Thursday, July 31, 2014

Exploring Northern Ireland's Causeway and Mourne Coastal Routes - Coleraine to Ballycastle (50kms)

I stayed at the Premier Inn in Coleraine on my first night in Northern Ireland - nice, comfortable, and cheap. I decided to breakfast later so I set off to explore the Centre of Coleraine again. There were a few more people about, but it was still very quiet for 9 o'clock in the morning. In the town centre is a fine Town Hall with a war memorial in pride of place. There were many names on the memorial to the dead in both world wars. It was a feature of Northern Ireland that there were memorials like this in almost every town I passed through - something we see very little of in the south of Ireland. It was still too quite for me and I decided to move on to Portstewart.

I stopped for a coffee and croissant at the Griddle Bakery and then rode through the town to the magnificent beach. While there were a few cars parked on the beach I dared not ride my bike onto the sands, so walked instead. You can see back to the Messenden Temple from here and lots of locals and holiday makers were out for a walk this early in the morning. A fantastic amenity to have on your doorstep. Portstewart is a lovely seaside town, and the equally lovely town of Portrush is close by. It's a nice town to walk around and I looked at the war memorial (with a statue of the figure of Victory with a sword in one hand and a palm branch in the other). and also came across the interesting brick sculpture in the Antrim Gardens which depicts local history.

Dunluce Castle is one of the most photographed ruins in Ireland, which is not surprising given it location on a rocky outcrop. The castle dates from the 16th century and fell into ruin when part of the kitchen collapsed into the sea. It was home to the colourful Sorley Boy McDonnell who was a constant thorn in the sides of the English and Queen Elizabeth I during the 16th century. There were a few hundred people out and about the castle with I'm sure thousands of photos being taken.

After the magnificent ruins of Dunluce I moved on to town of Bushmills, best known as the home of the whiskey of the same name. I visited the shop and treated myself to a bottle of the Distillery Reserve on which you can have your own name printed on the label. I didn't tour the distillery as I was informed that many of the items on the tour were not open today. In apology I was given a free small bottle of Bushmills Irish Honey - Yum!

Shortly after leaving Bushmills I arrived at the world famous Giant's Casuseway. It's hard for me to believe that at 54 years of age and living in Ireland all my life that I had never been to the Causeway before. What a magnificent sight I have been missing! It was mid-morning when I arrived, but there were already hundreds of people there. The very kind car park attendants looked after my bike and all my gear so that I could walk down the (lengthy) path to the Causeway without having to carry everything. I walked right out to the end of the path past the "organ pipes" and loved every second of my time there. I took over 100 photos - here's one "selfie" I managed with my Canon EOS:

Everything else in Northern Ireland on this trip could not possibly be as glorious as the Giant's Causeway, but nevertheless I had to leave it and move on. A short distance away are the ruins of Dunseverick Castle where St Patrick himself is reputed to have visited. The castle was captured and destroyed by the Cromwellian General Robert Munro in 1642 - all that's left are the ruins of the gate lodge for the castle. Its location beside a small bay makes for an interesting photo.

There is one more spectacular site on this part of my trip and it is the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge. Even though there were quite a few bikes, this area was not supervised as at the Giant's Causeway and I had to carry my heavy leather jacket all the way to the bridge and back. This location was also very busy and while I remember it for the wonderful bridge, I also remember it for the queues - one to first cross over the rope bridge, and one to get back. Some tourists walked across the bridge and immediately turned around to queue to get back. All this took quite some time, but at least the scenery here looking north to Rathlin Island and the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland beyond is spectacular.

My final stop in this section of my tour was in the town of Ballycastle where I stopped at the Marine Hotel for a late lunch. Here I had what must be the best seafood chowder EVER created. Ballycastle looks out to both Rathlin Island and to Fair Head and is a busy town today. Thankfully I could park my bike on the footpath as car parking seemed to be a bit of a problem. 

Tomorrow - the rest of Co Antrim coastline!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Exploring Northern Ireland's Causeway and Mourne Coastal Routes - Culmore to Coleraine (80kms)

In the first of a short series of posts about my recent trip around the Northern Ireland coastline I set out from Dublin to travel first to Muff on the Derry/Donegal border for an "official" start, and then through Derry City to end the day in Coleraine. This was a total distance of about 80 kilometres.

