Apologies for the blurred photo but it was the best one I could get.
As we headed out of Belfast down the M2 motorway on the coach, we could see Belfast Castle on the side of a hill in Cavehill Country Park. There was once another castle in the city centre, dating back to the 12th century, but it burnt down in 1708, so the owners, the Chichesters, decided to built their new residence further out, in a more secluded area. Built between 1811 and 1870, the current castle gets spectacular views back at Belfast itself. It is open to the public and can be hired for weddings and conferences.
The first stop on the tour was to the nearby town of Carrickfergus, where we stopped for a photo opportunity at the famous Carrickfergus Castle. It is sat looking out to see, and across at the town of Bangor (Northern Ireland not Wales). The castle is very impressive is one of the few surviving examples of a Norman Keep, Clitheroe Castle being another.
The Castle was built in 1177, and since then has with stood attacks from the English, Irish, Scottish and French. It ceased its military function in 1928, and is now owned as a historic monument by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.
William of Orange Statue
There is also a statue just to the side of the Castle, of King William III (1650 – 1702), also known as William of Orange. As the name suggests, he was the sovereign of Holland from 1672 onwards (AKA The Netherlands, whose colour is Orange). In 1688 William invaded England, and ultimately deposed King James II (1633 – 1701) and claimed the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland (Wales at the time was part of the Kingdom of England).
It was under William’s rule that direct rule by the Stewarts (monarchy) was lessened and Parliament began to take over.
William of Orange Landing Site Plaque
There is a plaque on one of the piers not too far from where I was stood to take the photo of the Castle, that commemorates the exact spot he used to land in Ireland. We had an excellent tour guide who explained a lot of information to us about various landmarks and places en route as we went.
On our trip around the coast we also passed through a number of towns and villages on the way. The 1st was the small town of Larne, where ferries to and from Cairnryan in Scotland regularly dock.
Heading towards the town, we ran parallel to the train tracks, along which runs a regular service from the capital, Belfast, terminating in Larne. Across the water we could see Larne to the left, and the village of Ballylumford, home to the Ballylumford Power Station. Powered by natural gas using steam turbines, the station opened in 2003, with its most prominent feature being the 3 chimneys, each standing an impressive 413 ft tall.
Prior to it’s opening, there were two previous stations, just known as Station A, which ran off Coal from 1943, and Station B, which opened in 1974. The current Station is very important for Northern Ireland, as it is the largest in the country, and also powers the largest percentage of area.
On the way into Larne Town, we passed a large roundabout with a crown in the centre. Although this has sadly now been removed, it was erected by Larne Borough Council to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 2012. As we kept moving, we bypassed much of the town centre, and continued on towards our next destination.
Northern Ireland is very close to the coast of Scotland, and for pretty much the whole journey around the coast we could see Scotland itself, the above picture showing what the driver says is the Mull of Kintyre, located here. Over the course our travels, a while after we visited Northern Ireland, we were actually in the opposite situation. Upon arrival in the village of Portpatrick at the very Western edge of Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland, we got a great view over to Northern Ireland itself, towards the area around Larne. You can read all about it in my post here.
We soon drove through the village of Ballygally, just 3 miles North of Larne. One of the villages most notable features is Ballygally Castle, a genuine Castle dating back from 1625, when a Scotsman called James Shaw built it on land he rented from the Earl of Antrim. The Castle has come under siege a few times throughout its history, but it was never breached.
Today it is believed to be the oldest occupied building in the whole of Northern Ireland, as well as haunted by various ghosts including Lady Isobel Shaw, a previous inhabitant of the building from centuries ago. We didn’t see any Ghosts, yet it did seem to get a bit colder around the area!
The main turret is shown directly in front of us, and past that the white building is the continuation of the Castle in the form of an extension from the 1950s, added by Cyril Lord (1911 – 1984, Entrepreneur from Lancashire).
Our next stop was the very pleasant village of Glenarm, sat on the coast, where the Glenarm River meets the sea here. Crossing the river is a charming little Bridge constructed in 1682, and eventually formed an entrance into the Castle grounds. The remains of the Castle itself like to the right of the Bridge, and date back to 1750.
The other notable landmark here is the Church of St Patrick’s, which had been completed by 1768, after permission to build it, granted from the Church of Ireland in Dublin, was granted in 1759. Of course at that time the area that not constitutes Northern Ireland was part of the original country of Ireland.
This picture was taken just after we left Glenarm, as we drove through the 1st of the famous Glens of Antrim, Glenarm. This area of Northern Ireland was historically a county called Antrim, which still exists today, albeit not for local government use.
Glens of Antrim
There are 9 Glens of Antrim (hills in the Antrim area), which are (running South from Belfast towards the Giants Causeway in the North):
The coach driver pointed out each of the Glens to us as we passed through them, and we did in fact cover all 9 of them. For this picture we were still traversing Glenarm, and it is a good example of the beautiful scenery, and proves it is not without reason that Ireland is called the Emerald Isle.
