North Ireland Coast

This story appeared in Travelfore in January 2018.

North Ireland coast

Words: Len Rutledge  Images: Phensri Rutledge

Stunning coastline, windswept cliffs, spectacular scenery and fabulous unspoiled beaches are the promise on one of the world’s great road journeys. Unfortunately, all we can see at the moment is fog.

My wife and I are on the Causeway Coastal Route in Northern Ireland with high expectations but so far the results have been disappointing. We have crawled out of Belfast and are now peering through the gloom at Carrickfergus’s well-preserved 12th century Norman Castle.

The road heads north and the weather improves. It’s now inland to the charming village of Glenarm then on through flower-filled Broughshane where Saint Patrick is said to have tended livestock in the 5th century.

Bright sunshine appears on approaching Ballycastle. Our spirits have soared and so too has the scenery. We stop at the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge which traverses a 30-metre deep canyon. I am immediately intimidated, however, despite my fears I make it across, as have salmon fishermen for 350 years.North Ireland coast

We are surprised to discover that the bridge is more than a kilometre from the car park but the walk along the cliff-top path is exhilarating with stunning views across to Rathlin Island. Spring has brought wildflowers and a profusion of bird life.

Rangers control access to the bridge and we are told that sometimes there are considerable delays for the thousands of visitors who want the challenge of the crossing.

It is now on to Northern Ireland’s top natural attraction, the Giant’s Causeway. Apart from the amazing layered basalt columns plunging into the ocean, there are famous legends and colourful folklore associated with the causeway.

The six-sided basalt columns have been formed when molten lava filled a river valley 60 million years ago, then cooled and cracked. The site is now owned by the National Trust there is an excellent Visitor’s Centre.

North Ireland coast

The area around the causeway is attractive. Grasslands, heath, cliffs, marshes, the rocky shore and the sea provide homes for a wide variety of plants and animals. We see purple orchid flowers, vivid yellow gorse, colourful stonechats, petrels and peregrine falcons.

The tourism development manager tells us how the causeway is made up of three promontories with one curving gently out to sea towards Scotland. She also points out strange rock formations known as the camel, the organ and the harp.

The historic 1830s Causeway Hotel is serving food but we cannot resist a visit to the Old Bushmills Distillery, Ireland’s oldest whiskey distillery which was granted a licence in 1608. Luckily there are guided tours, a gift shop and a cafe.

A few kilometres, further along, is Dunluce Castle, said to be the most romantic and picturesque in Ireland. The ruined castle has clung onto its dramatic hilltop location since the 14th century. We pay the admission charge then wander around by ourselves fantasising about events long past.

North Ireland coast

Nearby Portrush has been a fun destination for generations of people and its beaches, hotels, amusements and stimulating nightlife are still here. We stop at the Royal Portrush Golf Club which is home to 2010 U.S. Open winner Graeme McDowell and 2011 British Open Champion Darren Clarke.

The club founded in 1888 is one of Ireland’s premier tournament venues and has dramatic physical features that provide a formidable challenge to all players.

Mountsandel Wood is a venue of a different kind. This is the earliest known settlement of man in Ireland dating back nearly 10,000 years. There are an earthen fort and a forest walk.

Next is Downhill Demesne, a stunning landscaped park with sheltered gardens and cliff walks. Close to the edge of a sheer drop stands Mussendon Temple, an 18th century folly based on the Roman temple at Tivoli, Italy.

We drive on to Londonderry, Northern Ireland’s second city but our thoughts are still on the special place we have just visited. As they say here, “When God made time, he made plenty of it!” we have seen it in a day but we could equally have taken a week.

IF YOU GO.

The Irish Tourist Board can provide good information on Ireland and Northern Ireland. https://www.discoverireland.ie/

Detailed information on the region is available fromwww.causewaycoastandglens.com

For details on the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede attractions contactwww.nationaltrust.org.uk

For Dunluce Castle information contact https://www.glenarmcastle.com/dunluce-castle

 

www.LenRutledge.com

Len Rutledge is the author of Experience Ireland 2018 available athttps://amazon.com/dp/B078GJW7JK

North Ireland coast
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Len Rutledge

Len Rutledge has been travel writing for 40 years. During that time he has written thousands of newspaper articles, numerous magazine pieces, more than a thousand web reviews and around 35 travel guide books.

He has worked with Pelican Publishing, Viking Penguin, Berlitz, the Rough Guide, and the Nile Guide amongst others.

