Mid June 2017 - Bangor, Glenarm and Ballycastle
Just a few stops down the train line from Bangor are the Ulster Folk and Transport Museums where you can easily loose yourself for a day. The folk museum is a huge site where many buildings of historical interest have been either relocated or faithfully reproduced. The rural part of the site has winding pathways that separate the buildings so each appearing is if in its natural setting. Two things made it obvious it was a museum, the first being the excellent state of repair and cleanliness of the buildings, and second being the hoards of over-excited primary school children. Several of the buildings had working demonstrations such as the forge (right), a weaver, a basket maker and the spade mill. The latter had an interesting old video showing the waterwheel operated hammer made from a tree trunk and used to shape the spades from an ingot. This process was described as "bonking". We managed to keep focused, until the narrator said how skilled they were and they could "bonk two together", at which point we lost it.
The transport museum was much more conventional and also blessedly free of school parties. There were huge hangers of road and rail transport from donkey powered farm wagons to mainline steam locomotives. However Tim had control of the camera so most of the pictures are of intricate bits of locomotives, which although interesting are not suited to this website. The "Last Bus Home" diorama (left) made us chuckle, it uses perspective modelling and was only about 2x2x1ft in size. It showed a typical last bus home with a mix of drunks, late night socialisers and other more sober individuals returning from a religious meetings
To catch the north going tide to Glenarm we had to leave Bangor at dawn - 4:30 a.m.! This tall ship (above) was anchored outside the marina. We had stayed long enough in Bangor and we moved on to Gelnarm before their festival of the sea. A number of tall ships had been around during our stay so we'd seen most of the key participants.
Glenarm is small a council owned marina on the edge of the village. By late afternoon all the visitor's berths were full and later arrivals were having to raft up and it was not yet the height of the season. We were glad of our enforced early start as it meant we arrived just as others were leaving for the day, so could get a finger berth and avoid the rafts. The summer arrived while we were there so it was a chance for a serious walk along the Ulster Way. The buses do not use routes helpful to walkers, so we got a cab but it was not much more expensive than a bus would have been. The walk took us along a ridge via Cairncastle which was used in "Game of Thrones" as the "lands north of Winterfell" and the "seat of the House of Stark" (see more pictures). It did not mean anything to us, but was certainly a beautiful and bleak area with sweeping views out to sea and south to Larne - once the fog lifted. Back in Glenarm we went to investigate the Castle. Only the walled garden is open to the public so we only bothered with the cafe which did an excellent coffee and cake (right).
Next stop was Ballycastle, again with a north going tide, but by now at a more civilized time in the morning. The following day was gloriously sunny so we caught the 7:30a.m. bus along the coast to the Giants Causeway (below and more pictures). We expected to have the place to ourselves, but there was a T.V. film crew also trying to get people-free pictures so we kept out of their way until they left when others started to arrive. Since we were here last (see May 2007) a fancy new visitors centre has been built, so we returned to investigate when it opened at 9.00a.m. It was obviously designed to handle 100s of people, with lots of open space, a large cafe and gift shop. However we thought the information displays a bit sparse and lacking in technical information. The guide book was better and had a quote about the 19th century guides that we thought equally applicable to the visitors centre today "The guide performed his office satisfactorily and most obligingly but it would be an improvement if guides could be bought to describe the natural appearance correctly and to omit the senseless jargon about Giants" President of the Geological Society of Glasgow, 7 April 1876.
From the visitors centre the coastal path traverses the cliffs giving more stunning views (see more pictures) even though the shear drops from the edges were not good for Judith's nerves. The countryside was excellent habitat for birds with the Stonechats clearly doing well and raising lots of young (below right). An obliging Dunnock (below centre) serenaded us as we passed, and there were several Grasshopper Warblers (see more pictures) trilling away. Both Glenarm and Bangor had resident Black Guillemots that nest in holes in the breakwaters and are really cute (below left and more pictures). From Ballycastle the plan is to go back to Islay and then on to Gigha, the only major island we have not yet visited on the west coast of Scotland.