This is the second article in a series of five regarding a week´s visit by car exploring Northern Ireland. It was a family trip. During the trip I blogged and uploaded photos here! However, the difference is that I now have the full information and can compare.
Exploring Northern Ireland; Torr Head and Murlough Bay
“Remember that the Causeway Coastal Route is considered one of the 5 most scenic one´s on earth” , Billy the Cab driver told me when I told him where we were heading after Belfast.
Whilst we tried to find an easy route out of Belfast in pouring rain, I wondered who the others were, possibly Highway 101 in the US/California, anyone on the south island of New Zealand and maybe Tasmania? I know by experience that all scenic awards includes, always, the US and other over developed countries. Very seldom routes through developing countries. By which I am saying that maybe the Causeway Coastal Route also could be overrated. Now, let me jump ahead a bit and tell you this:
I personally rate, after travelling 90 000 km:s on a bicycle, quite a lot on foot, by horse, donkey…so I know what I am talking about, there´s a hidden gem here in Northern Ireland, not mentioned in the guide book about Ireland we brought (Insight guides)…well, not to ramble on….Torr Head Scenic Route is definitely amongst the 5 best scenic coastal routes I have ever seen!
I don´t wanna jump anything, so let me return to us leaving Belfast, filled with images of the Troubles, and immediately entering another world just a stone´s throw from the Shankill and the troubles. Instead of political murals, picturesque villages like Carrickfergus, Ballycarry, Carnlough turned up with nice harbors, castle´s, nice traditional Inns of the British variety I remember from the 70´s…most of them did show their political belonging though, through either the Union Jack, England or a Scottish/Celtic one. After awhile I had a feeling that it had all been done up to fit the 5 star touristic scene. Beautiful, picturesque, clean and…well, predictable. I was worried at that stage!
I am not saying it is anything wrong with what I call a Hollywood set up, but for me who has seen quite a lot, that is just not enough. I need something extra ordinary to react. Like the political murals or those great locals. I want something extra. Which we kind of got just by deciding to go to our overnight place before heading further down the Causeway Coastal Route once we reached the very picturesque Waterfoot Village. Turns out it was a Bed and Breakfast place called Dieskirts Farm. The last bit was gravel. I knew I would like the place. It was perfect! Not only because Eva immediately fell in love with all these animals I have tried to imitate for her through the books I read before she goes to sleep, like sheep, horses and donkey´s, but it was a genuine farm. The setting in itself was spectacular and reminded me of New Zealand in style and smell. Green, sharp and lush hills, waterfalls shooting of the steepness on both sides of the narrow valley, a paradise no doubt. This was an Inn which had catered to travelers since my birth year 1962, according to the owner James McHendry, who, and his wife Ann, we liked immediately. The best of the Irish stock! And that says a lot! He said:
“I am so fed up with the guide books promoting only the Giant Causeway! Most people visiting Northern Ireland doesn´t know it exists a world like ours! I bet you they also sent you to Londonderry Arms to have Sunday lunch there?”
I nodded smiling and he said:
“And they have sent you to Ballymena as well, the ugliest village in this area?”
I shook my head. He smiled. This is what traveling is about in my point of view. Meeting local people having relatively normal lives who can give you perspective. I asked:
“Has the troubles affected you?”
“Of course, Martin” , James said; “It would be a full house here everyday if it wasn´t for the troubles. And yes, I was a young man back in the early seventies when you had the Army patrolling here and of course, I wanted like all my friends to go into Belfast, where all the fun for young people were.”
James would call me Martin throughout our visit. I liked the way he pronounced it in his heavy Irish accent. He was a Catholic and his great wife Ann a protestant. A success story. For Pamela and Eva, the 3 night stay at Dieskirts was the highlight of the trip. It was still raining when we set off to do an evening tour of the glens and we choose to do the Torr Head Scenic Route, which would turn out one of the best coastal routes i have ever travelled. The roads are so windy, roller coasty and narrow so this is not a place for tour buses and caravans. I would say this is the perfect bicycle route. Up and down continuously with great views over this monster of a sea called the North Channel!
It was during this drive, where we at times had no more than a 50 meter of vision due to side ways coming rain and mist pouring in from the raging sea, I realized that without the rain, this trip would be half as good. This is how you understand how demanding life is for the locals and the joy you feel, one it all suddenly opens up, rain stops and you get a great view reaching Scotland, is the strongest possible. This is a trip NOT for the light hearted. Murlough Bay, the windy, steep road going down there, was amazing. Cows, sheep, stopped us all the time, crossing the road or just not wanting to move. The farmers we met looked like they were carved out of rock.
Torr Head Scenic Drive is a must!
Fair Head? We didn´t find it, it was that foggy! We returned to Dieskirt at ten and fell a sleep all of us immediately.
For more photos from Northern Ireland, see this slideshow!