My wife and I talked the night before about our plans for the next day and talked each other into the long drive to the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland from Castlebar in the western part of the Republic of Ireland. The gas station attendant said it couldn’t be done in one day. It was going to take approximately four hours just to get there but the experience seemed worth it, if just a little on the crazy side. So we got up early, had a hearty Irish breakfast and piled into our rented Fiat for what promised to be some quality time together on the road.
We drove generally northeast through County Mayo and then through Yeats country in Sligo before entering the last county, Donegal, in the Republic before reaching Northern Ireland proper. The weather that day in the late winter/early spring was a little nasty but added to the character of the scenery. As we got farther to the north, some of the peaks were even capped with snow giving the area a more Scottish feel than Irish but that also added a sense of wildness that we hadn’t seen in the other parts of Ireland we’d visited.
After crossing a bridge near the Irish town of Bridge End that once would have been heavily guarded by British troops during The Troubles, we crossed the border into the country of Nothern Ireland without a soldier in sight. In fact, the only indication that we had crossed into another country was the presence of several Union Jacks flying from east side of the bridge. Admittedly, I was a little unsettled thinking about the possibility of crossing what I thought might be a heavily guarded border. After crossing the bridge, our first order of business in the U.K. was to get some British Pounds since we only had the Euros needed in the Republic. We were now just outside of the town of Derry/Londonderry and about an hour from our goal.
Once we arrived at the parking lot of the Giant’s Causeway and got out of the car, we were hit by a cold North Sea wind that was both terribly cold but refreshing after the long drive we’d just been on. After checking out the visitor center, we headed down the trail to the water where the stones were. In the distance, misty islands could be seen in what I thought surely must be Scotland. After about a one mile walk down, we made it to the waters edge where the famous rocks and the sea meet. The formations are truly unique, so much so that the area has become a UNESCO World Heritage site. They are arranged in such a way that it looks like someone put them there, like you would place stones in your backyard, only better…way better. But since we had so much driving to do still, we didn’t linger for too long. We were there long enough to get some great photos though and to sit on the rocks for awhile but were not there long enough to do the place justice. Once we were back at the visitors center, I was curious about whether the islands we saw were truly Scottish or not and asked a couple of park employees but none had the answer. Finally, they rounded up one of the more senior employees who confirmed that the islands were indeed in Scotland and were part of the Inner Hebrides. After thanking him, I overheard him in his Scottish accent (with pride I might add) that there were more whiskey distilleries on that island we saw (Islay I believe), than on the whole of the island we were presently standing upon, Ireland.
After seeing the Giant’s Causeway, we decided to try to look for some unique trees that my daughter saw on Instagram before we left on our trip. After having to stop in Armoy for directions, we were able to find the Bregagh Road and the famous Dark Hedges. The trees are amazing, even though it was still too early in the season for leaves. Even without the leaves, the beech trees create a tunnel-like cover over the road. The trees have been there since the eighteenth century and are a photographers paradise, which is why we’re here, so my wife can take some pictures. She took about 200 pictures in a little over an hour and there were a few really good ones in the mix. For me, the best part of traveling with a photographer is that you really slow down and get to see details that you would might otherwise miss. You really get a sense of the place that you wouldn’t get if you just spent five or ten minutes just taking a couple of pictures for your Facebook page.
From the Dark Hedges, we made our way to Belfast to get some food and to see a little bit of a city we’d heard so much about growing up. The city has the feel of a city going through a revival of sorts. The main part of center of the city has a very modern feel with lots of trendy shops and restaurants. Surrounding its center, was a city that looked like it had been through some tough times. But honestly, we were only there to grab a quick bite and a cider before the long drive back to our hotel. We’d been trying to eat local dishes whenever possible and always tried to avoid chain restaurants when traveling. We found Irish food to be hearty and tasty, especially the stews but the ciders are truly the best. Our favorite cider was made by Armagh Cider Company and we liked Madden’s Crisp and Madden’s Mellow the best but have been disappointed that it isn’t available in the States. Now it’s dark and raining and we still have three hours to go to get back to our hotel and made it back by midnight. We heard during breakfast the next morning that Belfast had a heavy snowstorm that night that caused power outages throughout the city. Tiring, but we made some great memories for our short day in Northern Ireland and have great photos that will last a lifetime. One day in Northern Ireland was certainly not enough!
Photo © Kimberly Wallace