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

Breathtaking NI Landscapes: 54 Degrees North Photography

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Since moving back to Belfast it’s been impossible for me to stay away from St. George’s Market – it’s the perfect Sunday spot for a relaxing morning of tasty food and live music whilst perusing over the local arts and crafts scene here in Northern Ireland. Yesterday morning was no exception, and with the first glimpse of summer sun I set off to enjoy the market atmosphere and see what bargains I could find. I hadn’t arrived long before I stumbled upon 54 Degrees North.

Ian Gazzard is a visual artist who specializes in panoramic landscape photography, using his passion and creativity to bring some extra romance to Ireland’s most beautiful landscapes. What strikes me most about his work is the intensity of colour he captures through his lens, and how he seems to effortlessly blend the historic subject with a twist of contemporary style.

The panoramic style of his photography combined with the local views really works to bring his prints to life; it’s almost as if you’re standing there, taking in the atmospheric views with him.

Here are a few of my favourite prints from his collection:

Shrove Beach, Co. Donegal.

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Mourne Mountains, Co. Down.

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Fanad lighthouse, Co.Donegal.

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Belfast City (a view from Cavehill), Co. Antrim.

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There is no question about it – his photography is simply stunning, showcasing some of the most beautiful landscapes that Ireland has to offer the world. Ian uses the latest 3D technology to print his shots and then frames or mounts them on wood, creating the perfect focal point for any room.

You can view 54 Degrees North’s work up close and speak to the artist himself most weekends at St. George’s Market, or visit www.54degreesnorth.net for a browse through his extensive collection of captured landscapes. A price list for prints is also conveniently included online. Alternatively, stay updated with his work via Facebook and Twitter using these links 🙂

Having just moved into a new place, owning one of these local prints has soared straight to the top of my wish list… the only question now is which one!? Arghh… decisions!

Happy Browsing, K.

 

Walking with Giants: The Causeway Coast, Co. Antrim

Northern Ireland is home to a World Heritage Site. Legend has it that the great warrior giant Finn MacCool (Fionn mac Cumhaill) lived here. It is one of the country’s top tourist attractions. It is, of course, The Giant’s Causeway. 

I remember being fascinated by the story of Finn MacCool and clambering over the rocks wide-eyed and excitedly on a family trip here as a young child. But, one of the downsides of growing up (of which I am finding more every year) is that unfortunately, memory fades.Top of my list since returning home has been to revisit this historic site which draws in hundreds of thousands of tourists each year.

I don’t know many people brave enough to bet on Irish weather, and February is an unpredictable month at best, so at the first glimpse of some morning sun, I grabbed my car keys and zoomed off to the North Coast to get my next culture fix. The Giant’s Causeway is situated on the North-East coast of Northern Ireland, just a few miles north of Bushmills, Co. Antrim, home of the world-famous whiskey distillery.

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This incredible rock formation was created from a volcanic eruption over 60 million years ago resulting in over 40,000 polygonal basalt columns on this small patch of the coast. As it pushed its way through the chalk bed it formed a lava plateau which, whilst cooling, fractured into these mostly hexagonal shapes. The various heights of the columns indicate the speed at which the lava cooled.

Okay, I’ll stop now before I sound like an over-enthusiastic geography teacher…

After exploring the columns at ground level I headed to the cliff-top trail for a bird’s eye view of the area, and luckily the sunshine followed me. This is one of my favourite scenic spots in the world.

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The sun may have been shining but the coastal wind was icy, and as I am notoriously bad at dressing accordingly, it was time to make a swift return further inland to take a peek at the newly opened Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre. The centre prides itself on being green by using sustainable management and design wherever possible, and in its first year has received several awards, including The Skål International ‘Sustainable Development in Tourism’ award in New York, beating off 26 stiff competitors from all over the world!

Visitors can make use of state of the art interactive exhibitions to learn about the geology, biodiversity, myths and legends of the The Giant’s Causeway, as well as refuel on some locally produced cuisine in its cosy little cafe. Alternatively, there are plenty of little eateries in nearby Bushmills, perfect for a spot of lunch whilst exploring the area.

With every trip I make, I feel a surge of pride for the UK and Ireland, and what it has to offer. I’ve been home just over 3 months now and am without doubt starting to feel more settled again at this side of the world, as the weeks go on. I guess it’s true what they say…

You can take the girl out of Ireland, but it seems you can never truly take Ireland out of the girl.

Until next time…

 K.