Belfast

While all of you back home were sound asleep we pulled into the harbor in Belfast.  The weather is once again less than stellar, very cloudy and rain shall accompany us without doubt.  However a new adventure beckons so it really just doesn’t matter.  And in spite of appearances it’s not all that cold.

Up at the most unreasonable time of 6:30 AM, we do our best to open the eyes and get dressed.  Making our way down to the International Cafe fortunately is easy enough and a Cappuccino and breakfast sandwich do their job.  Now, shortly after 8 AM we make our way off to find our tour van.  There it is along with today’s driver, Jim, and soon the rest of our group has arrived and settled in.  Off we go.

As we leave the parking lot, we pass by the no longer used shipyards.  Sticking out quite glaringly are Samson and Goliath, the two massive cranes that were used in the building of the Titanic over one hundred years ago.  Jim is quick to point out that it was built by the Irish and in good shape when it left.  However an English captain was in charge with a Scottish engineer and it ultimately hit a Canadian iceberg.  In the land of myths and legends they never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

It’s about an hour’s drive in the Irish countryside to our first stop.  Houses, churches, sheep and cow pastures dot the landscape.  It may be cloudy but it’s still a very pastoral view.  Johnny Cash, after visiting Ireland, wrote his song 40 Shades Of Green and it’s easy to see his inspiration.  Some of the foothills have their tops pushing into the low lying clouds which makes for a somewhat eerie site.

Carrick-a-Rede Bridge was built by local fishermen 350 yrs ago to cross to an island to catch salmon.  The bridge itself is short and the island is very small.  What made the whole exercise beneficial was the fact that the island was also not controlled by any government and thus had no tax applied to fish caught off its shores.  For 2 months of the year they would catch as many as 300 salmon a day.  They stopped using it in the seventies as the catch had dwindled to 300 per season.  The bridge has been upgraded (somewhat) to better accommodate toll-paying tourists.

It almost seems as if our arrival has caused the  clouds to disappear, blue skies to show and the Sun to try and come out.  A little windy but that has dried up the pathway.  From the parking lot the bridge is only 1.1 kilometers down that path and the time to get to it is presumably only 20 minutes.  However that assumes at least three things:
You are in shape.  We aren’t.
The weather is decent.  It is.
You don’t stop to take pictures every 30 seconds.  This is something we are incapable of doing.
I made it to the top of the hill about three quarters of the way to the bridge.  However it is another steep walk down the other side of that hill followed by the 139 steps down to the bridge. This is then repeated in the opposite direction for the return trip.  Not going to happen.  On top of all this the path is packed dirt and rock not paved or even asphalt.  (Note: Wear decent shoes.)  The views along the way are fabulous and do make the walk worthwhile though.  The limestone cliffs that border the shores used to be quarried but some time ago the owner decided to quit selling as he felt it was destroying the landscape too much.

Now we are on our way to Dunluce castle.  Blue and red marked sheep are all over the pastures.  When asked, Jim advises the British Protestant color is blue and Irish Catholic is red ergo, blue sheep are Protestant and red are Catholic…remember what I said earlier about the truth.  Alternative facts suggest the grazing land is shared so owners mark their sheep for easy differentiation.

Before we get there, we pass through the town of Bushmills.  Quite obviously it hosts the Bushmills Irish Whiskey distillery.  They were granted a license to distill spirits in 1608 but really, the process was started by Irish monks in the 11th century.  Apparently there are two major differences between Scotch Whisky and Irish Whiskey.  One you may have just noticed – Scotch Whisky does not have an ‘e’ after the k.  The other difference is Irish tastes better.  That might be another one of those alternative facts depending on who you talk with.

Dunluce Castle was built in the 14th century and last occupied by the Macdonald clan from Scotland in 1650.  Their departure was caused by a collapse of the kitchen area that took 6 servants lives.  Lady MacDonald refused to live there anymore.  The castle is built on the cliffs which are riddled with caves.  Ocean erosion had ultimately caused the collapse.  Given no-one has lived there for 300 plus years, it’s in a very sad state of repair.

The Giant’s Causeway is our next extended stop.  It is a very unique gathering of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, formed by 5 to 8 sided rocks.  These were created by volcanic eruptions some 40 million years ago.  Local legend, however, paints a very different story.  Really it was built by local giant Fin McCool.  He wanted to cross over to Scotland to confront a local Scottish giant.  Now Fin was no shorty.  He was 12 ft tall.  But when he got to Scotland, he discovered the giant he was after was 16 ft tall.  Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.  So before they met, Fin went back to his own home in Ireland.  The Scottish giant heard about Fin’s desire for conflict so he came to Ireland looking for Fin.  Fin’s wife covered Fin while he was sleeping.  When the Scot came to the house, Fin’s wife cautioned the Scot to be quiet, pointing at the sleeping Fin, saying she didn’t want him to wake Fin’s baby.  The Scot, looking at a 12 ft baby, decided that Fin himself might be a bigger handful than anticipated and left in a hurry.  While making his way back to Scotland, he also destroyed most of the causeway so Fin couldn’t come after him.  I think that story is definitely more entertaining.

The decision was made to take a bus down the long, steep hill rather than walk and the return on that same bus proved well worth the 2 pounds total we spent (both ways).  Once at the bottom the columns and the shore line with its ever-present surf made for another one of those you-have-to-do-this experiences.  If it were wet today the climb onto the rocks would have been somewhat more treacherous.  As it was we had only to deal with the fact the rocks are totally uneven in every direction.  It’s certainly not something you’d want to try after a few pints of Guinness.  When we reached the top we began to wonder if sober was really a better way after all.  It did provide a most unique way to test your balance.  I’m happy to report that the ride back up the hill did not require an ambulance.

Now we’re on our way to Ballycastle for lunch and more views.  A step into a local pub (O’Connors) was immediately met with a very loud cheer and a full-to-overcrowding establishment.  A soccer match of some import was on the television and critical plays were being made.  This is well and truly a prime example of a pub party in Ireland.  There was clearly no room in the main pub area but they did have a great outdoor section that got us away from the crowds and the noise.  Lunch was enjoyed talking with another older couple that was also doing this particular cruise as a bucket list item, having never been to the British Isles before.  I found it necessary, clearly in the interests of fairness and proof of concept, to try another half pint of Guinness.  I can now state, unequivocally, it IS better in Ireland.

It is now time to make our way back to the ship.  As we do so, we make a quick bathroom break in a very little village called Carnlough.  Very much the quaint fishing village directly on the ocean.

Making our way through Belfast, we pass by the peace walls and listen to Jim give a little insight as to the Belfast Troubles in the 1960’s, the peace accord helped into fruition in the 1980s by then US President Clinton and how, over 20 years later, the struggles for equality continue.  This venue is not for a political diatribe, but there is apparently more going on than meets the world public eye.

I have to go to bed now as tomorrow will be an even earlier start as we need to be up by 6 AM.  The day after, however, is a sea day and I will post the pics from both today and tomorrow at that time.  I beg your indulgence and understanding.


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