I was born in the small town of Ballymoney in Northern Ireland, forever more known here as Norn Iron as that is how it's pronounced by the locals. Ok the locals who live anywhere near Belfast but I'm not getting into dialects and accents in this post. I don't need the stress !
Back in the day (hurrah got it in early) I hated life in Norn Iron. As I've said ad nauseam in previous posts, that was mostly down to hating life at boarding school there as I did love the countryside itself. It really is a stunningly beautiful part of the world, on a good weather day, and I hope to post a few piccies to prove that over the next 2 weeks or so. Internet access might be a bit hit and miss so long posts may have to wait until I get home mid month.
My parents lived in the same house in Ballymoney from about 1950 till death suggested they move out, my dad in 1986 and my mum in 2003. When I left after her funeral, I said I'd never be back and until this coming Saturday, I haven't.
So why now ?
Well my summer touring friends, Daphne and Stephen, said they'd never visited the Provence and so I thought it would be a cool idea to show it off to them. Like I said, it IS a beautiful place if you know where to go and hopefully I know where to go. Sadly I didn't think too much about WHEN to go as next week is 'Parade Week' over there when century's old religious divides are remembered and celebrated and so get handed down to new generations. As usual this evokes resentment at best and outright violence at worst and until these parades are banished forever, my home country will always be torn apart by sectarianism - something it doesn't deserve and should not have to endure.
So next week, and on 12th July in particular, we'll have to be careful to get out into the countryside, well away from these ridiculous parades. Oh I know they can look colourful and fun with big drums being beaten and flutes being blown but the underlying reason for them too often rises to the surface and then all hell breaks loose. The violence has started already and I hope this year's parades don't make the news for all the wrong reasons. Sadly I think they will.
Nevertheless we're going over to see more natural and therefore more pleasing sights. Despite its size, Norn Iron has more award winning beaches per mile than anywhere else in the world.
I admit I just made that up. I've spent too long in America I guess !
But it does have mile after mile of pristine sand and what makes these beaches so special is that for the most part, you can have them to yourself. Even in mid summer. Yes it's THAT cold !
No seriously they just seem to be undiscovered treasures. In some cases you can even drive right down onto the hard packed sand and up to the water's edge if you, and your car insurance company, don't mind. Daytona Beach isn't unique y'know.
Here is an example - Benone Beach - and if you move around 360 degrees, you won't even see a Waldo building a sandcastle.
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For the last couple of days I've been putting scenic locations into my GPS, not because I'm not sure where they are, but more to know the best way to get to them if we go somewhere new first. I mean having lived there for my first 18 years, I could get to these places ok but it's always good to know the best way. Of course with my local knowledge, the fastest way might not be the BEST way so I'll probably have to over-ride the GPS a few times.
The Causeway Coastal Road will feature heavily on this trip and I know from experience that this is a relatively short route (120 miles) that can take days to fully enjoy. The drive will be full of stops and starts when we pull over to look at the many scenic views. For many of the miles, the road hugs the shores of the Irish sea - in places so "huggy" that you could skim a stone from your car.
The route takes you to colourful fishing villages with picture postcard harbours; through deep dark forests that hide their natural treasures from casual view; over mountains and down through stunning glens with many waterfalls within walking distance; past crumbling but still majestic castles standing guard ready to repel foreign invaders; to world heritage destinations like the Giant's Causeway and yes, even to my old and much loathed boarding school, Garron Tower, just to the right of the No.10 on that link above.
I may have hated my time there but there is no denying its awesome location, perched 200 feet up a cliff overlooking the sea. And it can look pretty too !
Click on some of the numbered links on that map to get some idea of why the drive could and will take up most of the week we have over there. If we get good weather, and sadly it's not looking good right now, it should be a grand tour indeed.
And this is what just one beach CAN look like on a good day. Taken in 2002.
It'll be quite emotional going to my parents house in Ballymoney. It was a pretty little council house back then but now it's privately owned. Still worth a drive by viewing though as it was my house, on my street, in my town. Those memories last a lifetime.
I have to admit I'm getting quite excited.