Little islands are all large prisons; one cannot look at the sea without wishing for the wings of a swallow – Sir Richard Francis Burton.
It has been a long while since I’ve posted anything Ireland-related; there are still a couple more posts to write that will be filtered out as soon as the words are written and the photos edited. I want to share my incredible experience of Ireland, and I want to relive the whole thing over and over until it is time for the next adventure! Visiting the coast of Northern Ireland is something I recommend to every single person who is planning a trip to Northern Ireland, or even Ireland if you have the time (and the vehicle!). Warren and I completely rave about the beautiful countryside, the ambient castle ruins and the ocean that changes from sparkling grey to deep blue within seconds. If we closed our eyes, we thought we were in a hot country, basking in the sun, somewhere, but it was Northern Ireland, and it is just as incredible, if not better, as somewhere abroad.
I have never been a massive camper. I’ve camped twice in 27 years, and was about to experience it all over again. Third time lucky, as they say. It is a good thing that Warren is an experienced camper, knew that I was not exactly enthralled by the prospect of spending three nights in a field, and was very patient. We arrived at Craig House Campsite which is situated in Dunseverick, Bushmills. It is a small, family-run place and Neil, the host, is so lovely with bouts of information about the local area. He told us how to get to the Giant’s Causeway without paying the £12.50 fee to see a UNESCO landmark that should – in my personal opinion – be completely free for locals and visitors alike, and he gave us lots of other tips and pointers on where to get the best kinds of food and the times to visit places too. The campsite itself is small and quaint, easy enough to navigate even in the pitch dark when you need four wees in the small hours. The facilities are basic with a Mens and a Ladies loo, a shared shower and small kitchen and dining space. For the price, it was more than enough and I would 100% go back if I were to camp in Northern Ireland again.
As for the experience itself, it was a whirlwind. We arrived at the campsite just after 8pm on a Tuesday night. We (mainly Warren) set up the tent, complete with blow-up bed – that I’ve come to cherish since – and camp chairs. It was pretty comfy for camping if I’m honest. Without that blow-up bed, there would have been no hope for me on that first night, let alone three. The fun part was watching the beautiful sun set over the ocean and the cliffs with a can of fruity cider in hand. The not-so-fun part was freezing at midnight and having to get up for the loo in the pitch black. When I say freezing, I mean I was shivering and could not get warm. When it got to 4.20am on that first morning, I was relieved to see sunlight… until I realised the time. Still, I got to see an incredible sunrise and head back to sleep for a few more hours… after which I woke up completely sweltering.
We figured out the comforts after that, and it really was amazing experience. As I said, I’d do it all again. I think the camping part was what made Northern Ireland so much fun. I’m sure I didn’t say that exactly as I stumbled in the cold for wee number four…
CASTLE RUINS, DARK HEDGES & BEAUTIFUL BEACHES
The first full day we spent in the Bushmills area was jam-packed. We didn’t even mean it to be, but we ended up seeing so many things that my mind was full of beautiful castle ruins, twisted trees that appeared on Game of Thrones and the most beautiful beach I have ever been to.
We started quite late in the day, and so the original plan of visiting Giant’s Causeway was out of the window before we had even set off. Instead, we stumbled across ruins of Dunseverick Castle, a magnificent place high on the cliff tops, overlooking the sea that never ends. There is hardly anything left, but I imagine it was grand and impressive, like all old castles are. It is recorded that Saint Patrick visited Dunseverick Castle during the 5th century AD, where he christened a local man who later became the Bishop of Ireland. The castle survived until the 1650s, until it was destroyed by Cromwellian troops. The remains that we see today are that of the gatelodge. Everything else has either been destroyed, or fallen to the depths of the sea. Walking down the cliffside and up the rocky path to touch a piece of history like that never fails to spark the history geek in me. I am forever in awe of places like Dunseverick, especially when they have been left like that: in peace, in solitude, and not a tourist trap with maps and trail marks.
