Last week I went on my first ever coach holiday. And I must say I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a very enjoyable experience. In mid-2011 I received a mail shot through the post from the National Trust advertising coach holidays in the UK in conjunction with the company Just Go! If you follow the link you will see the wide selection of holidays available. The brochure last year arrived too late to consider booking in 2011 but I hoped the experiment would be repeated for this year. It was and my first choice “Welcome to Northern Ireland” was available with bookings from Leeds during May. Perfect! Although in the end we decided to fly out from our local airport and take a taxi from Belfast City Airport to join our party at the Hotel La Mon in the countryside just outside the city.
The first day dawned somewhat misty and overcast but as we got underway, heading north through the Belfast traffic, the sun appeared and the sky turned blue. The week continued in the same vein.
Our first destination was Carrick-a-Rede on the north Antrim coast. From here we had a clear view of Rathlin Island and the Scottish mainland – The Mull of Kintyre. My previous visit to Northern Ireland had been 45 years ago when I spent just over a week at Girl Guide camp at Magilligan Point a beautiful and remote spot on the County Londonderry coast. (Sadly, it became an internment camp and prison during the recent troubles.) From there we visited north Antrim coast and I made my first walk across The Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. Today the whole area is owned by the National Trust. There’s a large car park and cafe-cum-shop and there’s a one mile walk along the coast path from there to reach that wobbly bridge.
The Rope Bridge was originally erected by local fishermen and links the mainland of County Antrim to the rocky outcrop 20 metres away. The chasm between the two is 30 metres deep. It’s an exhilarating walk, challenging crossing and satisfying achievement to arrive on the island where there are great opportunities for birdwatching and more spectacular views.
From Carrick-a-Rede we headed slightly inland to the nearby town of Bushmills where the Old Bushmills Distillery is open to group tours. Making whiskey here is huge business and it has been carried on since the first licence was granted in 1608. The tour is very well done and very professional – you get to see the process of Whiskey making step-by-step and you end up in the ‘pub’ at the end where you may claim your nip, or hot toddy or (in my case) soft drink.
Then it was on to the final stop for the day – the Unesco World Heritage Site of The Giant’s Causeway.The Causeway today is a very busy place. Besides all the visitors, there is a lot of building work going on. The National Trust is building a whole new visitor centre and car park behind the Causeway Hotel where the present shop and facilities are located. For our walk to the Causeway we were accompanied by a volunteer guide who was well-versed in Irish mythology and legends and possibly also in geology and coastal geomorphology. The few facts have been lost amidst the mass of stories connected with Giant Finn MacCool and the unusual rock formations.
Tall Rock Formations