Saturday, July 30, 2011

Forests, Fens And Facebook Friends

When we left our intrepid threesome, Daphne, Stephen et moi, it was the end of Day 4 of our tour around the Causeway Coast and now it's the next day, Day 5........which just happens to be July 13th 2011. Get it ? Got it ? Good.

Dawn had broken, fixed itself and was now having some porridge and a cup of tea. We, on the other hand, made do with cereal, toast and bananas.

This was to be a wonderful day, a day of exploring glens, discovering waterfalls and meeting friends from Facebook for the very first time. So sit back and let me tell you the story.....

We left Magherafelt and headed for Logan's Corner on the A26 between Ballymoney and Ballymena. Why ? Well although we were going to Glenariff Forest Park, this was on the route I took many times back in the day when going to my boarding school. I wanted to retrace that trip, or at least most of it, and so a good starting point was from Logan's Corner. We passed through Cloughmills, Clough and Martinstown and once beyond the hamlet of Cargan on the A43, we came to the entrance to the forest park.

Glenariff is one of the Nine Glens of Antrim and if you place your hand face down and then imagine you have 10 digits, the fingers would be the mountain ranges and the gaps between them, the nine glens all sweeping down to the sea. Ok a bit of artistic licence there but basically that's the idea and of the nine, Glenariff is 'The Queen.'

At the end of the entrance road, you only pay a small fee to park and then you have access to several very well signposted walks and we chose the 3 kilometre Waterfall Walk for obvious reasons. We love waterfalls.

The route to the waterfalls was stunning. It started as a lovely wide path with trees, plants and woodland critters on both sides.

Yeah, those were some of the critters I was talking about and here are some more. Well ok, birds actually.

After a while we really got deep into the bowels of the forest and the path became an awesome wooden, fenced deck that took us all around the initial waterfalls. To quote the website, "this path features the waterfalls and National Nature Reserve. There are stairways and pathways cut into the near vertical sides of the gorge and boardwalks on stilts in the river. It is a spectacular walk."

I would agree. The work that went into creating this walkway was clear to see and made visitor's lives a LOT easier, I can tell you.

Then we came to the waterfalls but even if there had not been any, the walk down through the forest would've been worth the car park fee.

By now we had worked up, or walked up, a hearty appetite and lo and behold, we came upon a full blown restaurant, Laragh Lodge. Here we had a much needed sit down and delicious light meal as we knew we had more walking to come. As locations go, Laragh Lodge has to have one of the best, situated as it is at the mid point of the Waterfall Walk and surrounded by forest, streams and waterfalls. A stunning and very welcome eatery.

That was the view looking back at the restaurant and turning around, this was the view the other way. Not too shabby.

We had now seen all the waterfalls on this route and started the steep ascent back to the visitor centre and car park.

While Daphne and Stephen looked for souvenirs, I stayed outside and enjoyed the views from the beautiful picnic area in front of the building which overlooked the forest and led the eye right down the glen to the sea in the distance.

Leaving the park, we rejoined the A43 and drove down the glen to Waterfoot where we met up with the Causeway Coast Road again, the A2. There were stunning views all the way down and although I never really enjoyed them when growing up as they meant I was close to school again, I can enjoy them now.

Now we were on a part of the A2 we'd seen before but it didn't see new things on every trip. We passed round Waterfoot Bay and headed towards Garron Point and my old school but as we were to visit there another day, we didn't stop.

Soon we were back in Daffy's favourite town, Carnlough, and we just had to stop again and yes, take similar photos again. First up is the lady in question about to take one of her many photos of the harbour entrance.

After a short walk around and then ice creams, we left to drive on to Larne to meet up with those Facebook friends, Fiona, JB and Liam. I'd first met Liam on FB as he too went to Garron Tower, my old boarding school. He'd left the year I arrived so we never knew each other but we'd chatted online and that's how I got to meet his sister Fiona and her hubby, JB. Here is a photo of Fiona sandwiched between two hunks.

It was too warm to be inside so we talked and had tea outside on their patio. Fiona and JB have a lovely home and I'd like to take this opportunity to say thank you to them both, and Liam, for making us so welcome and we really enjoyed our all too short time with them.

