My mother (and super traveling companion!) Saundra, and I flew to Dublin, then rented a car to drive to Northern Ireland for the first leg of our two week journey. The first hour or so of left-side driving was kind of hair-raising, but I didn't wreck the car or injure anyone, so I guess I can say I didn't do too badly. I did hit a few curbs and Mom did a lot of gasping from the passenger seat, but we survived and lived to tell the tale.
|Along the northern coast of Northern Ireland|
We stayed near Bushmills in a great B & B and spent two days exploring the northwestern part of the country. September is a great time to visit - the tourist traffic cuts back in the fall, so the driving was fairly leisurely and most of the places we visited were almost deserted.
|My mom and I, at an overlook along the Causeway Coastal Route.|
The weather changes every few minutes in Ireland; at least that's the way it was when we were there. We didn't see a lot of heavy rain, mostly sunshine interspersed with periods of light drizzle. Some days we lucked out and had sunshine most of the day. Whatever came our way, we took it in stride, figuring it was all part of the Irish experience - that's why we brought umbrellas and waterproof jackets!
|Rainy one minute ...|
|... and sunny the next!|
Our first beach stop was at Whitepark Bay, near Ballintoy. The waves were rolling in and a fine mist was blowing off the sea. A few people were walking their dogs, but aside from that we had the place to ourselves. The small white building in the foreground was a boys school years ago, now abandoned.
|Whitepark Bay, Northern Ireland|
Such a beautiful place! It was hard to tear myself away and move on down the coast.
|Plant at Whitepark Bay|
One of the coolest places we went to in NI was the tiny harbor of Ballintoy.
I just loved the feel of the place. The weather had turned blustery and the waves were crashing on the rocks just offshore, but Ballintoy harbor sat snug against the tall limestone cliffs at its back, sheltered from the wind and waves.
An old stone building houses a cozy tea house where you can warm up with a cup of Earl Grey and a scone.
|The coast at Ballintoy|
There were gorgeous scenes everywhere I looked!
Just off shore, near Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, sits Sheep Island, where farmers used to graze their flocks - with no need for fencing!
Ireland is beautiful in any sort of weather, but when the sun comes out, the greens are simply luscious!
I loved the little farms perched on the cliffs overlooking the ocean.
|Along Torr Head Road|
Some of the most spectacular scenery in Northern Ireland is along the Torr Head Road from Ballyvoy to Cushendun. The driving is treacherous, with narrow roads, lots of switchbacks, and steep drop-offs, but the views make it all worthwhile. Of course, it was hard for me to take my eyes off the road long enough to see the view, so every couple of miles I would pull over, pry my white-knuckled fingers off the steering wheel and get out of the car to take in the scenery properly.
|From Torr Head, you can see the coast of Scotland way off in the distance.|
|Sheep, sheep, and more sheep!|
I hadn't expected to see so many wildflowers blooming in September, but the landscape was actually very colorful. We couldn't believe all the fuchsias growing wild along the hedgerows. It was so pretty!!
|Wild fuchsia bushes|
I had to laugh at the vast fields of heather we saw blooming everywhere. I just kept remembering the one little perennial heather plant that I bought at a nursery a few years ago, for $12 or so. I babied it and coddled it for a couple of years, and then, despite all my care, it ended up dying. In Ireland, it grows wild, abundant, and free, with no coddling from anyone.
The towns are almost as pretty as the countryside, with every business and home sporting huge baskets of flowers. They were gorgeous!
|Flowers in Cushendun|
Cushendun's old jail sits in the center of town - kind of a cool old building ...
|Old jail in Cushendun|
Drive along any road in Ireland and you'll see ruins of old castles, monasteries, and churches. It surprised us that so many of them were on private property, with cows and sheep grazing around them. The landowners allow access to the historic sites and everyone seems to cooperate by respecting the land and the value of the ruins, some of which are over a thousand years old.
One of the most popular attractions in Northern Ireland is the Giant's Causeway. It was located just over the hill from our B&B, so we were able to walk to the top of the cliffs overlooking the causeway and get a birds-eye view.
|Giant's Causeway, from above|
It looks like a big pile of rubble from far away, but the closer you get, the more interesting it is.
We walked down the steep face of the cliff to the Causeway ...
|Benbane Head, near Giant's Causeway|
|Thank goodness we only had to walk DOWN the steps!|
|The "Shepard's Path" that we walked on was at the top of the cliffs|
|Basalt columns of Giant's Causeway|
Over the years, visitors have pushed coins into the seams between the stones for good luck.
Some have been there since Victorian times.
Giant's Causeway is a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of the most unique places I've seen.
We had arrived late in the day, and rain was threatening the whole time we were walking along the cliffs and down the mountain, but as we approached the stones, the sun came out and brightened the whole scene with beautiful light before it set.
Can you believe we did all that in just one day? Everything was within a short distance of our lodging, so it was easy, and we didn't feel like we were rushed. There's so much to see in Northern Ireland - I'd love to go back and spend an entire vacation there. At least we got a good introduction to it.
Stop by again tomorrow, when we head for Dublin and points south.