Next, we arrived in the village of Carnlough, located in Glencloy, another of the Antrim Glens. Its a pleasant little place, and moving through the town centre we passed underneath the stone form of Carnlough Bridge, which was originally built to serve the harbour here. A series of quarries were located close to the village, and to transfer the materials down to the harbour so they could be shipped out a tramway was built, and a bridge was used to take it over the 2 main streets in town.
Although the tramway is long since gone the bridge remains, a great reminder of history here. The bridge now carries Herbert Street down towards the harbour.
Our next stop, the village of Cushendall, afforded us the next 3 of our Glens of Antrim. Glenaan, Glenballyeamon and Glencorp all meet here, with stunning countryside on either side of the village. This area is also one of the closest, along with Larne, to Scotland, which is just 16 miles away.
The village was reasonably quite, and had the same attractive buildings we had seen throughout the trip so far, however one particular structure caught my eye. Some later research revealed that the large, brown stone tower on the left of the picture is quite significant, and is called the “Curfew Tower”.
The Tower was built sometime around 1820 by Francis Turnly, who sourced the building materials locally. It’s original function was as a holding place for miscreants, and was heavily fortified. Although the top of the tower is out of shot, it has battlements and thick stone walls. It passed through the hands of a number of owners throughout the following decades, and is now run as a residence for artists by a local trust. What a stunning place to be creative, as various fortified sections of the interior of the building survive, including a dungeon.
We passed this set of twin lakes, known as Loughareema, one on either side of the road as we headed for our next main stop. They are very unusual lakes, as they are not always there…
They are known as the vanishing lakes, and at different times of the day when you pass by them on the road they will either be there as they are now, or gone completely. This is because of a featured called a Chalk Plug Hole, which is a series of holes in the ground underneath the lake. When these fill with peat, the water is forced out and forms the lake, and when the holes unclog the lake then drains away again. It is a fascinating feature, and certainly the strangest part of the tour.
The final town we went through was called Ballycastle, located in a district called Moyle. We covered a number of the 26 districts in Northern Ireland during the coach trip, including Carrickfergus, Larne and Belfast to name but a few.
The sea front is well decorated, with fountains and sculptures serenading a beautiful view behind it. The large silver sculpture is called “Children of Lir” which is made up of 4 swans flying across the sky.
The town also has a large harbour, where you can catch boats over to Rathlin Island.
On the way out of Ballycastle, we spotted the “Marconi Memorial” shown above. It was created as a monument to Guglielmo Marconi (1874 – 1937), an Italian inventor whose Mother was part Irish.
He developed the revolutionary Wireless Telegraph, which he tested in various different countries, broadcasting signals across the English Channel from France in 1899 for example. One of his other notable broadcasts occurred here, when signals were sent out to Rathlin Island, which we would encounter later. A memorial to this was later erected in the town by Moyle District Council.
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
This was our second to last stop, the famous Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge at Ballintoy. Below it there is a drop of 98 feet, and the bridge itself is 20 metres long. The bridge runs from the mainland to a tiny island which is called Carrickarede (hence the name of the bridge) and was originally used by Salmon Fishermen who needed to cross to the island to fish, and the practice has been going on for at least 350 years, although it is no longer used by fishermen. There have been various bridges, as it was replaced often, but it wasn’t always as safe as it now. In 1970 there was only one handrail and large gaps between the boards.
As it is a major tourist destination it has been made a bit safer, and the current design is from 2008. No one has ever fallen off the bridge but many people have been to scared to cross it, and I am very proud that I made it across as I am petrified of heights, and thankfully it wasn’t swinging about too much as the wind had died down a bit. The bridge is around 20 minutes walk from the car park, where there is a gift shop and cafe.
Having made it out onto the island over the bridge, we were treated to some amazing views, not just of Scotland, but also of Rathlin Island, a Northern Irish island located between here and Scotand. Looking back towards the mainland the cliffs were very impressive, and the water a beautiful shade of blue.
There was even a cave in the cliff wall, and this picture shows how lovely the water looks. The Antrim Coast is breathtaking and I strongly recommend anyone to take the coach tour around the area.
The Rope Bridge is associated with the nearby village of Ballintoy. Moving through the area on the coach we got a great view of Ballintoy Parish Church, and it’s distinctive white shape stood out well amongst the sea of green around it. Completed by 1813 to replace the earlier 17th century Church, the building has been an important place for worship in the area for a number of centuries. It has been theorised the original Church was used as a Chapel for Ballintoy Castle, which no longer exists.
It’s most famous moment in history occurred in 1894 when hurricane force winds thundered through the area, dislodging the spire which once sat on top of the tower. It was never replaced, and left the building as it remains today. It is also apparently the most photographed Church in Northern Ireland, so despite it’s misfortunes this little Church is quite famous.
But that wasn’t quite it for the tour, as we had one more stop. Join us for the fifth and final part of our Ireland adventure, and explore the Giant’s Causeway, in my next post, available here.