Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Thanks For The Memories

In any list of the best scenic coastal routes in the world, the A2 around North Antrim in Northern Ireland would have to feature near the top. It runs for only 126 miles from Belfast to Londonderry but unlike many scenic routes which are much longer, it has stunning scenery for almost every one of those 126 miles.

Over the course of the 7 full days we spent touring this part of Northern Ireland last week, we drove along 111 of those miles and despite my familiarity with most of them from years living there, I was still in awe seeing the changing vistas we came upon in so small an area. From almost empty sweeping beaches to lush green forests, fast flowing rivers to cascading waterfalls, soaring mountains to sweeping glens, the A2 took us along on a breathtaking ride past them all.

Before leaving Leeds I had entered several 'not to be missed' locations into my TomTom GPS (called Sheila) and my idea was that, using Magherafelt as our base, we would head off every day and taking in some sights on the way up to the A2, join it at different points along its length to create 'wedges' of daily touring. This turned out to be an even better idea than I'd hoped for because due to Sheila being pre-programmed to take us on the shortest rather than the fastest routes to these locations, we went along delightful minor roads I'd never been on in my life. In fact, by accident, this led us to a location we'd heard about on our travels but couldn't find on any map - but more about that another day.

Last Sunday, 10th July, started off dull and overcast. My initial plan had been to make for the westernmost part of the A2 without actually going to Londonderry as being a city, we had no wish to go there. But I wanted better weather for all stretches of the A2 and so as the outlook didn't look good, I decided to make for my old home town of Ballymoney and take it from there.

First stop was Margaret Avenue. My parents lived there all their married lives and spending the first 18 years of my life there, it was my only home in N.I. My last visit had been in 2003 when my mum died and a few weeks later, the house got new inhabitants for the first time in over 50 years. It was very poignant driving up that road again, knowing it wasn't my home anymore. Not much had changed; the grab rail that mum needed in later life outside the front door was still there; the front garden that had mostly been changed to concrete and stones when mum couldn't cope with anything more was just the same. I guess the new owners have been happy with external things as they were. I liked that.

I'd forgotten that most stores still close on a Sunday in N.I. and so Ballymoney was a bit of a ghost town that day. We drove through it but didn't stop.

I wanted to show Daphne & Stephen my 'ancestral' home which was a farm just outside the village of Dervock, 4 miles from Ballymoney and so we took the road I'd been on almost weekly for 18 years when we'd go as a family to see 'granny' and my uncles, aunts and cousins who filled the large farm house most weekends.

I knew the farm house and the outbuildings had fallen into disrepair since ownership had passed to the oldest son who then moved to England but I wasn't prepared for just how fallen !

It was sad to see it like that but we still walked around and it sure brought back memories.

Then we drove on to the coastal town of Ballycastle and as the weather hadn't improved much, we found a nice cafe for lunch. Oh and we were hungry too.

The menu was typical of the locale and once again we were able to have potato cakes/potato bread/tattie scones. Actually the 'all day fry' for £3.99/$6.35 was incredible value.

Full of stomach and not too light of pocket, we walked down to the beach. Ballycastle hasn't much of a beach and that, combined with the weather, meant we just about doubled the people on it.

On the way back to the car, I saw a store sign that brought back memories. Back in the day, we all went as a family to the annual Auld Lammas Fair in Ballycastle. I have memories of eating yellow man and dulse.

Oh just read the article !

I know. Sausages made from pork and red seaweed. I think I'd like it between two slices of tattie scones !

Anyway although we were now leaving Ballycastle on the A2, I'd programmed Sheila to take us to Fair Head which meant turning off the road onto an even more scenic (and very very steep) road up to a high point which gave stunning views back down to the coast. We had to park and walk up a hill to get these views and I for one wished I'd not had that all day fry earlier.

Back down on the road, we came upon a scene we'd often talked about but never expected to see. The road to Fair Head was narrow and only one track in places. Like when we'd been on similar roads in the Lake District recently, we talked about hoping we'd never come upon an RV coming the other way. I mean what idiot would drive an RV along the road to Fair Head ?

If you look closely you'll understand. Oui, it was a French idiot. Sacre bleu.

Having slowly and carefully squeezed past this Gallic plunker and exchanged our DNA, we drove back down past the delightful town of Cushendun which like many of the towns along the Coastal Causeway, was located on a sweeping bay.

Merging back onto the A2, we headed on around the coast road, past the entrance to my old school and on to the small town of Carnlough.

Now to say that Daphne fell in love with Carnlough would be putting it mildly and before we left Norn Iron we'd been to it at least 4 times. I think it really came down to this harbour entrance view........

I took this same view every time we revisited Carnlough and I may put up another one taken on a better weather day. Here's another view of the harbour.

We had tea and scones at the nearby Harbour Lights which overlooked the colourful boats in the harbour. Then we walked along the promenade and I tried to take some different views of a well photographed location.

I liked this next shot as it reminded me of the end scenes in "The Truman Show" but I couldn't explain this to Daphne as she'd never seen the movie so I'll add it to her list for one of our Friday nights of a Chinese and a movie.

By then it was almost 7pm and we needed to get back to Magherafelt for supper. This was an hour's drive inland so we left the A2 for the day but would be back to it the next day - the start of it (or the end of it) in fact, over to the west near Londonderry.

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


Daphne said...

I did expect the scenery to be lovely - - but it exceeded all my expectations, it's just stunning, that coastline. It was fascinating to visit all those places round Ballymoney - and although the weather wasn't great that first day, I knew it would be the start of a very special week.
As for Carnlough - - yes, it's that view of the entrance to the harbour that did it. It might not be the most surprising or dramatic view - - but there's something about it that REALLY does it for me! Thank you for such a memorable post - - though I won't be forgetting any of it!

rhymeswithplague said...

Lovely. Absolutely lovely. Your photography gets better and better, and your descriptive powers must be at their height.

Between you and Yorkshire Pudding, who has just returned from Thailand and Cambodia, I need not spend money on a subscription to National Geographic magazine!

Silverback said...

Thank you both for your kind comments.

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