Editor (Jonno) has just informed me that I have the auspicious honour of just writing the 200th post of our jwalking adventure. It is still primarily our diary but if there is anyone out there who has had enough stamina to stick with us through “Peril on Flight 433“, “Sleeping in Gywenth Paltrow’s Bed“, “Rocky Mountain Way on the California Zehphyr” and so on please let us know. Your interest makes this so much more rewarding than just being a diary. Being old school I often threaten to revert to paper and pen (this last sentence may not pass editing!).
17/09 – 21/09/2017