Thursday, September 17, 1998
The next morning we had an early breakfast. Our hostess was going to Belfast for the day and needed to leave early. This was fine with us. So we had Breakfast by 7 a.m. and had arrived at the Giant's Causeway before 8 a.m.. It cost an outrageous £3 ($5.75 USD) to park. The visitor's center was still not open so we headed on down the trail to the causeway. I believe during the day they have shuttle busses as the paved trail is steep and it is a substantial walk. We were the only one's on the causeway the entire time we were there. This is one joy of Ireland. Nothing opens until 9 or 10 a.m. and most places are relatively deserted until this time. If you can get out in the early morning you can enjoy many places all by yourself.
We played, took pictures, and just watched the ocean for a while. Jody found an old hollow steel ball (a float for a net) and we had fun "road" bowling with it. We continued on around the base of the cliffs till we reached the "Giant's Organ," a structure that looks like the pipes of a pipe organ. From here, there is a series of 120 steps that leads back to the top of the Cliffs. At the top you can walk back to the visitor's center. I now know that the best way to do this is to take the cliff walk first, walk DOWN the steps, and then back to the top on the more gentle trail.
Arriving back at the visitor's center it was nearly ten o'clock (and still not open). We decided to go to the Old Bushmill's Distellery and take the tour. It was just a couple of miles away. After the tour we would come back to the Giant's Causeway Visitor's Center. In Ireland, the term "Visitor's Center" simply means gift shop.
The tour cost around £3-4 each. It started with the VIDEO. This video was basically a 20 minute commercial for Bushmill's Whiskey. The tour lasted about an hour. It was very interesting and took you through all the various stages of brewing whiskey. It was also educational in that you are taught the differences between Scotch Whisky, Irish Whiskey, and American Whisky. We were also shown the "Millennium Whiskey."
Millennium Whisky are two thousand barrels of whiskey that were stored in 1975. Each barrel holds about two hundred bottles and were sold for $4000 (a mere $20 per bottle - actually a very good price) several years ago. Many famous and rich people around the world have purchased a barrel. These include George Lucas, Tom Hanks, etc.. The week before we were there Lavar Burton (Geordi Lavorge of Star Trek) had been there to visit his barrel. The owners are treated to a private tour and get time alone to "bond" with their barrel. There was one owner on a tour while we were there.
At the end of the tour there is a Whiskey Tasting. Only two people are allowed to do this. If you are interested quickly volunteer. These two taste 12 different types of Whiskey to find their favorite. I found this to be a huge waste of time and wandered away to the bar to enjoy the "free" drink you pay for as part of your tour. I had a shot of whiskey with a lot of ice and water. Yeech! People actually drink this stuff?
After spending some time (and money) in the gift shop we headed back to the Giant's Causeway where we proceeded to part with more money. Then we started down the coast to the Carrick-a-rede bridge. This is a rope bridge suspended a hundred feet over the ocean connecting the mainland with a small island.
When we arrived we saw a sign stating the bridge was closed and had been taken down for the season. Sallie was very disappointed as this was one thing that she had really wanted to do in Ireland. I could see people on the Island so Sallie and Jody decided to go down the trail to see what was going on.
Mom and I found a good spot in the parking lot where we could watch them through the binoculars. I also spent this time looking at the map. I could see the bridge and people walking across. I soon saw Sallie and Jody on the bridge. Jody was jumping up and down and having a grand time. Sallie was white and holding tightly with both hands. It seems that they had put the signs up, but had not yet got around to actually taking the bridge down. Sallie was happy.
We continued on down the coast stopping twice to look at ruins of old castles. The first was Dunsverick Castle which only has a few walls remaining. The second was Kinbane Castle. There are only a couple of walls of Kinbane Castle left but it in a wonderful location. The castle is on a large rock off the coast. There is a large cave going through the rock and you can see daylight shining through from the other side.
We drove on down the coast road (literally right along the ocean), through the Bally Patrick Forest where we saw the Vanishing Lake, and over a high plateau with sheep everywhere. Eventually we arrived in Carrick-Fergus. Just north of Carrick-Fergus is the ancestral home of Andrew Jackson.
I wanted to visit the imposing Carrick-Fergus Castle. This large Norman castle is very well preserved. It was used as a garrison until the 1920's. Throughout the castle are mannequins in period costumes. There are story boards located nearby telling the history of the castle and community. In the main keep a broad modern staircase has been installed. This is also the only castle I saw in Ireland that has been to a limited amount rendered handicap accessible.
The castle overlooks the harbor leading into Belfast. There is also a glass-capped well that you can stand on and look straight down a 100 feet or more. Lights have been installed in the well and you can see the water beneath. This well is unique in that it provides fresh water and is only a few feet from the salt water bay.
A very humorous part of the castle is the medieval toilets. These are located on the second floor of the keep. On one of the ancient stalls sits a mannequin, going about his, uh, business.
Mom and I visited the Castle. Jody and Sallie were castled out. I had left the B&B/Farmhouse books with Sallie to try to find us a place to stay that night. She picked a farmhouse in Kilkeel, southwest of Downpatrick. I called and booked our rooms. Our hostess said it would take a couple of hours to get there.
We left Carrick-Fergus and found ourselves on a 10-Lane highway going through Belfast. This in itself was a shock. We somewhere missed a turn and were headed for Dublin instead of south towards Downpatrick. I had Jody get off the road and head for the city center. I was of the opinion that if we went downtown we would see a sign somewhere pointing towards Downpatrick. Once again I wished we had more time. Belfast is a beautiful town with many interesting buildings. What I found amazing was the tens of thousands of school children seemingly everywhere. School must have just let out.
Sure enough, after driving a few blocks we saw signs for the road we needed to be on. We were soon on our way to Downpatrick. It is at the cathedral in Downpatrick where St. Patrick is supposedly buried. We easily found the cathedral and the gravestone. So far in our trip we had been to where St. Patrick baptized the king (Cashel), chased the snakes from Ireland (Crough Patrick), and where he was buried (Downpatrick). I believe that there were others but I now forget. St. Patrick definitely got around.
I had also gone to Downpatrick to take some pictures for a friend of mine. He is a genealogy buff and had traced his roots back to this city. So I took a few pictures of the city to send him when we got back.
Leaving Downpatrick we drove through the Mourne Mountains along the coast to reach Kilkeel. This is a beautiful part of the country and the mountains are fantastic. With minimal difficulties we found Heath Hall B&B. After dropping our bags we headed back into town for supper.
Almost everything was closed but we found a small cafe. The menu was wonderful. The food at the other tables looked delicious. The prices were amazingly inexpensive! Unfortunately, they didn't take credit cards and we only had about £14 British Sterling. So we piled back into the car and drove 5 miles along the coast to the town of Ballymartin. We ate in the Harbor Inn Bar. The food was ok, but much more expensive and not nearly as nice as the place we had to leave. We arrived back at the B&B fairly late. It had been a long day and we were all tired.