Report on Northern Ireland Trip
23 May 2008
By one thirty we were all seated on the mini bus with a glass of wine in hand looking forward to our first trip to Northern Ireland. We were making good time so decided to stop at Girvan for toilets and to get chips. Michael and Lydia took us on a trip down Memory Lane as this was where they had their first date. We then arrived at Cairnryan where we met up with Mark and boarded the Ferry. Once on board Mark issued us with a Quiz based on Northern Ireland and it?s history. Mark?s first mistake was to think that a PRIZE QUIZ could be fun!!!!!! Next mistake was to think that we wouldn?t take it seriously. Most of us then started searching the boat for some of the answers, searching the shop, asking staff questions. I couldn?t concentrate on anything else for the rest of the journey and didn?t even realise he had made an excellent itinerary and put it on the reverse.
Mark had booked us a meal, which was great, in a lovely Bistro called South Eight in the village of Carryduff. From there we made our way towards Meelmore Lodge (or what we fondly called Meerkat Manor), of course we had to stop off at the pub on the way, to book our meal for the next night. After a few drinks, just to be sociable of course, we finally reached our hostel. It was lovely, the rooms were so big and comfortable and we had the whole top floor to ourselves. There was a TV in each room and there was even towels, tea-making facilities and biscuits provided.
Just before we had our hearty breakfast we had our first casualty of the weekend, Irene had a fight with a loose shower head and burst her nose open. It didn?t seem to bother her too much and she had a good laugh when she came in to dining room to us all singing theme tune to Rocky.
We set off at 9.30 to conquer Northern Ireland?s highest mountain ?Slieve Donard via the Trassey Track, Hares Gap and Slieve Commedagh. It was a great walk, very windy but the Mourne Wall kept us sheltered for most of the way. Fact ? the Mourne Wall is 22 mile long, took 18 years to build and is for the water catchments, Irene and I researched that prior to the trip and it wasn?t even in the quiz. After leaving this top it was a very steep walk down to the col before an even steeper climb back up to top of Slieve Donard. It had been quite misty for a while but the strong wind soon blew the mist away and we had some cracking views. At the top Alison, Jacqui, Lydia and I danced and sang along to YMCA playing on my phone. Lydia gave us a grand sailor?s hornpipe to ?In the Navy? as an encore. We were a formidable sight and Phil videoed it, (on sale now, buy one get one free). I don?t think the Irish folk had seen anything quite like it, in fact I don?t think anyone had seen anything quite like it. After a well earned snack and a wee snifter, we made our way down via the Brandy Pad, the views were fantastic. We then made our way back to the lodge to sit out in the patio to have a wee drink in the glorious sunshine. Our second accident of the weekend was Michael (Flossie) falling in the only river (puddle) in sight when he went to spend a penny!
We had a lovely meal at the Maghera Inn and a wee drink while listening to the local entertainment.
After another good breakfast we headed off to Belfast where Mark gave us a guided tour of the local points of interest. It was great, we drove through loyalist and republican areas and took pictures of the Murals and remembrance gardens. Then it was off to climb Slemish, this is the mountain where St Patrick tended sheep. It was another great day and the sun was shining on us as we managed the short but very steep climb in just twenty minutes. We had our lunch there and then made the journey to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. The views here were stunning, we couldn?t have asked for better weather. We sat on the side of the hill gazing out over the water admiring the views for a while. Michael (Flossie) had yet another little accident when he sat on some nettles. It couldn?t have been too bad though as he refused Jacqui?s kind offer to rub his bum with a docken leaf.
After this we headed off to our next venue which was the hostel in Bushmills. It was a really nice hostel and the rooms were very spacious. After a quick wash and change we made our way to try out the local pubs. It was in the first pub that we met a couple of the local characters, Belfast Ann and Barney. Belfast Ann latched onto Irene and Barney took a shine to Gail. I don?t think the feeling was mutual though. We then treated ourselves to fish suppers and some of us sat on local window sills to eat them. After we had ate our fill we made our way to another local pub, now this is where the fun really began. We had a great time talking to some locals and Michael Nicol got so friendly with Keith and Kate that they invited him over for the celebrations on 12 July. During some point in the evening Michael underwent a transformation and became known affectionately as ? FLOSSIE. (Explanations can be had from the man himself). At ten o?clock we were surprised to see the landlady bringing the shutters down and dimming the lights. She explained that this was the law but not to worry we had a lock-in. enough said, we knew the drill. We eventually staggered back to the hostel in the early hours after enjoying singing along with some local songs, with dancing on the side!
Now these photos are worth looking at!
Lydia and I managed to rise fairly early and made the others some hangover food for breakfast. Then it was the drive to the Giant?s Causeway, this was fantastic. We had a walk over the rocks and took some great pictures, again it was a clear, sunny day and the views were great. We then made the 5 mile walk along the cliffs. Alison and Mark took the car to the other end in order to meet us and from there we had a lovely drive along the coastal road, stopping at Port Braden to see Ireland?s smallest church. Mark was a great guide, he certainly knows his stuff and made sure we had a chance to see all the popular local landmarks. We continued along the coastal road to the ferry port stopping only for some fish and chips on route.
We made the ferry in good time and once on board Mark gave us the answers to the quiz, only four of us had managed to hand our forms back to him and three of them were joint first ? I think that tells us something. We had some photos taken at our prizegiving and I think Mark was glad to get that over with. The rest of the journey was plain sailing and we arrived back in North Ayrshire just before midnight.
Everyone agreed that they had had a fantastic time, and all credit goes to Mark as our organiser and guide and also to Alison and Flossie as our drivers. Personally I can?t wait for the next trip, and I will certainly be doing some research. I want to win the next quiz!!!!!
Craggy on Tour - Mark Kinnon (Tour Guide), Irene Cahill, Alison Montgomery, Jacqui Muir, Gail Easton, Lydia Blackwood, Michael Buchanan, Michael Nicol, Dorothy McGhee and Phil McGhee.