I think that I must have been living in a bubble so I didn’t know a lot of scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed in Northern Ireland.
I didn’t go there as a dedicated fan but I enjoyed the fact that I could, at least, take back this information to my family who are dedicated followers, with a Thrones map and a few pictures!
But to start at the beginning, several months ago, my partner’s sister invited me to come away for a girls’ only break to Northern Ireland. My partner was not happy! We had been talking about walking in N Ireland only weeks before the email and suddenly he was excluded.
I, of course, jumped at the chance of a few days away, even with a big group of women that I didn’t know. I thought it would be fun, and I love to meet new people so all good for me.
I confess that I didn’t really know anything about Northern Ireland either; my holiday choices don’t tend to be in the UK so I had no expectations. Not only that, but, everything being organised for me, all I had to do was turn up at the right time. I didn’t even research where we were going. Appalling behaviour, but for a change, quite nice to be so laid back and just take each moment as it comes. Discovering a place is sometimes about the moment, don’t you think? I guess, humans are often so needy about knowing stuff that we are afraid to explore these days without seeking the advice of trip advisor or google.
We took a Ryanair flight from Gatwick to Belfast International, just at the time that Ryanair decided that they would cancel thousands of their flights. It was big news the week leading up to our trip and I waited for the call that ours was cancelled; thankfully, our flight was unaffected but it was a stark reminder that even carefully planned events can be disrupted in an instant.
I had no expectations of my trip to Northern Ireland, apart from a few giggles and a chance to relax with a bit of walking; but I, perhaps, should have done a little bit of investigation. Exceptional does not get close to describing the beauty of the landscape, the absence of traffic (despite the coach driver telling us it was busy! He has obviously never been to the South East of England!), the friendly, helpful people in shops and cafes and restaurants. It may rain, a lot as it turned out when we were there, but hey, there is no such thing as bad weather, right?
We stayed in Aqua Lodge in Ballycastle which is about an hour north west of Belfast. The house itself accommodates 18 so there was enough room for all of us. It was perfect, clean, simple decoration with all our needs catered for – including free WiFi. What is the first thing people do when they arrive on holiday? Nearly everyone logged into the free Wifi before doing anything much else!
It was raining when we arrived on the Wednesday afternoon so after a quick wander round, we headed to the tourist information for a quick rummage through the leaflets. It turned out not to be such a quick visit though as the helpful assistant took us through all the attractions in the area, including sites to visit, walks, bookings, group bookings and anything else we wanted to know. So helpful. None of us could believe quite how helpful she was!
Shopping was interesting; we discovered that our local Spar shop did not sell alcohol, so the downside of our location was that the Coop, that did sell alcohol, was about 20 minutes walk uphill. Not so bad, I guess, coming back down with several bottles of wine!
The weather was much improved the following day and we headed out for our longest walk of the trip; 15 miles in total, which included all the playing on the rocks at the Giant’s Causeway. We took the local bus to Port Ballintrae for a return trip of £9.00, and followed the well route marked Coastal path. The Giant’s Causeway is only 2.5 miles from there.
National Trust members can go into the Visitor Centre and get an audio guide for the Causeway and use the cafe and facilities for free. We should have done this as it turned out that there was very little in the way of refreshment or toilets on the next part of our journey, unless you wanted to leave the route. On tired legs, that’s never an appealing option.
After playing on the Causeway, we wound our way back up to the cliff top path, climbing the 162 steps to get there. They are a bit slippery but over soon enough. We carried on our journey to our next ‘checkpoint’, four or so miles later, which was Dunseverick Castle. Not the most exceptional ruin that I have seen – literally, it is four crumbling parts of walls and even the National Trust brochure can’t make very much of it!:
Get off the beaten track and visit the historic ruins of Dunseverick Castle. Dunseverick Harbour’s rock pools shelter fascinating sea creatures. Nearby, a waterfall drops directly into the sea.
Here the group split with over half stopping at Dunseverick to get the bus home. The keener walkers carried on, and having spent most of the time on the cliff tops, we were delighted to come down onto beaches and much more varied terrain, crossing fields, negotiating the rocks (always worth checking tide times as the route is impassable in places high tide), along endless stretches of golden sand. Cows meandering along the shoreline was a sight I have never witnessed before. I think they were enjoying a good scratch on the rocks.
By the time we reached Ballintoy Harbour, we were exhausted and hungry and thirsty! And although it was almost 5.30 pm, the cafe stayed open late – not just for us but for the Game of Thrones coach party that were grabbing their takeaways before heading back up to their coach. But we couldn’t have been more appreciative. And the size of the cakes and the variety, for a little beach cafe, was stunning. Worth a visit just for the KitKat chocolate cake!