We left about 6:30pm and as it was too early to return to Magherafelt, the consensus was to return to Carnlough and make our way home from there. Actually for consensus, read Daffy bullying us to return. She can be quite scary at such times.

When we got there and parked up, the pre sunset light was beautiful and so.....yes again......we took MORE photos of the harbour. The reflections were very pronounced and I can image the second photo as a jigsaw as it would drive anyone nuts.

Then it WAS time to go home and what a day we had to look back on. The Causeway Coast Road is a must to see and if nothing else, I hope reading these blog posts will give some idea of what it's like to drive its length and visit the area in general.

To be continued..........

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Marching Bands and Margo's Meals.

And so, having survived Bert's bus and the ferry back from Rathlin Island (see previous post), we were pretty hungry and decided to walk up from the harbour to eat at Margo's again, a wonderful cafe (at 22 Ann Street) where we'd eaten a few days earlier.

Now this is where I have to mention the parades.

As I like to keep politics and religion out of this blog, as I tend to also do in my life, I've decided to treat the 12th July marches as just fun, colourful parades. Knowing little about them, I thought we'd escaped being caught up in them by going to Rathlin Island but on our return, we discovered they march along the streets early on, then meet up in a large park for speeches and drinks and some food and then march off again and that's it.

Well as we walked up Quay Road from the harbour, we saw they were still in the park and the speeches were still going on. Feeling a bit naughty and never having been near 'these people' in my life, I wanted to go down into the park and see what was going on.

I decided to ask a policeman if it would be ok to take photos and I think he wondered why I'd bothered to ask ! So safe in the knowledge that I'd not be regarded as some sort of spy or placed on a hit list, I took a few photos of the colourful uniforms being worm by some of the marchers and spectators.

I still felt a bit uneasy, like Eddie Murphy at a Klu-Klux-Klan rally, so we left the park and headed to Margo's for that bite to eat. Soon after ordering our meals, we heard the distinctive 'music' of the flutes, drums, bagpipes and accordions of the marching bands and soon the whole parade was going right past the cafe window (we'd chosen a table by the window for that very reason).

I went out for a better look..........

Like I said, colourful, bright and gay. In the 'back in the day' meaning of gay of course.

I was given word that my meal had arrived so I nipped back into the cafe to make a start on it whilst we watched the various bands going past. And there were dozens of them. It went on for about 45 mins I think and we had the best seats in the house AND were eating lovely food as well.

I wanted more photos but decided to concentrate on individuals whenever possible. So with my mouth full of assorted items from my Ulster fry, I went out every so often to snap individuals ......

Never having seen these parades up close before, I'm not sure if they've always looked like this but many of the bands seemed to have little affiliation with any religious order or least if you go by their outfits and head gear.

I had the feeling that some members of the Orange Order had stumbled into the wardrobe dept of The Wizard of Oz but hey, it all added to the pantomine.

By the time I'd run in and out of the cafe taking photos and scoffing down more of my meal, I felt knackered and still hungry. I must be the only person to have managed to burn calories whilst eating a meal !

The bands were still marching past when we had to leave. We had been the only customers for the whole time and so when we left, some of the staff took the opportunity to pop out to see the parade too and here they are......

If any of them was Margo, it would have to be the one 2nd from the right as she seemed to be in charge. The caps say "Country Fried Chicken" and that's what appears on the cafe front on Google Street View but it is now called Margo's.

Just then one band member caught my eye and from the look of him, he was well acquainted with Margo's good food as well. Bless. I think he'd lost his drum...or eaten it !

We walked back to the car and left Ballycastle and went to my home town of Ballymoney as I wanted to visit the church there and see my parent's grave. Sadly the church was surrounded by scaffolding as major repairs were going on, both inside and out. Not knowing if the graveyard was open for visitors, I went to the parochial house to ask. The parish priest eventually came to the door and he was Fr. McHugh, who had been the President at my boarding school for most of my time there.

Actually he is Canon McHugh now and despite not having any favourable feelings towards him, he is a very old man now and so I gave him as much respect as I could muster. He said it was ok to go around the graveyard and so we did.

As I'd not been there since my mum was buried, I'd not seen the addition of her name to the headstone as that was done many weeks later. To keep both names looking the same, I'd had dad's lettering redone and I was pleased that after 7 years, the "gold" inlay still matched.