The first port of call was at Culmore Point where there is a Tower house where the Lough Foyle Yacht Club is based. This is a busy part of Lough Foyle where shipping passes in the narrow channel at this point. Next, I was excited about visiting Derry as I had never been in the city proper and had only previously passed though it on two occasion on the way to and from Donegal. Here I stopped at the Tourist Information Centre on Foyle Street where the helpful staff gave me lots of material for my trip. Outside the centre a guide persuaded me to go on a City Walking Tour, and suggested I leave all my gear and the bike at the Tourist Centre (where it was safe).

Our guide was a Derry man named John, who was most informative. We started at the Ferryquay Gate and he told us all about the difference between Londonderry and Derry names for the city, and about the foundation of the city. Up on the walls he showed us the Loyalist Fountain area and the Nationalist Bogside. The walk around the complete walls is fascinating - we did not do the full circuit as we passed through "The Diamond" before finishing this very worthwhile tour. Following this I returned to the bike and rode down to the Bogside and the famous "Free Derry" corner - this is often used for campaigns and today it had a message about Sarcoma Awareness. I also took a walk over the new Peace Bridge. Even though Derry is now a thriving city there is no doubt that divisions still exist between Nationalists and Loyalists.

Leaving Derry I made my way out to Magilligan Point where there is a Martello Tower overlooking a lovely beach and of course across Lough Foyle to Donegal. There are many Martello Towers in Ireland which are named after a fort at Mortella Point in Corsica which successfully withstood bombardment from the Royal Navy in 1794. The British were so impressed by the strength of the tower that they copied its design and built over 200 of them around the coast of Ireland and Britain. This one was built in 1812.

One of the "must see" sights in Northern Ireland is the Mussenden Temple near Castlerock. This was built as a library and modelled from the Temple of Vesta in Italy. It is part of the grounds of Downhill Demesne and Hezlett House, and it is perched on the edge of the cliff overlooking Donegal to the west and Portstewart to the east. I lost my gloves here only to find that they had been placed on the handlebars of my bike back in the car park by the honest finder!

Before finishing up for the day I decided to detour from the Causeway Route to Ballymoney to see the memorial garden dedicated to Joey and Robert Dunlop. There is a super monument of Joey riding on his racing bike, with a wall  beside listing his famous wins. Dunlop died in Tallinn, Estonia, in 2000 while leading a 125cc race aged just 48. Robert Dunlop died during a practice session for a race in 2008.

While today's trip around the first part of the Causeway Route was relatively short, I did not make it the hotel in Coleraine until about 8 o'clock. The ride from Dublin took up the morning, and I had also spent a long time in Derry and at the Mussenden Temple. Coleraine is a very quiet place in the evening - the town centre was almost empty. There was no where to drink or eat in the centre and I asked a local man where to go. He showed me the way to a pub where I was allowed to eat a takeaway pizza. It was a Monday night, so I guess most places would be very quiet, but this was the quietest town I had ever been in during the early evening.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Exploring Northern Ireland's Causeway and Mourne Coastal Routes - the "Selfie" version #me #shy

While touring Northern Ireland earlier this week I took some selfies at different locations to tweet as I went along. Not all tweets were successfully posted as for some reason I could not do so using 3G, and had to rely on WiFi. For the record - here are them all!x
Magilligan Point

Dunluce Castle

Carrig-a-rede Rope Bridge
Joey Dunlop (Ballymoney)
Mussenden Tenmple

Giant's Causeway

Chaine Tower (Larne)

Carrigfergus Castle
Titanic Experience
Vanishing Lake


Castleward (Strangford)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Exploring Northern Ireland's Causeway and Mourne Coastal Routes

I'm just home from my motorcycle trip around Northern Ireland's coast and had a great time seeing most places for the first time. Apart from many trips to Portaferry in Co Down in my College days and to visit relatives I had rarely been to most parts of the North. I plan a few blog posts about the trip, but I'm not going to waste too much time on the computer when the sun is shinning outside. Here's a few photos from my trip:

Culmore Point

Derry City Wall

Hezlett House

Mussenden Temple

Joey Dunlop

Giant's Causeway

Giant's Causeway

Carrig-A-Rede Rope Bridge

Signposts on the Causeway Route

Pink fisherman and bike (in honour of Giro d'Italia)

Tee lovely coastal roads of Co Antrim

Signposts in Carnlough

Dunluce Castle

Monday, July 21, 2014

Getting an email virus (and passing it on) #embarrassed #sorry

A few days ago I suddenly got messages from people via email that they had received a suspicious email from me, and warned me that my email account was sending our spam or that it was hacked. I had previously received an email which I was briefly suspicious about, but it was from somebody who I know well that often tries new tools and gadgets - so I clicked on the link provided. I knew straight away that it was a spam and closed the page so fast I don't remember what it said.
Image source: Home-Computer-Support.Org
My sincere apologies to anyone who received an email from me with a Subject line of a word with a space in it. I'm embarrassed that I fell for the trick and also sorry for any trouble I have caused to anyone who was affected in the same way. It also taught me that I should tidy up my my Contacts list - many of the spam emails my account sent out were to dormant accounts.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Exploring Northern Ireland's Coast Line #roadtrip

Tomorrow I am setting out on my motorcycle to explore the coast around Northern Ireland from the Derry border at Muff in Co Donegal to the Armagh border near Omeath in Co Louth. In the Google Map below it is a distance of 491 kms (305 miles). 

