We came across a little town called Ballina (not on the NSW north coast) and saw some men fly fishing in the river in the middle of the town. We stopped and watched them for a little while, but no one caught anything.
We drove on to Foxford. We found a campsite here beside a huge lake. It was a beautiful spot however there were heaps of midgies here as the sun began to set. It wasn’t too bad however as it was cool and we could keep the windows closed.
During the night we had a bit of rain and I was a little worried about the water level as we were parked right near the water and the ground was sandy – I also wasn’t 100% certain that the lake was not tidal. We survived the night and did not sink into the sand which was a relief. The next morning Max was covered in dead midgies. You will see from the photo which is taken of the over cab area that there were heaps of midgies. During the day it was no problem however.
We spent the day here also and the kids did some school work and had some time playing.
Legoboy and I went exploring around the lake jumping from rock to rock. Legoboy made a spear and went hunting for fish – not sure what he was going to do if he actually caught one. He had a great time playing in the water.
It was a nice relaxing time.
Actually it was Castle Coole, not Cool castle, but the Australian connection was quite cool.
The castle (really a mansion in my mind) was built by the Earl of Belmore (now I know you all know what I am going to say next because Aussies have such a great grasp on our own history) who was the Governor of New South Wales for a number of years. There is even a rocking horse in the house which the family took to Australia and then brought back to the house again. The descendants of the original family still live in part of the house.
The house has 110 rooms and unfortunately we were not able to take photos in any of them. The rooms we went to were very lavish and full of beautiful old furniture.
The family went to considerable expense to furnish a section of the house for a visit by King George IV, the only thing is he didn’t turn up. The room has only ever been slept in once by a visiting Bishop – no one else was considered worthy to stay there – seems like an extravagant waste to me.
We visited the servant section of the house. The kitchen has been renovated and was used recently to film “Miss Julie” (which I know nothing about). We were let out via the servants’ tunnel which led from the house to the stables and stores.
After Coole Castle we visited the mansion of the rival Earl down the road. The Earl of Cole had Florence Court built in the early 18th century and named it after his wife Florence – what a romantic guy.
We had a tour here also and like a lot of these houses we were not allowed to take photos inside the house. The house is impressive, set in extensive grounds. Like Castle Coole it was really built to show off. It is always interesting to hear the stories about the inhabitants of these houses and the way they did things, particularly in relation to servants. This house has an extensive underground area and tunnels around the outside of the house so that servants could go about their jobs, but no one would have to see them. We have seen this set up in numerous houses.
We headed back toward the border and into the Republic of Ireland. Just over the border we stopped at a playground near Balcoo. While we were here we got talking to a local couple who own a duck farm. It was interesting to compare how different things are here to Australia and then at the same time how many similarities there are.
We ended up having dinner at the park and then had to find somewhere to stay the night. We drove hoping that we would discover a little spot that would suit. Eventually when it was getting dark and we were all very tired we saw a sign to a lake so we headed down there. This was a time when we had turned off and were not being guided by Jack. The road became quite narrow and windy so we were worried that we may have made a mistake. We did eventually find a carpark and pulled over for the night. The next day we woke up and found we were parked next to a beautiful lake.
We ducked into Ireland and spent the night because that is the way the route we were taking took us. We stayed at the marina in a very busy tourist town called Donegal.
The next day we visited Donegal castle. Parts of this castle have been restored. The timber work in the roof of the building was very impressive.
Our next stop was back in Northern Ireland – just. We visited Beleek pottery. Beleek has been here making fine china for almost 160 years. We did a factory tour and were taken through the process from the initial sculpture of a piece to the moulds, pouring, firing, glazing and painting. The staff working here made the whole process look very simple. One of Beleek’s signatures is the woven basket style of pottery. While this is not my cup of tea it was amazing to watch the process and appreciate the work that goes into one of these pieces.
I think the highlight of the tour for Legoboy was getting to smash some mugs that did not make the quality inspection.
The girls enjoyed the fine work of flower making. Each area of speciality has a 5 year apprenticeship, so if you don’t like painting and want to become a flower maker you need to do another 5 years. The staff we met had been working there for a long time and in some cases it was a generational career.
We checked out the museum and gift shop. Let’s just say Beleek is quite expensive and fragile so needless to say we did not buy anything to bring back – sorry to anyone hoping for some.