You can never fully explain the feelings you get standing in front of the grave that contains your parents. The one huge plus for being buried as opposed to being cremated is that a grave, or any physical resting place, sure does help to focus your thoughts. I owe my parents so much and was pleased to have had those moments to remember that.

By then it was 7:30pm and we'd had a long and tiring day so we headed back to Magherafelt to plan where to go tomorrow.

To be continued.............

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Rock Stars

The 12th July is a day in N. Ireland when it's best not to be in N. Ireland. That was my thinking at least and so my plan for us was to drive to Ballycastle on the north coast and take the ferry to Rathlin Island.

This 4 mile by 2.5 mile boomerang shaped island lies 6 miles from Ballycastle and only 15 miles from Scotland. Claims to fame include the cave where Robert The Bruce (Robert 1 of Scotland) had his close encounter with that determined spider and the island, or at least close to it, is where Richard Branson came down after his record breaking balloon flight from Maine.

As well as that, a few days earlier, on 6th July, they celebrated the 113th anniversary of the world's first wireless telegraphy link between Ballycastle and the East lighthouse on Rathlin Island.

I'm sure most of the current 100 inhabitants were suitably excited and probably texted and tweeted their messages of pride to that same world. Marconi may have got HIS message across in 1898 but blowed if I could get 3G there in 2011 ! Progress ?

Anyway enough of such facts and figures and back to us. The plan, remember the plan, was to get parked early and be on our way to the island long before the town ground to a halt traffic wise as thousands poured in to take part in, and watch, the 12th July parades. So we had booked the 11:15am ferry crossing and getting there early we had time for some breakfast before getting to the harbour. Inside the terminal building was a slightly disturbing poster............

We ticked the 'tourist' option and a few minutes later, we were boarding the small passenger only ferry to the island. This ferry would make the crossing in 25 minutes compared to 45 minutes for the larger one that took a few cars too.

When I mentioned some of the island's claims to fame earlier, I deliberately didn't mention its nature reserve. I will now.

Rathlin Island has a nature reserve.....with lots of birds.

Mind you, as we discovered when we went there, that's a bit like saying Bill Gates has a few bob.

But first of all we had to get there as the nature reserve, or bird colony, was way out at the end of the 4 mile leg of the boomerang. To take us along the tortuous off road track up to the viewing location owned and run by the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) we had Bert. Luckily for us, despite the name of his bus, he took fee paying humans too.

I'm not sure how long the drive lasted but much longer and my back would've needed traction. Bert, however, was a joy to listen to or at least he would've been if the bus had had less puffins on board and more speakers for his PA system. Actually a PA system would've been nice. Still, Bert did his best to shout out the points of interest as we lurched and bumped along the road (ha !!) to the island's end.

45 minutes or so later, the bus stopped at the RSPB building and we then descended down a flight of very steep steps followed by a steep path to the observation deck. A long way below us were the birds and what a lot of them there were. Thousands. Tens of thousands. But very far away even for my zoom lens.

Thankfully we had our binoculars but even so, it wasn't as 'good' as I'd hoped it would be. I wanted 'up close' but got 'far away'.

But the RSPB had thought of that and along the viewing deck were 4 or 5 high powered telescopes on tripods which were free to use by the visitors. They REALLY got us close to the birds as they sat on the rocks, nested on the cliff faces and best of all, came in to land. With a bit of trial and error, it was possible to position the camera up to the telescope and get awesome pictures.

The noise, and smell, was incredible. After a while we'd seen enough of the common guillemots, kittiwakes, puffins, razorbills and about 25 other families of birds on show and headed back up to get the bus back to the harbour.

We had booked the 15:30 return ferry but the setup allows anyone to get any return ferry as long as there are places and so we got there in time for the 15:00 crossing and made it on board.

Back in Ballycastle we disembarked after a very enjoyable trip.

There's always one isn't there ? Always someone who thinks its funny to get themselves into a photo. In his defence however, I had asked Stephen and Daphne to stop a second so I could take this photo and I guess the guy behind had nowhere to go.

He didn't have to be so happy about it though !

Right, I think this is enough for one blog post and as there is much more to relate about that 4th day, I'll save it for another post.

To be continued........

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