So, after leaving Bushmills we headed south back Belfast way to Dundonald Touring Caravan Park. Situated 8 miles from the city centre, it was £24 per night for a fully serviced and spacious pitch which we had been able to pre-select online before our visit. What’s more the site was perfectly located for us, adjacent to the Comber Greenway 7-mile traffic-free old railway cycle path running from Comber to Belfast. The length of the route provides views of Stormont, Scrabo Tower, the Harland & Wolff cranes (Samson & Goliath), Belfast Hills, and the CS Lewis statue at the Holywood Arches.
We took this cycle path to explore the town of Comber, the birthplace of Thomas Andrews junior, a Shipbuilder and head designer of RMS Titanic who sadly perished on its maiden voyage. We hadn’t realised the deep connection the town had with Titanic which educated us a little more before our visit to the Titanic Museum the next day.
Venturing on a little further through the town brought us out at the shores of Strangford Lough and Island Hill nature reserve, which offers a circular walk of 1.5 miles around the island. Note, though, that this little island is only accessible at low tide. It was very peaceful here, just the sound of the birds, and we only passed the odd dog walker or two. Blissful 🙂.
While in Comber we ate lunch at the Sugarcane cafe/bistro in the square and before returning home after our ride, we picked up some essentials for dinner back at Jolly that evening when we took time to relax.
It was an evening of stark contrast on the Saturday night in the cathedral quarter of Belfast city. Wow, what a place! This city knows how to party. It was absolutely buzzing and so vibrant. Most of the bars had great names too, not your usual Brown Cow, Black Bull, etc. We stuck in the cathedral quarter all evening and visited The Thirsty Goat, The Cloth Ear, Dirty Onion (which has a Yardbird chicken restaurant upstairs but we visited Bunsen instead), and the Spaniard bar. We only scratched the surface of the great selection of bars and eateries on offer and so we’d love to re-visit this quarter in the future. Also bobbing around the area all evening were mobile pedal bars with music, like the Wee Toast Tours which looked brilliant fun. Maybe next time we’ll give this a go.
When we turned in after a fab night out, we had a feeling that our intro to this amazing city had really set the tone for the rest of our exploration of Belfast’s rich history. We visited as many sites as we could fit in during our two full days there, which we’ll cover in our next posts.
It was mega-exciting to visit what is probably the most famous landmark of this area of Northern Ireland. We set off late morning and spent the rest of the day at this one – The Giant’s Causeway.
We decided to cycle the couple of miles there from site, along a pathway that runs beside the Giant’s Causeway & Bushmills Railway line. Many people park at the station in Bushmills and either ride the train or walk the path to the causeway. It’s a pleasant, flat route until reaching the causeway where we then locked our bikes up beside the Causeway Hotel.
Using our National Trust membership we gained free access to the causeway through the visitor centre experience. Alternatively, it is free to visit the causeway through the tunnel from the car park. It’s a beautifully scenic walk down, but there’s also a shuttle bus that regularly runs up and down for anyone unable to take the walk – I think it’s about £1 or so but free to national trust members.
As expected, the geological marvel of the giant’s causeway is a big draw for hordes of tourists. Last year there were apparently over 1 million visitors to these volcanic basalt columns … and it felt like that number were there on the day we went! We’d definitely recommend a very early morning visit if you want a little more space and peace to enjoy and consider the science and mythology of this amazing site. We found a quiet spot to sit and enjoy it, drink our flask of coffee, and take photos for a while before walking back up to the top. There are different trails and routes you can take to reach the causeway, taking in the sights of the amphitheatre, giant’s pipe organ and the shepherd’s steps.
By the time we left, it was quietening down considerably as most of the coach loads of tourists had left, and so we decided to have our evening meal at The Nook pub which is on the corner opposite the visitor centre. It’s a very welcoming listed building built in the 1850s and originally used a school house. It was spotless and the food was excellent so thankfully our experience didn’t reflect some of the less favourable reviews we’d read before visiting.
After our meal we headed back to site along the same route we’d taken in. By this time the cycle track was all but empty and the sun was beginning to set which created a tranquil end to our day. Once we’d returned to Jolly we relaxed for the rest of the evening, and planned our further adventures.
We took so many photos and a couple of short vids, so we’ve compiled this video which hopefully captures the day …
We visited these 3 locations on our first full day on the island during practically gale force winds. The weather for the most part of our whole Irish adventure though was generally cloudy but warm with plenty of sunshine in between passing rain showers. We just had this one day of strong winds, so we decided to use the Causeway Rambler bus service which picks up from a bus stop on the site and runs throughout summer until the end of September. The buses are roughly hourly both ways between Coleraine and Ballycastle.
We bought an all day rambler ticket on the bus (£9 each) and our first destination was to Portrush where we walked/were blown along the West Bay seafront before stopping at the Babushka Kitchen Cafe for a coffee. We just had a general wander around the seaside resort for a couple of hours as it was fair to say we probably weren’t seeing it at its best. Just a few weeks earlier, though, the town had been awash with golf fans from around the world as this year’s Open Championship was held at the Royal Portrush Golf Club.
