Exploring the NI Countryside
Trip Start May 13, 2008
128Trip End Ongoing
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We only really had a vague plan for how we were going to get to Newcastle - follow the interesting roads and follow the sunshine. Firstly we stopped at a place we passed yesterday that we'd heard from the locals was beautiful - Glenariff Forest Park - for a brisk morning walk. We took the Waterfalls Trail, ~4km, of which the first half was steeply downhill towards the river, always a bad sign when you know the trek back up is soon to come! Anyway, it was a classic example of the 'Emerald Isle', sparkling green under the mid-morning sun in every direction you looked. There were two falls, the Inver and the Glenariff, but I don't know which one was which - the one at the end of the trail was undoubtedly the largest and most impressive.
The sun came out when we were slogging our way back up the Glen, adding to the exertion. Maybe we should have come down this way instead as the views over our shoulders captured the forest park and the surrounding glens in all their glory.
Back in the boyracer-mobile we caught the road down to Belfast and spontaneously decided to skim around the coast as it was such a nice day. About 15 mins east of the city was a Bangor, a classic beach resort complete with pier and promenade. It was pretty bustling so we didn't stop, instead parking up a few miles round the coast at a smaller place called Donaghadee. Here we picked up some beautiful vegetable soup and wheaten bread for lunch, and ate it looking out onto the sea.
Then we just headed further down the Ards peninsula, and I was so surprised that there was so many beaches here... its just not a thing the UK does well classically. They were actually quite nice, but like everywhere in Northern Ireland, there really was noone there. It was quite refreshing on a bank holiday weekend to be somewhere pleasant yet not suffocating in a crowd. We also passed a ruined abbey at a place inventively named Grey Abbey - many many ruins are abound in N. Ireland... they had almost stopped impressing us at this point - whilst this one was quite good, it didn't warrant us going in for a wander.
The little guidebook that with had with us was a bit ambiguous as to whether we would be able to cross the Strangford Lough and leave the peninsula without having to drive all the way back round. The end of the line was Portaferry, and luckily enough there was a car ferry just leaving as we arrived, so we drove straight on and climbed up to the top deck to enjoy the short crossing - happy days. It was £6 and had no toilets and was extremely windy though - not so happy days! But it was a very random mini-adventure in our day that we both appreciated, and a useful shortcut on our elongated journey to Newcastle. A few pics from the crossing... (Note the distant omnipresent ruins in the background of the one on the right!)
We made it to Newcastle soon after that and wanted to start exploring the Mourne Mountains, even though they were shrouded in fog and looking pretty cold. The problem was that we could see them standing boldly in front of us, but there was a lack of road signs as to how we would be able to approach them and get walking access. I had seen on the internet that Silent Valley was a nice place to visit, so we ended up following road signs to there. The road went inland and took us up closer into the mountains...
When we found Silent Valley we realised it was a bit too late in the day to bother paying the entrance fee as we wouldn't be able to complete the walks. So we left it, and decided to go for what we hoped might be a scenic drive back to our B&B. This turned into an unexpected treat as we stumbled upon the Spelga Dam, which snuck up on us as we meandered through the mountains.
Our B&B was on the otherside of the dam, literally smack back in the mountains - the view from our window was unbelievably good. And there was free chocolates on arrival! We asked the owner about places to go for dinner, and she came back a few minutes later having made a reservation for us at a recommended place in town! Before dinner we walked along the sea front, which was very modern and jazzy. The mountains are literally so close to the sea that its like you've zoomed in on the view - its pretty spectacular.
I thought Newcastle was really really lovely - a holiday town in the UK that isn't naff, its actually quite hard to believe. Dinner that night was probably the best meal I had in NI aswell, it was vegetable lasagne with home made chips and coleslaw - in hindsight I should have taken a photo, it was worthy. And then sticky toffee pudding for dessert, yum!
Where I stayed
The Briers B&B