Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Emerald Isle

It was quite a way down the coast to where our ferry for Ireland was departing so we headed off early in the morning passing Glasgow and heading down the coast. We had a moment of panic when we realised we couldn't remember which of two port towns we were actually leaving from (yes, that's how organised we can be) but it turned out they were only 15 minutes drive apart so all was well.
The weather was clear and sunny if not quite as warm as Mum and Dad are used to and the crossing to Larne was very quick. By mid afternoon we were in Ireland, and having it on good advice to keep driving once hitting Larne we began our drive up the Antrim Coastal route.
We were in the area of the Glens of Antrim, lovely broad, green valleys which run down to the coast and are very pretty. We detoured from the coast to the Glenarrif forest park which had a boardwalk along a river with loads of waterfalls and lots and lots of greenery, they obviously have as much rain here as they do in Scotland.
It was good to stretch our legs after the long drive but by now it was getting on in the day so we headed for our first pit stop of the trip, Cushendall. We stayed in a B&B owned by an ex-captain who had some pretty impressive photos of the area. That night with dinner we enjoyed our first truly Irish Guinness- very refreshing- and capped off the night with a game or two of doms.
The following morning we continued along the coastal route passing through Cushendun and heading up to the causeway coast, we stopped for a walk up to an out of use weather station overlooking the rather turbulent sea and being able to look across to Scotland. We worked out that had the sea not been the obstacle it was we probably could drive to Inveraray in a matter of two hours.
The Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge was our next stop, traditionally fishermen used to string the bridge up to the rocky outcrop to better fish the salmon heading along the coast but it has become quite the destination for tourists wanting to test their courage crossing over the deep ravine... It really wasn't that scary, high, or unstable but we all enjoyed a rest on the other side nestled in tufts of soft grass away from the wind.
The Giant's Causeway after which the stretch of coast is named was really spectacular as we hope some of the photos show. Apparently there are 38 000 columns but we didn't stop to count as they were much more fun to clamber over. The uniformity and structure of the rocks was mostly hexagonal and we spent some time looking for a 'perfect' example. Thankfully we only had to share the Causeway with a handful of tour groups but judging by the coach parking at the visitor centre Summer must see a lot more tourists.
For lunch we had the first of many picnics overlooking Dunluce Castle, perched upon a crag over the sea. The castle was in ruins and apparently at one point the whole kitchen (staff included) had dropped into the sea.
Our final destination for the day was Derry, or Londonderry depending on which way you lean. Not too hard to guess which is which. Another B&B with a resident Bulldog (British) was our home for the night and we set off for a wander about the towns walls, the oldest intact walls in Ireland although rather updated. Derry's history is close to the heart of all the troubles in Northern Ireland and it was apparent in the huge fences around the town that there are still tensions. Eva had trouble believing the fences were for defensive purposes until we leaned out and saw all the paintball marks on the other side.
As we continued along we looked down on Bogside, the Catholic area outside the town walls and saw all the murals and the sign saying "You are now entering free Derry". It was about this point that dad realised his Somerton sailing jacket he had brought along for warmth was in Navy blue, white and red...... Whoops!
After completing the circuit and a pit stop at the B&B we headed out for a Guinness before dinner at "Flaming Jacks", one of the most filling meals ever! Derry itself was a pretty run down and dire looking place, the walk along the walls was interesting historically but there wasn't much to appeal otherwise, the next day took us away to the West Coast.
Photos: Happy times, Walking across the rope bridge, View across the glens, The Giant's causeway, Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, Giant's causeway (bizarre shapes), They were let out for a day, The Bogside, Dunluce castle.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Welcome to Scotland!!!!

So quite some time ago now Mum and Dad T came to visit us in Sunny (yes, really) Scotland. We're kicking ourselves for taking so long to blog as it's amazing how quickly you can forget little details but here goes....

It had been about 20 months since we'd all last clapped eyes on each other (not counting web cams) so it was really something quite special. On the Thursday they arrived we had to keep reminding ourselves that they had just come out of something like 30 hours travelling when we had just driven an hour to the airport.
Despite their jet lag, upon arrival in Inveraray we all decided to take the hike up Dun na Cuaiche which is kinda strenuous but affords great views over the town. The weather was blustery but clear so it made for a pretty nice walk and helped stretch some of the jet lag out of Mum and Dad's bones (or so we kept telling them).
We ate at the George that night and Mum and Dad stayed up until the admiral time of 9:30ish, I'm sure the combination of jet lag and whisky liqueur helped them have a very good night's sleep.
We were both working during the day on the Friday so Mum and Dad took the car and went for a drive around Glen Coe and a bunch of other places getting a look at some of the beautiful highlands and that evening we headed along to the Inver Cottage restaurant on the other side of the Loch for tea. We had heard good things about this secluded little place and it was a really nice meal, we managed to sight some pheasants and highland cattle on the way around as well.
Saturday was brilliant. We had a wander about town in the morning checking out all the shops and then headed out to nearby Cairndow where our friend Iain was taking us around the oyster and mussel farm he works in.
We were able to see the crates where the oysters are left to filter any nasties before going to the table but the tide was in so we couldn't see the actual oyster beds. We did get to sample an oyster there and then though, fresh!
We then headed out to the mussel farm first seeing the platform that Iain has to work on when he is setting and harvesting the mussel ropes. It is a square punt type thing with loads of equipment on it but not much in the way of shelter. No wonder he looks cold when he comes to the pub after work in winter.
Iain is really knowledgeable and was able to answer all our questions about the farm and it was lovely out on the water if a little cold heading back against the wind. As a parting gift he threw us a bag of oysters for our dinner that night, what a guy!
We stopped by the Loch Fyne Oysters shop on the way home to pick up some local produce for our dinner that night before heading to The George for a lunch of mussels (unfortunately not from Iain's farm).
Although we were pretty knackered we then went for an afternoon wander up and around the town, visiting the wishing well and swinging back by the castle again, getting slightly muddy along the way.
For dinner we had a real spread as the photo attests and followed with our first game of dominos for the holiday. We did head up to The George for a drink afterwards but most of our friends were still working and the music was a bloody awful (in my opinion) country and western guy who we only get in once in a blue moon. It was a bit disappointing not to be able to show Mum and Dad how good a Saturday night can be with a popular band on but oh well.
The following morning it was up early to head of n our Irish voyage....
Photos: Mussel lines, a fairly full mussel rope, Captain Mackay, Mum enjoying the sunshine.