United Kingdom
Cave Hill

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    • Day 28

      A bad hair day on the Antrim Coast

      May 24 in Northern Ireland ⋅ ☁️ 12 °C

      We bid farewell to Belfast’s peak hour traffic this morning and wound our way up to ‘Napoleon’s nose’, which is on the most prominent hill that overlooks Belfast. The morning started a little bleak, but the strenuous climb from the carpark (an hour round trip) got the blood pumping as there was quite a bit of vertical distance to gain in order to reach the summit.
      In addition to being a bit hazy it was quite cold and windy on top, but it was good to see Belfast from this perspective and with the help of our binoculars, pick out some of the landmarks we had visited during the last 24 hours.

      Next we started heading north along the Antrim coastline and stopped in at Carrickfergus Castle for a brief inspection. This region is quite historic and many battles have been fought nearby.

      We continued our journey northward to the curiously named ‘Gobbins’ area. This is quite a spectacular part of the coastline with numerous coves, caves and headlands. After calling in to the information centre to make sure we found the intended path (attractions are quite poorly signposted here), we again undertook a fairly challenging walk along the cliff top path, enjoying the views both north and south. Again, there was quite a vertical component to the 45 minute round trip.

      From The Gobbins, we tracked inland somewhat for our next feature to tackle - Slemish mountain. I had seen good reviews on Trip Advisor about the views from the top which is why I put it on the itinerary. As it turns out, Slemish mountain is on the itinerary for many Catholics for an annual pilgrimage on St. Patricks Day, as this is where he spent 6 years of his life.
      This extinct volcanic ‘plug’ turned out to be a very steep climb and scramble but yielded the promised views in every direction from the summit. Yet again, the round trip was about an hour up and down a very rough, ill-defined path (which we lost a couple of times).

      I promised Loss that this was our last climb for the day, but I was a little premature in making that promise, as yet another climb was required when we reached Torr Head. By now the day was clearing with bursts of sunshine and after a shorter, sharper climb we were able to clearly see Scotland - the famed Mull of Kintyre across the water, as well as dramatic Irish coastline in front of us. Torr Head and the Mull of Kintyre are the points at which Ireland and Scotland are in closest proximity.

      We had intended to do the entire Torr Head coastal scenic drive, but this was cut short by virtue of roadworks that had closed a section of the road. Nevertheless the section we were able to cover was stunning.

      Enroute to Ballycastle we were held up for about 15 minutes due to a truck that had gone into a roadside ditch and the tow trucks had blocked the road completely. Traffic was backing up in both directions and we weren’t sure whether to turn around and try to find a different route, but eventually the Towtruck driver came over to assure me it was about to clear. Once he heard our Australian accents, then all he wanted to do was talk about Australia. Now the traffic was flowing again, but we were not moving because he wouldn’t stop chatting! Eventually we extricated ourselves from his questions and we continued on our way.
      We had one more item of interest to see before calling it a day - the so called ‘Dark Hedges’ but decided we should check in to our B&B first as it was now around 5.30pm.
      When arriving at the designated house, the host had no booking for us in her system even though my Booking.com reservation all looked to be in order. This was our first real glitch and as I was mentally assessing our options, our ‘host’ (who couldn’t host us) made a phone call to a friend of hers a couple of streets away who DID have a B&B room available.

      Once we got that all sorted, we thought we should organise some dinner arrangements. At our host’s suggestion, we headed down to the ANZAC Bar and restaurant (which even had a little boomerang as part of its logo😅). Of course I had to ask the maître d about the reason for the name. Apparently the founder of the establishment was an Irishman who had fought with the ANZACS at Gallipoli in WW1.

      The meal was substantial and excellent, so fortified with this we headed off for our last bit of sightseeing which was about a 15 minute drive up the hill from Ballycastle. The so called ‘Dark Hedges is an avenue of Beech trees planted in the the 1700’s by a family who wanted a dramatic approach to their Georgian mansion. They are indeed an impressive sight with their branches hanging right out across the road in a very unusual way.
      It is one of the most popular natural-feature tourist attractions in Northern Ireland and as a result during ‘normal’ tourist hours, you must park in a very large carpark and walk some distance to the avenue of trees. However, as it was now 7.30pm and all the ‘normal’ tourists had disappeared long ago, we were able to just slowly drive up and down the road unimpeded, taking the required photos without having to get out of the car at all.

      We got back to our accommodation at around 8pm - exactly 12 hours after we started out this morning. Although the 14km distance walked was not our longest, I think our 115 floors climbed today could be our most so far.
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