We visited Londonderry or Derry depending on which side of the Nationalist, Loyalist divide you are on. When I was a kid I remember hearing about the rioting and fighting that went on in Northern Ireland but didn’t really know too much about it. I also thought that those issues were basically over, that is until we visited this town. The English and the Irish have been fighting for centuries with England controlling one part of the country at one time or the other – the issues go back a long, long time.
We walked around the walls of the city where so much bloodshed has taken place. From the wall of the old city which is set on a hill you can look over the surrounding parts of the town. On one side you can see British flags flying and pro-British graffiti and slogans; also the gutters painted in the red, white and blue of the Union Jack. If you go around to the other side you can see Irish flags flying and pro-Ireland graffiti and slogans and the gutters painted in the green, white and orange of the Irish flag. The issues and allegiances are still obviously very strong.
While we were here we went to the Nationalist side of town to the site of the Bloody Sunday riots and the memorials to that event, also to the hunger strike memorial. It was sobering and also something that I find hard to understand as an Aussie without those ingrained issues from our past.
All through Northern Ireland we have noticed that school, police stations and public buildings have big fences and big bars on windows etc. Some police stations have been completely enclosed in 15 foot high fences with barbed wire on top. We drove through a town called Strabane which is not too far from the Northern Ireland, Ireland border. The court house in this town was completely encased in a massive steel fence – like an impenetrable fort. I think it would have been a very scary place to live in the 30 odd years before the peace agreement – some places still feel a little scary.
I thank God that I was born in a place like Australia where I did not have to grow up surrounded by the hate and dangers of Northern Ireland.
We continued our trip around Northern Ireland by visiting the Dark Hedges. This avenue of trees was planted along the roadway to a mansion and would have certainly been an impressive driveway. The road and trees have been in a number of movies and are apparently now one of Northern Ireland’s most photographed sites.
We stopped quickly at Dunluce castle for a couple of photos. This castle is built on a rocky outcrop but has a huge sea cave underneath it.
The next day we visited Downhill Demesne and the Mussenden Temple. The Demesne was built here on the top of a cliff in the 1770’s. It was basically an Earl showing off his wealth. The site is in a beautiful location with fantastic views – but it is very windy.
The Mussenden Temple was actually a library which is built right on the cliff and lines up with the back door of the house looking out to sea – a spectacular location, and I am sure a great place to read a good book. The library had a fireplace in the basement which burnt constantly to regulate the temperature and humidity in the library.
Just down the road from here is Hazlett house – one of the oldest thatched houses in Northern Ireland. It is not surprising that there are not many of these houses surviving, when they built the roof out of peat and hay both of which are flammable and then had a fireplace inside. This house is also unique because of its frame structure called a cruck frame with infill walls. The house was built as a rectory in the 1690’s and was then purchased by a family who farmed the surrounding land – this family owned the house up until the 1970’s.
Some of the rooms in the house made Max look kind of roomy. You may also notice that not only is the bedroom short, so is the bed. Apparently they used to sleep sitting up to help with respiratory problems.
The next stop on the birthday tour was the Giants Causeway. There were hundreds and hundreds of people here – a very popular spot to visit. It is called the Giants Causeway because of the myth that it was a causeway built by the giant Finn McCool so that he could get across to Scotland.
The area is made up of over 40 000 hexagonal columns of basalt. There are also a huge variety of other rock shapes and types, it is an amazing landscape and reminds me of God’s diverse creation. It is the same kind of rock formation found at Mt Scoria in Queensland and also at Dip Falls in North West Tasmania.
We spent some time here taking photos and climbing over the rocks – in amongst all of the people.
Some things we saw here did not really seem to belong – like the telephone built into the hill.
But we had to keep going on the birthday tour. The final stop was Sheans Horse farm where we went for a horse ride. The kids had never been riding before and SWTTM and I had not been for many years. The staff did a great job and we went up into the hills and across a few creeks. We all had a great time. We were staying at the farm for the night so went and had some dinner and then went back and watched some of the older kids riding and jumping.
MiniMandM enjoyed her day and we all got to see and experience some amazing things. We thank God for MiniMandM and for the beautiful lady she is becoming and for the opportunity to experience his creation.
It was MiniMandM’s birthday and she and I began the day by getting up early and going for a walk to get some photos. There was a path that followed the coast further north around to another bay and we headed that direction and got some nice photos.
When we got back Bookworm and Legoboy had been up and had the table set for MiniMandM’s birthday. We did the normal birthday things – some presents, sang happy birthday and skyped some family.