Along the way, he has started a newspaper, a travel magazine, a Visitor and TV Guide, and completed a PhD in tourism. His travels have taken him to more than 100 countries and his writings have collected a PATA award, an ASEAN award, an IgoUgo Hall of Fame award, and other recognition.

He is the author of the Experience Guidebook series which currently includes Experience Thailand, Experience Norway, Experience Northern Italy, Experience Myanmar, Experience Istanbul, Experience Singapore, Experience Melbourne, and Experience Ireland. They are available as ebooks or paperbacks from amazon.com

More new editions for 2018

Here are four more new editions of Experience Guides for 2018. They are available as ebooks or paperbacks from www.amazon.com.

Melbourne: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B078R1CZMF

Myanmar: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B078GTRF3T

Ireland: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B078GJW75K

Norway:https://www.amazon.com/dp/B078GL6T29

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All books now available

This is just a reminder that the eight 2016 editions of Experience Guides are available as e-books and paperbacks. Probably the easiest way to find them is to go to www.amazon.com then type Len Rutledge into the search bar. All the books in both formats should then appear. Amazon allows about 10% of the book to be read free for those who are interested.

Experience Guides books pics

Four more Experience Guide titles available in 2016 editions

Experience Istanbul, Experience India’s Golden Triangle, Experience Ireland and Experience Singapore are all now available in new 2016 editions. Each has been extensively rewritten with additional information, maps and images to make them better than ever. Each is available as an e-book from amazon.com at a cost of US$4.95.

Go to amazon.com, type len rutledge in the search box, and the whole range of Experience Guides will come up. Please take a look.

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2015 edition of Experience Ireland

A new February 2015 edition of Experience Ireland is available as an e-book from Amazon. This is the 4th edition of the popular book and it brings it right up to date with all the new attractions, restaurants, accommodations etc.

As well as covering additional places and new experiences, the book now includes web links to all the towns and attractions so that readers can instantly get additional information for something that particularly interest them.

There are more coloured images and new and improved maps. The result is a more useful book before you leave home and while travelling.

Read the free preview at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00B4K5CHG

Ireland book cover

Dublin’s Old Pubs

You simply can’t go to Dublin without checking out some of the great pubs. It is an essential Dublin experience. I am particularly interested in those with ‘traditional’ Irish atmosphere and while some of these are somewhat touristy, they are still frequented by the locals as well. The following are a few definitely worth trying.

O’Neills is a traditional bar which has existed as a licensed premises for over 300 years. It is a traditional pub located on Suffolk Street just around the corner from Grafton Street and Dame Street. A classic Dublin pub it has an old time feel with a number of interweaving rooms and snugs built around a large bar downstairs and another big bar with comfortable seating on a number of different floor levels upstairs. A very popular joint with Dubliners, its close proximity to the heart of the city centre sees the bar take a lot of trade from shoppers browsing around the city, office people drinking after work and students on a night out from Trinity College.

O’Neills is famous for its pub grub with a large carvery menu and a sandwich bar serving an excellent selection of sandwiches and salads. Following most traditional pubs, O’Neills does not have a loud music sound system pumping out all the recent hits and is the ideally place to go for some relaxing pints in the company of some good friends. It does host a live traditional music session every Sunday night starting at 8.30pm.

Patrons have flocked to The Temple Bar for more than 160 years. We found the staff to be a valuable mine of information on Dublin’s history and sights and they can recommend others places to visit to make your stay a memorable one. The pub has been the winner of the Irish Music Pub of the Year from 2002 to 2012, and the traditional Irish Music sessions daily are something not to miss. There is no cover charge! Temple Bar Pub live music

The large pub is totally charming with nooks and crannies and a popular garden for smokers. The drinks are a little expensive and the place gets very busy but the atmosphere is excellent. While it is quite touristy the place also has many locals that know and enjoy their Irish songs and know how to make you feel welcome.

The Brazen Head is Dublin’s oldest pub with a history going back eight centuries. It is a traditional pub located on Bridge Street by the River Liffey on the Southside of the city. There has been a bar on this site since the 12th century when it was located in the medieval city with the original tavern being replaced by a coaching inn in the late 17th century.

As you enter The Brazen Head the first thing you meet is the old courtyard, which turns into a beer garden in the summer. The Brazen Head has two bars that are strewn with old memorabilia reflecting the bar’s long history in the city. The Brazen Head has played a central role in the Dublin’s history with famous patrons such as Irish nationalists like Wolfe Tone, Robert Emmet and Daniel O’Connell drinking there and Irish writers like James Joyce, Patrick Kavanagh and Brendan Behan frequenting this old haunt.

