Walking in the Footsteps of the Giant

Trip Start Sep 10, 2009
Trip End Oct 10, 2009

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Flag of United Kingdom  , Northern Ireland,
Friday, September 25, 2009

What a fantastic day! During breakfast we spoke with a couple from upstate New York. John had rescued them late last night when their key wouldn’t unlock the outside door. Ours was the only room with a light on, and they knocked on our window, scaring both of us. Because I was in the shower, John went out to let them in. We had a nice chat with them and wished them safe journey.

While I uploaded yesterday’s blog, John walked around the property taking pictures of the carved figures that were all around. They were the work of the owner’s husband, and we saw a few more in the village of Ballintoy when we drove through.

Our objective today was to see the Giant’s Causeway. It’s a seaside area composed of over 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns. The legend of the causeway is quite amusing. The Giant Finn McCool challenged his Scottish counterpart, Ben an Conner to a fight. He built the causeway from Ireland to Scotland, but when he saw the size of Ben an Conner, he ran back to Ireland and hid in his home. His wife dressed him as a baby, and when the Scottish giant arrived at the McCool home, he saw the “baby”, and imagined the size of the adult giant. This scared him so much that he ran back to Scotland, tearing up the causeway as he ran so that Finn could not come after him. There are geologically correct theories as to the formation of the stones, but I like the legend better. The fact that there are also some columns on a Scottish island make one wonder.

We arrived at the visitor center at 10:00 and were first on the bus to the bottom of the hill. We were the only ones there at the time, so we walked out as far as we could, avoiding the water-slicked stones. As we wandered around the beach, we saw some of the named formations--the wishing chair, the giant’s boot, the giant’s organ, and the chimney stacks. There was a path leading to a viewpoint about kilometer up and around the side of a cliff. I told John it wasn’t that bad, so we started walking. There was a little huffing and puffing involved for a while, but the view was worth it. The whole time we walked, I was thinking about how grateful I am that we are able to do these things. It was all just incredibly beautiful.

After we returned to the visitor center, we watched a short film about the causeway and the surrounding area, then John gave in to temptation and went into an ice cream shop. We had shakes to tide us over until we stopped for lunch, and once again hit the road.

Outside Ballycastle we stopped at the ruins of the Bonamargy Friary, which sits in the middle of a golf course. As with all other monastic ruins, this one was surrounded by graves, some dating back to the late 1700’s. We saw a stone marker with a hole in it, and learned that it marks the grave of a 17th century woman named Julia McQuillan. She is known locally as “The Black Nun” and it’s said that her headless ghost still haunts the area. We didn’t see her, but maybe she’ll show up in our pictures!

Rather than take the safe and faster A2 south, we opted for the scenic Torr Road. My guidebook states “by scenic, we mean occasionally terrifying”. The highlight of the drive is visiting Torr Head (Torr means BIG ROCK), and after negotiating narrow and winding roads, we found it, and it lives up to its name. The only way to get to the top is to climb, so climb we did until we got to the abandoned coast guard station at the top. The sky had cleared considerably since we left the causeway, and wonder of wonders, we could see Scotland! It was 14 miles away, and very faint, but it was there.

We continued on the drive, and at one time John said he was getting nervous--the only thing on my side of the car was open space. We finally drove into the village of Cushendun. Cushendun was purchased by the National Trust (similar to our national parks system) to preserve the buildings there. They are all whitewashed with black trim. We went into a tea room for lunch and a much needed break for my intrepid driver.

We met up with the coast road, and drove south into the Glens of Antrim--nine glens carved out by glaciers ages ago. They’re lush and green, and beautiful. They are reputed to be the home of the “wee people”, but we didn’t spot a one. We tried to find a waterfall, but directions were unspecific, so we gave up and continued on toward Carrickfergus, our stop for the night.

Today was the first time we had trouble locating a b&b with a vacancy. After knocking on a few doors, I started making phone calls and finally got lucky with the Parklands Bed and Breakfast. It’s a farmhouse that’s over 100 years old, but well cared for and nicely converted for its purpose. Our hostess is Eunice, and she was born and raised in this house. We have chickens, ducks, geese, sheep and horses as neighbors, and it really is delightful.

After seeing our lovely room, we drove into town for dinner. Carrickfergus is just east of Belfast, and we saw ferries coming and going to Scotland and Liverpool. Today I saw a plane flying overhead and realized that I hadn’t seen a plane in two weeks! We walked around the castle, which is marvelously intact, and plan to go back tomorrow morning to tour it.

Dinner was at a place on the harbor, and was quite good. We decided to splurge on dessert and ordered the Bananofee pie. It had a cookie crust, bananas, and toffee (caramel), hence the name. It was good with a cup of coffee.

On the way back to Parklands, we passed a store called Tesco. We’d seen them in the Republic, but didn’t know what they sold, so we joined the throngs that were already there.

It’s similar to Wal-Mart, but doesn’t have the selection that we’re used to. We did pick up a few things, then came back to the farmhouse.  We were able to see and talk with all the children today, and that was wonderful.

Tomorrow we’ll leave Northern Ireland and its much better roads but worse exchange rate and return to the Republic for the rest of our stay. Two weeks down, two weeks to go!
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