After Portrush, we hopped back on the bus and off again at the medieval Dunluce Castle. This was a great visit. The wild weather really enhanced our experience of the rugged landscape and the quite extensive castle ruins which perch on the cliff edge. We spent a good while around this site, taking photos and exploring every nook and cranny, before finishing off with another coffee/tea at the Wee Cafe & Gift Shop which is next door and interestingly decorated with a mass of trinkets and gifts. More importantly though, the cakes here are absolutely delicious. It was a busy little place even on such a day. As we left to catch our next bus the staff were trying to re-attach the front door that had blown off its hinges 💨😮
After a great couple of hours exploring Dunluce and enjoying coffee & cake, we walked back a 100 yards or so to the bus stop on the main road. Being on the coastal road, the bus stop was very high and exposed but we managed to stay upright until we could jump back on the bus and off again at the old seaside fishing village of Portballintrae.
By the time we reached Portballintrae, just walking in the wind was a challenge along the front, and the rain had set in so we found ourselves a window seat in the Bay View Hotel bar which gave us a panoramic view of the village coastline, the crashing tide, and waves of rain showers which we watched coming in from the sea and crashing up against the hotel window. It was also quite entertaining watching other people being blown in through the door for shelter and a relaxing pint.
By the time we’d got back to Jolly by bus, we were ready to cabin up and snuggle down for the night. It had been a great day that had definitely blown any cobwebs away and we looked forward to visiting the Giant’s Causeway the next morning.
So, we arrived up at Ballyness Caravan Park just outside Bushmills by mid or late afternoon, we don’t know, we don’t care, because our day hadn’t been ruled by a clock 🙂. We were greeted with a warm welcome, directed to our fully serviced pitch, and were set up with the kettle on for a cup of tea in no time.
We thought a good way to round off our first day on the island would be to have some tea and a couple of drinks in the town of Bushmills itself before venturing further afield the next morning. So we hopped on our bikes to ride the mile or so into the centre to get there quicker as the weather was wet that evening. We visited Finn MacCool’s Public House on the Main Street – you can’t miss its bright yellow exterior. It was less vibrant inside but the landlord and others guests were friendly and it was a warm atmosphere and with some good chat. Definitely worth a stop for a pint or two. We also had one in the tiny Bush House pub before picking up a fish n chips supper to take back and eat on Jolly. There are 3 fish n chip shops in very close proximity along the Main Street so we went off a recommendation and visited the Flash in the Pan. We must say though that they weren’t that great and if there again we’d try one of the others (The Cod’s Way or The Hip Chip).
The main attraction of Bushmills town is undoubtedly the Old Bushmills Distillery just 5 minutes from the site. We made sure to pay this a visit during our stay. Neither of us are big whiskey drinkers, but we can both appreciate a sip of the good stuff and the history of the place, so we took one of their tours around the distillery.
Also during our stay here, we treated ourselves to a special meal at the Tartine restaurant at the Distillers Arms in town. It’s award-winning so doesn’t need any recommendation from us, but just for the record it was an absolutely Fab-U-Lous night in every way! We’d return in a flash.
There were so many more attractions we visited while based in Bushmills, which we’ll cover in the next posts …
Jolly’s Northern Ireland jaunt began with a leisurely 4 hour evening drive up to Cairnryan, Stranraer in Scotland. We decided to kip overnight at the StenaLine terminal at a cost of £5 so that we had an easy, stress-free boarding for our early morning crossing over to Belfast the next day. We used the reception facilities, open between about 6am-10pm. It was quite a noisy night on the car park with comings and goings at the port but we slept fine.
We’d pre-booked StenaLine Flexi E-tickets at a total cost of £243.90 for return travel for Jolly and us. This option guaranteed 100% refund on cancellations up to 24 hours before departure and 50% refund on cancellations up to 2 hours before departure. We needed this flexibility in case the trip didn’t go ahead because of other responsibilities. Fortunately though, our holiday proceeded as planned 😀.
The duration of this route is approx. 2.5 hours and they run 8 crossings a day, we’d booked outgoing: 07:30 hrs Tues 3rd Sept & Return: 11:30 hrs Tues 10th Sept, and check-in closed 30 mins before departure. The early morning crossing was very quiet compared to our return, but both ways ran on time and were very smooth crossings.
On arrival at Belfast port, we travelled up to the village of Bushmills on the north coast of County Antrim, which derives its name from the River Bush flowing through it and a large water mill built there in the 17th Century. We’d originally planned to take the quickest route there and stop off for brunch at McLarnon’s Ramble Inn on the A26. Instead though, we grabbed the opportunity of seeing as much of the dramatic coastline as we could by driving up the Coast Rd/Causeway Road (A2) through Carrickfergus, Magheramorne, and Larne, with short stops at Ballygally and Glenarm. It was definitely the right decision, giving us an immediate taster of Northern Ireland’s rugged charm.
We pulled in a little further up the coast in the picturesque harbour village of Carnlough which is situated at the foot of Glencloy, and had brunch at the Harbour Lights Cafe. It was a cosy cafe, good food, and we were lucky enough to get window table overlooking the little harbour.
With full n happy tums we then headed on up to our destination of Bushmills, knowing that the surrounding area has a helluva lot to offer the tourist. We couldn’t wait to experience it!
Here’s a short vid of this first part of our Jolly adventure 🙂