The next pitstop on our day trip was the original spot we were heading to – Dunluce Castle. It is a short drive through a little town and along a country road. Pretty much all of the main points of interest in the Bushmills area are less than twenty minutes via car. Here, we had to pay a small fee to enter the castle ruins. I think it was £6, which gave us unlimited access to the castle and surrounding areas. The history that Dunluce has is incredible. It was built in the sixteenth century and was the centre of many battles between the Irish and the English. You can see the different rooms of the castle, where the family would have stayed as well as their guests, even where the horses were kept. There is a small video which explains the entire timeline of its existence, including the recent archaeological discoveries the locals have made recently. Like Dunseverick, I was in awe… but I think I loved Dunseverick more because of its location and, like I said, the lack of tourist attraction. It feels like you’ve made a huge discovery on your own when there isn’t an information centre attached to it. Do not miss, however, the café opposite Dunluce Castle. They have the best hot chocolate and most mouth-watering chocolate cake ever! I doubled up on chocolate and regretted it for about a second.
The call of something a little more natural was next; something that had a link to Game of Thrones, like Dunluce, a walk that would have us mesmerised everywhere we turned, but also a place to nearly rub shoulders with a lot of tourists from across the world too… The Dark Hedges aka King’s Road (whichever term you’re more familiar with) was, again, a short drive away. It is remarkable how many beautiful places are in such a short space of one another. I promise I’ll try not to say it too much, but if you want to visit somewhere that is close to home (assuming you live in the UK), stunning and full of so many things to do, Northern Ireland is an absolute must! The Dark Hedges is lovely in the day. If you are relying solely on GOT as your premise to visit, you might be a little disappointed because, obviously, there have been some CGI edits in the series to make the trees appear fuller and the road to look more rustic and old. If you want to go because of how beautiful the trees are alone, you’ll be in awe of the height, the age and the feel of them. Some have fallen because of how many years they have been alive, and some have been chopped for reasons I have no idea about. Also, you might hear some cows and some gunshots during your time there, so don’t be alarmed! Not gunshots aiming at the cows FYI.
For a chunk of the afternoon, we spent it at my favourite place on earth – at the beach. It’s not so much the beach that I love (not a huge fan of sand getting everywhere), but it is the view of the ocean that never ceases to calm me, amaze me and make me feel like there is something much bigger than myself, and that I could be a part of that something too. The particular beach we visited was Whitepark Bay, and it is (again, not just being superlative here) one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever visited. The sand is completely soft. There are no pebbles, no sharp shells, no litter… just sand. The water is crystal blue and it glitters at the sunlight’s reflection. It is cold, but worth it for a little dip to refresh your toes. We watched the waves, drank beer and cider (took the empties with us, if it needs to be clarified), jumped and danced around like lunatics, and we loved it so much that we returned the next night to watch another glorious sunset.
THE ANTRIM CLIFF COASTAL WALK & GIANT’S CAUSEWAY
On Wednesday (our favourite day of our entire trip) we wore pink… I’m joking. I wore blue, black and brown and did not focus on style or fashion at all. It was the day we walked an entire ten miles. Yep. A ten mile round trip all the way from Dunseverick Castle to the Giant’s Causeway. Warren and I thought it would only take us about an hour and a half, two hours tops, to get to the Causeway. We were wrong. The entire walk there took over three hours. We did stop for a little lunch break with our packed lunch and watched the sea waves loll against the shore and the cliff edge. We also stopped and spoke with a lovely solo female traveller, all the way from Canada! The rest of the time was spent ambling along the path that is quite close to the edge for a lot of the journey. If you don’t like heights, stay as close to the inner land as possible; there is a fence for a large part of the journey that separates the fields from the walkway. The walk itself isn’t for everyone. You will have to have some level of fitness and endurance, due to the steep steps at various points of the Antrim Cliff. Walking shoes are the best option due to the different types of material underfoot: stones, gravel, grass, mud etc. If not walking boots, definitely a good pair of trainers or flat boots. Beware of the flies as you get closer to the Causeway – they give the Australian ones on the West Coast a run for their money and will fly into every crevice if you don’t cover up! Despite the hard work and the distance, I would rather do that walk all over again than try to sneak in at the other end. It was so peaceful, so beautiful and so calming when you feel like you’re at the edge of the world somewhere. All your troubles seem to float away, leaving just you and the path ahead of you. It’s like an easier version of Wild, and a shorter version too.
