Segway NI: Belfast’s best guided tour!

I’m a sucker for city tours. In each city I visit, one of the first things I like to do is jump on a hop-on-hop-off bus tour to give myself a feel for the place, the people and the history of the area. My own city is steeped in culture and interesting facts, and so when I played host at the beginning of the month to two friends from England, I did some researching online. I soon found something a little alternative to give them a proper taste of Belfast city – Segway NI.

Image Courtesy of Segway NI

Image Courtesy of Segway NI

For those of you unfamiliar with a Segway it’s defined as a two wheeled electric vehicle. What’s different about it is it’s powered by new technology which detects and uses centre of mass to control its movement. Drivers shift their weight forward to go forward and backwards to reverse – clever, eh?!

The idea was perfect for the girls’ first trip to Belfast. Vanessa, Katie and I arrived, grabbed some fetching high-vis jackets and helmets, and set off (a bit shakily at first!) for an afternoon’s outdoor exploring. Of course, we were given some time to familiarise ourselves with operating the Segways first – and you’d be surprised how easy it is!

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The 2 hour tour costs £30 per person and takes visitors around the entire Titanic Quarter in Belfast which includes Titanic Belfast, the SS Nomadic ship, the slipways, the Titanic Docks and Pumphouse, the Harland and Wolff Cranes and Titanic Film Studios, where HBO are currently filming Season 5 Game of Thrones. Our tour leader fantastic; very knowledgeable about the area and very patient with those of us who took a little longer to find our feet  sorry, wheels…

Not me of course, I was a natural… eventually!

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A big thing that impressed me was their high level of customer service. Unfortunately, one of the girls missed her flight in the morning and would have been unable to make the scheduled tour time. Segway NI were extremely accommodating and quickly changed our booking to a later time free of charge and without any difficulties (thanks again, guys!).

Here’s a quick little video taken by us during the tour. Segway NI really helped to make the trip very memorable for Katie and Vanessa- and as for me, I’m already talking my work colleagues into booking the off road tour!

Be sure to check out Segway NI on Facebook, Twitter, Tripadvisor and their website for details on their upcoming tours!

Kathy x

A Sunday Trip to Ballintoy Harbour

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Sundays are my favourite days to go exploring outdoors. The world just seems to move a little bit slower, a little more gently than the rest of the week and so it’s great to take that opportunity to dress down, grab my warm jacket and woolly hat, and venture out for some fresh air.

I’ve been completely immersed in Game of Thrones lately and finally finished Season 4 at the weekend (what an ending!), so where better to spend my Sunday than by Ballintoy Harbour, Co. Antrim, where HBO film a lot of scenes for the hit show.

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Ballintoy harbour, located just east of Bushmills (home of the famous whiskey) and down one of the most winding roads known to mankind, has been around for centuries, used by mining and quarrying industries in its early days, and since then for fishermen in the local area.

However, it is more globally recognised as a port in the Iron Islands, home to Theon Greyjoy in Game of Thrones (Season 2). The TV production, based on George R.R. Martin’s ground-breaking book series, spends a lot of time filming in Northern Ireland, and it’s easy to spot many familiar locations throughout the province, as well as taking a peek at their main filming studios in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter.

Game of Thrones has undoubtedly brought a lot of tourism to the area, with themed bus tours and fans regularly descending on some beautiful, yet once very deserted ground. It’s lovely to see local people benefiting from the increase in visitors – many cafes and tea rooms have sprung up since my last visit as a young child.

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Rourk’s Kitchen sits right on the water’s edge and provides a quaint little refuge for some hot coffee and cakes, the perfect pit-stop during a day of exploring!

If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, or simply just in the area, I highly recommend a stop off at Ballintoy Harbour, for the beautiful views, the nearby caves and the friendly people.

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A free activity with a lot of character, what more could you ask for on a Sunday afternoon?

Kathy x

A Step Back In Time: Castle Ward, Co. Down

Hooray, it’s June and summer has finally arrived! I write this as I stare out through my rainy bedroom panes (sigh) hoping desperately that last weekend’s sunshine was not the beginning and end to my favourite season. But let’s stay positive and not put away those new shorts just yet…

Last weekend, after calling in for morning coffee in the sun with dad in his beloved new vegetable garden I set off to explore the grounds of Castle Ward in Co. Down. I’ve been wanting to visit the estate since coming home to Northern Ireland (almost 8 months ago now), but have been waiting for some summer sunshine to show off the impressive grounds in their most beautiful and flattering light. Now owned by the National Trust, the historic grounds are open daily to the public and are often used for filming purposes by the hit HBO series Games of Thrones. Gives a somewhat new view to Winterfell, eh?!

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The house itself is thriving with interesting tales of family politics and ruthless class division, and entertaining hourly tours of the eccentric mansion are now provided by the National Trust, inviting visitors to enter into the lives of Lord and Lady Bangors’ of times past.

What immediately sets this house apart from the rest of its kind is its bizarre mix of architectural design. The house is split equally in two – on the front facing side (viewed above) is a classical Palladian build commissioned by Lord Bernard Bangor, whom the house was built for in the early 18th century. However, the fiery Lady Bangor (whom it may be noted had not married Bernard through choice) insisted that they adhered to a Georgian Gothic-inspired build, more in fashion at the time. Unable to reconcile their differences, it seemed to the couple that there was only one viable solution. The house was radically divided into two:

His…

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and hers!!

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The Wards owned the land here in Co. Down from the 1500s and many generations of Wards/Viscount Bangors have enjoyed the luxuries of the lavish residence. It was only upon the death of the 6th Viscount Bangor in 1952 when the National Trust was entrusted to preserve its legacy. The house is brimming with more scandal than an episode of Hollyoaks, and that’s what gives Castle Ward its vivid character.

After finishing the house tour it was time to enjoy the first days of summer and take a stroll through the magnificent grounds; 820 acres to be exact. The blossoming gardens of the estate wind effortlessly down to the tranquil shores of Strangford Lough and luckily the weather was perfect to showcase the splendor of the landscape which Castle Ward is so admired for.

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There is something for everyone at Castle Ward, from indulging in the history of the estate like I did, to biking/hiking the new 21 mile multi-use trails, to archery lessons at Clearsky Adventure Centre, so my advice for interested visitors is to try to allocate an entire day to your planned journey.

You can find out more about Castle Ward, including opening times on the National Trust website at http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/castle-ward/

p.s. Apologies for the lack of posting lately, I’ve been admittedly distracted by job hunting, moving house and other such grown up responsibilities, but I’m hoping to continue planning and sharing my adventures with you as much as possible this summer – so please stay tuned 🙂

Until next time,
Kathy x

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