The weather looks good for the week ahead and I estimate that this will be a 3 or 4 day trip. In my trip last year and the year before around the Wild Atlantic Way I averaged 250 kms per day, but this time I will spend a bit longer in some of the cities and towns. The journey incorporates the Northern Ireland Tourist Board's Causeway Route which is officially 120 miles (193 kms) long. I plan to tweet and blog along the way, and to take plenty of photographs. With a bit of luck I will produce another book based on this trip - this time I plan to go through Amazon's Createspace self-publishing route.

Monday, July 14, 2014

St Michan's Church and the Mummies

I'm sure I am not alone in that there are many tourist attractions near where I live that I have never been to. For the umpteenth time recently I passed by St Michan's Church in Church Street on Dublin's North side, and for the umpteenth time I said to myself "I must go there some time!". Today I finally visited one of Dublin's most popular attractions. 

The church was first built in 1095 and while the crypts date from this time, the more modern church dates from three hundred years ago. Part of the tour of the church is to the crypts underneath where you can see the bodies below:

Image source: St Michan's Church.
The above bodies are thought to be at least 300 years old, with the body at the back (thought to be a Crusader) at least 800 years old. I touched the Crusader's hand which is believed to be a symbol of good luck.

There are plenty of other attractions in Dublin that I have never been to - some day soon I will visit Dublin Castle where I have never been to.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Exploring Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way - a "quintessential guide to this extraordinary odyssey" says 2FM's Ryan Tubridy #WildAtlanticWay

Yesterday I had the pleasure of being interviewed about my book by Ryan Tubridy on RTÉ 2FM in Bantry Co Cork. The Tubridy Show was covering the Wild Atlantic Way all week and I had been asked a couple of weeks ago to go on the show for the last day in Bantry.

Click here to replay the clip of my interview - it is just 7 minutes and 52 seconds long.

Revisiting the Wild Atlantic
Way in Bantry.
It's a long way to Bantry just to do such a short interview (it was a 440 mile/700 km round trip), but it offered a great opportunity to publicize the book on one of Ireland's most popular radio shows. Tubridy told me during a break before the interview that he had bought the book himself in Dubray Books in Blackrock and that he had been reading it all week. He genuinely liked the book and during the interview he called it a "quintessential guide to this extraordinary odyssey", said it was a "great guide", and that it "does what it says on the tin". Great comments - I couldn't have asked for a better reaction. Hopefully some of Tubridy's many listeners go out and buy the book. Thank you Tubs!

The trip also offered an opportunity to revisit the Wild Atlantic Way. I had stayed in Bantry on the second night of my journey. Bantry is close to the Whiddy Island  Discovery Point, and for a short time I relived the Wild Atlantic Way.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Book Review: "One Summer: America 1927" by Bill Bryson

Holiday reading doesn't come better than Bill Bryson's new book which is centred on the year 1927 - I bought the Kindle version for £3.49 which is fantastic value. I have read two of Bryson's books before: "A Short History of Nearly Everything", and "At Home: A short history of private life", and his new book follows the same witty and informative style.

Image source: Amazon.
1927 was the year Charles Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic and there is a lot of coverage of not just this flight, but many other aviation stories as well. Lindbergh, along with President Calvin Coolidge, Babe Ruth, Henry Ford, and Jack Dempsey made most of the news in 1927. Other events such as the trial of Ruth Snyder (executed in 1928) and the executions of Italian Anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, plus the continuing Prohibition keep each page of the book as a mine of interesting information. Bryson has a great skill in linking events together and keeping the reader's interest. He has skilfully avoided providing an encyclopaedia of events that occurred in 1927 by linking in the build up to each story (and also providing a follow on of what happened next).

Bill Bryson is also a very funny writer and makes a potentially dry subject of events in one year into a super read. This book (especially at £3.49 for the Kindle version) is well worth reading, and I certainly enjoyed it.