The Giant’s Causeway, from a short distance, was a little disappointing at first. I was expecting a huge part of the cliff to have been moulded into the hexagon shapes, when upon arrival, it seemed far smaller than I had imagined. It was crawling with tourists too, who looked as tiny as ants, almost indecipherable, from faraway. As we made our way to the Causeway, it became apparent that no, it wasn’t actually that small and yes, all these tourists had evidently paid money to go and see this wonder of the world. We wandered through the Causeway, passing it to find a toilet – three hours of walking with no loo around makes you need to go. And we had the most amazing late lunch at the pub just at the cusp of the official entrance to the Giant’s Causeway. If you are needing food that really isn’t that badly priced for its location, head there and get the chicken burger. You will not be disappointed, and I bet it is a lot cheaper than the Information Centre at the site.
When we finally headed up to the Giant’s Causeway itself, it was one of those moments where you sit back and just watch the entire world pass you by, where you wonder about the different tourists, how far they’ve travelled and what their life is like; about the sea and it’s beauty and how you could never fathom how truly vast it is when it already looks so big from this one spot on the earth; how relaxed that one peaceful moment is and how this piece of land you are sitting on has been there for centuries. You wonder whether the myths of giants are true, whether they really did exist because how else could this piece of land be executed with such precision?
OLD BUSHMILLS DISTILLERY
The oldest whiskey distillery with a license in the entire world. With Warren being a whiskey enthusiast, it would have been rude not to visit. He would have called it blasphemy, or something along those lines. Its legacy began in 1608, on 20th April, when King James I granted Sir Thomas Philips – landowner and Governor of County Antrim – a license to distil. It wasn’t until 1784, well over a century later, that it was registered with its symbol that still stands loud and proud today. The distillery has been through wars, fire and prohibitions. It is one of the most celebrated whiskey’s in the world, and it was an honour to be a part of that history, at least for one afternoon.
We paid for the tour of the distillery (£9 each) where we learnt how Irish whiskey is different to Scotch whisky. Irish is more grounded and clean with its ingredients, whereas Scotch is smokier with wood hues that make its traditional mark. We smelled originally sourced ingredients that go into each of the Bushmills whiskies, saw how they are blended together and then boiled to the exact percentage of alcohol, where the casks are kept and how a certain cask that held something different, such as red wine or sangria from Spain, or a completely different whiskey, or an ale, can really affect the taste and texture of a particular bottle. Even if you’re not a whiskey drinker (like myself), it is an experience worth doing and a massive part of Irish history as well as the history of whiskey. A bonus for the end of the tour is that you get a free drink! Either a single malt, a blended, a soft drink, or a cocktail – which is actually pretty damn good, even if you have never taken to whiskey before. The bar even has the recipe to hand which you can take home with you!
Travelling around Northern Ireland was one of those unexpected adventures. I was really excited for the trip, but it completely blew my expectations. I fell completely in love with Northern Ireland, and Warren did too. I would love to go back, just to do the Antrim Cliff Coastal Walk, and breathe in the fresh country air. You think you have to travel to a far-off destination to get beautiful scenery, but you can simply go to Ireland and Northern Ireland which is as insane as it is breath-taking.
Have you made the trip to the north coast of Northern Ireland? You cannot miss out on such beauty!
Love, Faye xo