The Stags Head is a traditional pub situated on Dame Court in the city centre. The easiest way to find the bar is to walk down Dame Street till you find a footpath sign pointing down a dark alley. The Stags Head dates back a few centuries but was rebuilt in 1895 by the architect, A.J. McLoughlin. A veritable shrine to the art of drink, McLoughlin designed the bar with stag-themed stained glass windows, mirrors, wood panelling and of course a large stag’s head over the bar. This lavishly redesigned Victorian bar was an instant success with Dublin punters in the 1890s and was even frequented by a young James Joyce.

The Stag’s Head ambience of elegant, old Dublin has seen the bar used in movies such as Educating Rita and The Treaty. The Stags Head today has bars on three floors and is still a very popular meeting point for Dubliners.

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For more information on Dublin see Experience Ireland an ebook available at www.amazon.com/kindle then search Len Rutledge.

Three Dublin recommended eateries.

Dublin’s restaurant scene is a bit of a good news/bad news situation. The good news is that the economic boom in Ireland in the early 2000s brought with it a new generation of international, sophisticated eateries. The bad news is that even though the boom is long over prices in the leading restaurants are still more than you’d pay in many other places in the world. A combination of high taxes and a bit of nouveau riche over-enthusiasm among restaurateurs has the combined effect of making dining out quite expensive. Luckily, you can get a cost break from the city’s many cafes and tearooms, which offer sandwiches and hot lunches at more reasonable prices.

If you go to Dublin expecting to find plenty of restaurants still serving traditional Irish food, you will be disappointed. Dublin is far too chic, and Dubliners far too sophisticated, for the Irish stew, soda bread, and shepherd’s pie they grew up eating. The very food you cannot escape in the Irish countryside, you cannot find in most Dublin restaurants. The only place to find this is in the city’s traditional pubs which still serve plain, hearty Irish food, and as an added benefit, it’s certainly much cheaper than the restaurants.

Wherever you eat, portions will be generous, especially in pubs. With its coastal location, it’s not surprising to find so much seafood on offer in Dublin, in particular smoked salmon and oysters are favourites and are usually consumed with a Guinness!

There are three Dublin eateries that I can recommend.

Considered a Dublin’s institution, Bewley’s offers a take out deli, a short menu cafe, a breakfast and lunch dining hall, a coffee and pastry mezzanine, a seafood restaurant, and a cafe theatre all rolled into one. The restaurant has three levels that are filled most of the time. When you go there admire the beautiful decor — the large stained glass windows, large portraits of serene looking women, and high back red velvet banquettes. It’s not that the food in Bewley’s is outstanding, but the coffee is excellent, the tea is good, the pastries are fine and the pasta and pizzetta are acceptable.IMG_0358

Established in 1840, Bewley’s Café had a special place in the affection of Irish people. Bewleys on Grafton Street was always a great meeting place for everyone. It changed hands amid much public debate in 2005 but, despite renovations, it has somehow retained its unique atmosphere together with some outstanding architectural features, notably the Harry Clarke stained glass windows. The popular Café-Bar-Deli chain has taken over most of the seating area now, but the coffee shop at the front remains serving breakfast, teas and coffees in the heart of Dublin’s main shopping area.

The Queen of Tarts at 4 Cork Hill on Lord Edward Street is a small laid-back patisserie-cum-café. It is the sort of place I enjoy. It has bagels and croissants for breakfast and ham, spinach and cheese tarts. There are Greek salads and all sorts of sandwiches for lunch, and delicious cakes baked on the premises to keep you going between times. It opens Monday to Friday 7.30am to 6pm, Saturday 9am to 6pm and Sunday 10am to 6pm.IMG_0268

The Bank Bar & Restaurant is in a beautifully restored Victorian bank building in the heart of Dublin City. The interior, which was once the main banking hall, is a stunning example of grandiose Victorian splendour displaying an extraordinary ornate setting.

The building is a great specimen of Victorian commercial architecture designed in 1893 by William Henry Lynn when the site was turned into a branch of the Belfast Bank. Before that, the Great Britain Mutual Life Assurance Company traded there from 1876. Before that again, it was a Watch & Clock Manufacturer, a Department store (Reside & Co.) and originally Bigwoods Wool Emporium.IMG_0350

The property remained an essential pillar of Dublin’s banking sector until it was acquired at public auction in 2001 by the leading Dublin publican, Charlie Chawke. The Bank on College Green opened as licensed premises in 2003 after an investment of circa €6 million and seven months careful restoration work

The interior, which has strict preservation restrictions, is both stunning and remarkable, displaying all the vestiges of power and affluence of a great financial institution. In particular, the materials of construction, the mosaic tiled floor, the carved stonework and the extraordinarily ornate interior make this building one of the undisputed jewels of the Victorian Age.