Then it was off to the first stop for the day – Carrick a Rede bridge. The bridge goes from the mainland out to a little island and was built so that fisherman could go out to check their nets on the island. The coastline here is very rugged and steep, so is the island.
The bridge is a rope bridge with wooden planks to walk on and is 30 metres above the sea and only 20 metres long. MiniMandM, Bookworm and I went while SWTTM and Legoboy stayed in Max. I think I was more worried than the girls were. MiniMandM said, “It’s OK dad the water isn’t very deep” – I thought, “I know; it’s not the water I am worried about, but the fall onto the rocks” – I think I am getting old.
It is a very beautiful area and it was a great experience. The girls even went back and did it again so I could get some photos.
We are officially just past the half way point of our adventure – we still have so much to do.
We have booked our return airfares and will be leaving Europe on January 12 2015.
We headed back to Belfast and collected Legoboys glasses.
Then it was off to visit Belfast Castle which sits on Cave Hill and overlooks the city. The views are great and the castle is surrounded by extensive gardens. There has been a castle here since the 12th century although the current castle was built in the 1800’s. A very nice place to visit for an afternoon.
We drove on to a little place called Broughshane. This may be the friendliest village in Northern Ireland. No sooner than we had arrived and a man came up to say hello and make sure we were comfortable and knew where everything was. The next day he returned and gave us some brochures of things to do around the village as well as some postcards of the village. Another man also dropped in to make sure we were happy later in the day – a very friendly place.
After Broughshane we headed to the coast and spent the night parked by the sea again at Glenarm. The coastline here was fantastic with green hills coming down to meet the sea.
The next day we drove further north along the coast, all very spectacular.
We didn’t know where to stop for the night but saw a sign pointing toward Ballintoy harbour and thought we would check it out. There was a sign at the beginning of the road that said no caravans – no problem we were not a caravan. The road got very narrow and became quite steep as it wound down the cliff to the sea. When we got there it was a fantastic place to spend the night next to an old harbour on one side and a beach on the other.
We had a bit of a walk around the beach and harbour to end our day – a spectacular spot.
We were treated to a magnificent sunset here even if it was at 10pm.
Portaferry was hosting a maritime festival which included a lot of Viking activities. We thought it would be fun. When we had parked in town and were getting out of Max we realised that we did not have Legoboy’s glasses. We worked out that they had been left at the Belfast museum when the kids were trying on clothes and masks. Fortunately we were able to contact the museum and they had them and we had to go back through Belfast after our stop at Portaferry so no big deal.
Once we had worked out the glasses we headed to the festival.
There was a viking market which was interesting with the stall holders dressed as Vikings. Some of these people also actually thought they were Vikings.
A university has facilities in the town and they opened up their wave pool which they are using to develop wave energy systems and had displays of some of their other projects including growing kelp for fuel production. There were some sea life tanks and Legoboy got to hold a starfish. All very interesting.
The kids got to make some Viking shields and helmets at the craft section which they enjoyed.
We met a very interesting wood carver who we enjoyed chatting to.
The Vikings had some displays also demonstrating their weapons and simulated some fighting amongst themselves. They also had a battle with all of the kids – Legoboy enjoyed killing a few Vikings and yelling like a Viking.
We had a great day at the festival and enjoyed the seaside atmosphere. Afterward we headed back toward Belfast along the coast and camped for the night beside the sea at a village called Donaghadee.
SWTTM was outside talking to some fellow motorhomers and Legoboy was running around like he normally does. He had a stick which he was using as a sword – watched too many vikings I think. He jumped to do a kick and slipped and landed on his side with the stick under him. He started to cry while he was lying on the ground so was probably hurt and SWTTM went over to pick him up and bring him inside. As she carried him MiniMandM looked at him and realised that something was a little wrong. As SWTTM got to the door Legoboy went limp. I took him and laid him down on the floor – his eyes were wide open and he had a funny look on his face – he had passed out. As I laid him down and called his name he took a breath and woke up. He told us that he could hear us but couldn’t talk and that his vision had gone all wavy like in a dream – he said he saw Sponge Bob square pants – at least that gave us a laugh. We did some googling and discovered that sometimes when you get badly winded you can pass out and then come good with no ill effects – thankfully that was also our experience. We thanked God that Legoboy was soon back to normal – just a bit of extra fun for our day.