Belfast to Portstewart
After spending the night in a small, gated campground just out of Belfast we were ready to head back into the wilderness. We headed onto the rural roads of Northern Ireland and drove towards Torr Head in our little Wicked camper van. This was our proper Northern Ireland welcome.
Signs advised that the roads were unsuitable for caravans and large vehicles and the roads quickly morphed into roller coaster tracks before us. We found ourselves climbing very narrow, steep roads that snaked up and down the headlands. Cows and goats ran along the side of the road. Google Maps vastly underestimated how long it would take to squeeze ourselves through the brambles. Eventually, we pulled up at the end of the road having reached the Torr Head.
A small rocky hill sat in front of us, with an abandoned coastguard station perched on top. We climbed the hill, battling against the strong wind ripping in from the ocean. From the top we could just make out Scotland. This is the nearest point between Ireland and Scotland. With the wind styling my hair into something resembling a poorly designed bird’s nest, we quickly descended to the safety of the van. Our only way out was similar to our way in, with more winding roads and sheep trying to catch a ride.
We continued along the coast to the Giant’s Causeway. The skies had remained a fairly dreary grey most of the day, but the rain had held off. Without realizing there was a much cheaper way to explore the natural wonder (by parking further down the coast and walking back) we pulled into the tourist car park, alongside the tour buses, and paid for a ticket. The ticket gained us entry into a rather large, informative visitor’s center that was overcrowded with tourists. Picking up an audio guide on the way, we headed for the path down to the infamous stones. As we walked down towards the seashore we listened to the rather painful narrative of Jimmy looking for a nickname. There was more “witty” commentary on whether Jimmy should be Jimmy the Giant or Jimmy the Fisherman than there was on the stones. Maybe that’s because there isn’t a whole lot to say about stones. Despite Jimmy’s insistence I’m fairly certain there wasn’t actually a dispute between the Scottish giant and the Irish giant.
Just as we reached the furthest point from any form of cover, the skies opened and it poured with rain. Despite the area being known for persistent rain, our audio guides were not waterproof, so we (sadly) could no longer listen to Jimmy the Whiny Brat. Now sodden, we had lost any hope of remaining dry. We continued to climb over the slippery rocks and admire the unusual shape of the landscape. With the rain now pelting down many tourists evacuated, leaving us to explore the area in relative peace. That is except for the safety police who made sure you only walked on the approved rocks. Once back at the van we changed into dry clothes (one of the many benefits of having a van is the portable changing room). We then headed on down the highway towards Portstewart, our home for the next three days.
Portstewart was the main destination for our trip to Ireland, as a good friend of mine, Anna, was getting remarried in Ireland. Well, remarried in the sense that they had a New Zealand wedding and they had so much fun they decided to do it all over again in Ireland. We were staying with Anna and her husband Andrew, at Andrew’s parent’s house. From the moment we stepped through the door (despite our sopping appearance) Andrew’s parents welcomed us with open arms. We were treated to our first family-style home-cooked meal in a very long time. Of course, there was plenty to go around.
The next day we attempted to visit the Giant’s Causeway for a second time. This time Andrew dropped us off around 10 kilometers down the road and we walked along a coastal track towards the causeway. The walk took us through farmlands, along rocky bays, and high up onto the headlands. We felt a long way from civilization, but its resemblance to New Zealand countryside meant we also felt closer to home. There were very few people walking the track and we had the glorious scenery to ourselves. Even better, it didn’t rain. When we reached the Giant’s Causeway we were on the top of the cliff tops and we could see it pulsing with tourists below. The views in all directions were stunning.
Continuing on down the trail, we still had a few kilometers to walk back to the van. This section involved following a historic railway and walking around a golf course. It was then that big, black clouds filled the sky. Our pace quickened as we tried to get back to the van before a repeat of the previous day. At a wheezing jog, we arrived at the van just as it began to pour with rain, again. Ben boiled some water under the cover of the tailgate and we sipped on a cup of tea as the rain pelted the van’s roof.
Then it was time for the wedding. As Anna and Andrew were already married, there was no need to get ready from separate houses, so we were right in the middle of the action. The girls all got their hair and make-up done, me included. Having not worn make up for a very long time Ben didn’t recognize me. Anna wore her original wedding dress and looked absolutely stunning.
The wedding took place in a beautiful old church in a small town just out of Portstewart, followed by a reception in a breath-taking country estate. The house had been maintained to preserve its history and we were transported back in time. When I saw the library I stood staring in awe. It is a life goal of mine to have this library. We snuck up the stairs and explored all the bedrooms, each more elegant than the next. The house was a fairy-tale. After a delicious buffet dinner, some heartfelt speeches and a boogie into the night, it was time to head home. The reception went without a hitch and then the pair were hitched…again.
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