The building is famed for its stained glass ceiling, mezzanine balcony and fine plasterwork and cornicing and all these features have been lovingly restored and are now integral to the stunning effect of these extraordinarily beautiful premises. You cannot fail to be impressed.

We were blown away by the setting and the food almost become secondary but we enjoyed what we ordered and we thought the value was good. We discovered that The Bank offers several food options and is a firm favourite with local corporate figures, thespians and tourists. Open from 10am, the Bank is a popular meeting place for breakfast meetings or to sit over a coffee and a fresh croissant.

From 12– 3pm, a table service carvery lunch is served offering hot meals and gourmet sandwiches. Their selection includes a classic prawn cocktail, Beef and Guinness Stew, Cajun Spiced Chicken Fillet on Ciabatta loaf.

From 5pm, the Bank offers a popular A La Carte menu. Dining is made all the more enjoyable with a table on the mezzanine level from where we enjoyed a great view of the building and the crowd below. This is the place to be.

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For more information on Dublin see Experience Ireland an ebook available at www.amazon.com/kindle then search Len Rutledge.

Dublin staying and eating

Dublin has had an avalanche of new hotels in recent years but while this had added more choice it doesn’t seem to have made it less expensive to stay in the central city. High demand means that the best hotels can take a substantial bite out of your budget and most expensive hotels also add a 15% service charge to the published price. Central city lodgings can be summarized as luxury modern, luxury Georgian or Victorian, mid-market, basic and B&Bs.

My first recommendation is a B&B property but it overlaps several of the other categories. Number 31 gives you the option of Georgian elegance or cool modern. It incorporates the past home of Dublin’s most famous modernist architecture but also has rooms in a grand Georgian house.

IMG_0363 - CopyThe Westbury and the Four Seasons fit into the luxury modern category, the Shelbourne and Merrion into the luxury Georgian or Victorian, and the Jurys Inn Christchurch is one example of a mid-market property in the central city but there are loads of these places in the suburbs.

When it comes to eating, Dublin has something to suit just about everyone. Patrick Guilbaud, La Stampa and One Pico prove that great chefs make great restaurants but there are many other less-expensive choices. Dunne and Crescenzi is a popular little Italian joint just off Nassau Street, while Bewley’s Oriental Café still manages to retain some dignity despite its transformation and the Queen of Tarts is a fun place for a tea and pastry.

The distinction between cafes and restaurants appears to be arbitrary with many restaurants offering café-fare at lunchtime and some cafes becoming almost bistros at night. It is interesting to see in both restaurants and cafes, the emergence of Indian curries, Thai chili dishes and other pan-Asian delights. These happily sit beside French and Italian food and there is often a fusion dish as well.

Pubs are an integral part of Dublin’s social life and an essential part of any visit. The area between Grafton and Great George streets is a gold mine for classy pubs but some of the oldest are outside this area. When you visit, a Guinness is a must but don’t be afraid to try some of the food as well because many offer straight-forward but excellent value meals, particularly at lunch time.

IMG_0405Tips.

Hotels on the northside of the city tend to be cheaper for similar facilities when compared with those on the southside. Remember, however, that most places of visitor interest are south of the river.

Many central hotels have a cheaper ‘weekend rate’ while a few work the opposite way with a midweek special rate. These are generally only available on a prebooked basis so it pays to ask when booking a room.

If you have rented a car, a location outside the city center may be better. Many hotels do not have secure parking and there is little need for a car for exploring the central city during the day because it is relatively small and public transport is good.

The lunchtime set-course menus at some restaurants and cafes are good value when compared with the evening a-la-carte menus. Prices can be half for similar dishes. It is also worth checking out the early-bird menus (before 7pm or so) in the evening.

Many pubs will serve you a tea or coffee just as easily as they dispense Guinness.

Keep your eye out for seasonal specials in restaurants. Some of the more popular are quail and pheasant.

Fresh and smoked salmon, oysters, and mussels are some of the better seafood offerings. You can sometimes find real bargains with these when harvests are good.

Don’t miss out on an Irish breakfast at least one morning. This includes bacon rashes, sausages, mushrooms, tomatoes, a fried egg, black and white puddings and soda bread with creamy butter. It goes down best with a pot of tea.

 

For more information on Dublin see Experience Ireland an ebook available at www.amazon.com/kindle then search Len Rutledge.