24th May 2014 - Northern Ireland
Driving to Ballycastle
just an aside everything in Northern ireland is Bally this and that - must look up to see what it means...
So the plan for today was to leave the hotel early, walk into the city centre with our backpacks and take the airport bus out to the airport to pick up our rental car. Seems so simple particularly having spotted a bus stop for the airport bus the previous day.
Left the hotel later than planned so were never going to make the pick up time for 0930. Both pleased to be out of the hot stuffy room and into cool fresh drizzly air. Walk took more like 25 mins as I was a bit slower with 10kgs on my back. Found the bus stop - well it wasnt really the bus stop it just looked like it. Took a good 20 mins and one airport bus going straight past us to realise it was a set down point only. So a wander down the street and found a Visitor Information centre - sent M inside to get directions - wrong move. Anyway ages later he comes out with a map and two possible bus stops asking which one - obvious answer 'the closest'. Anyway we set off for what he tells me will be the main bus station. Around the left side of City Hall and further left with M increasingly looking at the map in a puzzled way. So I take charge and looked at it and we should have gone right all the way rather than left. Thought it was kinda funny myself. Anyway another 20 mins later we are at the bus station - tickets to the airport £7.50 each or £10.50 return. Its an express bus and only stops twice so a pleasant 35-45 min trip into the countryside - beautiful. Finally arrive at the airport about 1045 and find the Enterprise Car rentals. Reasonable wait as the man dealt with the people in front where there had obviously been some sort of booking problem. I booked with rentalcars.com and pre paid about £70 for 4 days hire including a free additional driver. of course then you get the big sell re insurance etc as tyres and windscreens not included and £700 excess dadadada so did purchase some insurance (so need to check what my travel insurance covers) which cost another £40. They also needed a £200 deposit. If you pay this by credit card its all good, if you want to use debit card there is one hundred questions to answer including your employers details. After the 5th question I gave up and handed over the AMEX. A walk back out to get the car - slightly disappointed not to get the metallic green one instead getting a greyish browny Vauxhall Corsa auto - very comfortable and no problems at all with it. Also brought a road map - really had no idea how we would get to where we were going as M in the lead up to the trip had done a 'Im not really interested - its Northern Ireland' and i did a 'Im quite happy going alone' but he couldnt bear to miss out.
I decided we would drive up the eastern bit via Ballyclare and Carrickfergus to Ballycastle. theer was a walk at Whitehead that I had researched but once we got there didnt look amazing so decided to continue up the coast as knew there were some good things to see and do. We did the scenic drive around islandmagee with me surprising M by doing the driving. The roads were much more like New Zealand roads than English roads so i was quite happy. Islandmagee is well worth a look - good road, scenic, pretty and just lovely over all. Also some good walks to do here.
This is all on the 'Coastal Causeway Route' - one of the World's great road journeys and I have to say over the next few days we did the whole route and it was pretty special - helped by the time of the year and minimal traffic on the roads. I could imagine it would be hell on weekends in the summer holidays.
We stopped off at Glenarm Castle and Walled Garden which was the family home of the Earls of Antrim - the McDonnels. the walled garden in one of the oldest in Ireland and is open May to September. Started off in the tea room with a cream tea - had to sit outside as no tables inside and the sun slowly came up for the first time and it was just lovely. £5 per adult and £8 for cream tea for 2. Didnt actually go to the castle which is more of a house but it dates from 1756 as the earlier one had burnt down. The Antrim Estate originally extended 43 miles up the coast to the original home of Dunluce Castle (see tommorrow). The garden was lovely although the promised tulips were either not there or not out yet.
We then were back in the car and driving to Glenariff waterfalls and Forest Park. You leave the main road and drive up the Glenariff Valley - just stunnng - road is a loop back down to the coastal road. Decided to stop and do the waterfall walk - M slightly disgusted at the $4.50 parking charge but later deciding all the huffing and puffing of me walking up the hill was worth it. Anyway the waterfall walk was slightly more than I expected - good weather, great path but down and down and down we went through forest and past streams etc and then the long slog slowly back up which felt never ending for me and took forever - think the whole walk took 2 hours but for normal fitness people probably 1-1.5 hours. Howver on reflection well worth it.
Continued to drive and got to our destination Ballycastle by 1900. Decided to get dinner - fish n chips by the small port. Very popular place and a long queue out the door but well worth the wait and would recommend to all. Drive towards the Rathlin Island ferry and you will see it on the right. Sat outside at table - sun going...
Drove to our B&B - Carnately Lodge which was a mile just outside of Ballycastle. i took a long time choosing accommodation here and was also undecided about how many nights here versus Derry but decided on 2 nights - good choice and wish Id gone for a third. Stunning location - modern property which countryside all around, calves in the field and great views outside our bedroom window. £75 per night which is at the top of my range generally but again worth it - booked via booking.com and gave them a 10/10. Loved our room on the ground floor - not really my taste but large and ensuite was also big and modern - plenty of hot water and great pressure. Really good sleep as well.
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