Northern Ireland: Day 3 Whiterocks & Binevenagh

After breakfast we checked out and headed to Whiterocks Beach. We were hoping to explore some caves on the beach but got a bit more than we bargained for. In the distance along the shore we saw an amazing arch formation that we wanted to explore. We began walking on the sand towards it. Soon the sand was gone and there were only rocks to walk on. Next, the rocks turned to water. We wanted to press on because there were more rocks on the other side of some shallow water. We rolled up our jeans and took off our shoes to get to the other side. This happened several times and the tide was rolling in making the water deeper each time we would try to get to the other side. Soon, the water was up to our wastes’ and we had to hold car keys and phones. We had to wear our shoes because the rocks are too sharp to take them off. Finally the rocks ended and the water is too deep to go forward and too deep to go back due to the tide. We were trapped.

We found cove with a small beach where we could climb up and over the cliffs. At least we could see light and it looked better and safer than going all the way back. We couldn’t tell how deep but there was 50m of water separating us from the shore. I handed Tommy the keys and jumped off the rocks into the middle of the unknown water. I sank 15ft to the bottom and pushed off back to the surface. In a freezing panic, I swam for the shore. The rip current was pulling me back out but I made it to land. My back felt like it was burning from the cold water. Now I had to swim back to Tommy to retrieve the phone and keys. I held them above my head and swam back to shore. Tommy jumped in next and was also shocked by the cold. Back on land we were so happy to be out of the water. Now we have to climb out of this narrow cove up the steep gravel cliffs. I lead the way carefully trying to find strong footing. We had to use our hands and feet as the loose rocks fell behind us. Climbing just 50ft took us 20 minutes due to the danger of the loose rocks. Each movement had to be carefully timed and thought out to ensure we don’t slide shirtless down the steep sides. We finally made it to the top!

After rejoicing, I looked down at the grass and saw there was blood on it. I quickly realized that one of my fingers was badly bleeding, so I used a sock to put pressure on the cut. We walked back to the car park in soaking wet jeans and I found some lifeguards to ask for a bandage. We changed our clothes and rested for a while before moving on.

We were sore and completely tired from the traumatic experience on the white rocks, but we pressed on to Binevenagh. About 40 minutes later we arrived at the carpark at the cliff plateau.  We were nearly alone at the cliffs taking in this amazing view. I would highly recommend driving here. It is free, easily accessible, and the view is unhindered by tourists or guided paths. This was a great place to recover and sit in the sun taking pictures. That was our last stop on the trip, so with backpacks full of wet clothes, we drove back to Belfast airport.

Northern Ireland: Day 2 Giant’s Causeway

The ferry back from Rathlin Island dropped us off in Balleycastle. We hopped into our rental car and drove to the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge. The weather was warm and sunny, so there was a 20 minute wait to cross the “rope” bridge. Please note: It’s a wire (metal) rope. It costs about £6 and it is fun when you’re in the middle of the bridge, but with so many people and two attendants hurrying you along it isn’t that thrilling. Giants Causeway was the reason that Tommy wanted to visit Northern Ireland, and it did not disappoint. Although there were a lot of people we still had a great time. I think there is a way to walk there for free, but we paid and if there was a free option I would have gladly not paid. Tommy walked out far on the causeway until a rouge wave poured into his shoes. Somehow I deleted the video of it…sorry. Also there are life guard/park ranger people all over the causeway making sure people stay away from the water and don’t get hurt (people like Tommy). We spent several hours on the rocks and paths. From there we drove to Portrush for our next B&B.

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Portrush was busy with holiday makers and there were plenty of options for dinner. It began to rain so we hung out at Barry’s indulging in Skiball, arcade games, and gambling machines made for children until it closed. Barry’s is known as the coney island of Northern Ireland.

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Northern Ireland Day 1: Rathlin Island

In the middle of July my brother, Tommy, and I (George) made a trip to Northern Ireland. This was not the usual tour bus, guided, safe and sound, beaten path type of trip. Multiple times we found ourselves in frightening situations that required the grasping, arms-shaking, breath-holding type of perseverance to continue on our journey over cliffs and in caves.

Flying into Belfast at the crack of dawn gave us all of Saturday to explore our first destination – Rathlin Island. The ferry that departs Ballycastle is only suited for walk-on travelers, and the 30 minute ride gave us great views of the Fair Head cliffs. Once docked at Church Bay we met our host, Margaret, the proprietor of Coolnarock B&B. She drove us a mile to the B&B and informed us of everything we needed to know to have a successful day on the island. She stopped a few times to speak with friends along the way – Margret is definitely an important member of the close-knit community. Her late father was a life-long resident of the island and wrote an extensive, no-stone-unturned account of the history of Rathlin including specific information about the families who spent their lives on the island. I highly recommend reading his book! From the map below you can see that the island is a reversed L-shape, 4 miles (6km) east to west and 2.5 miles (4km) north to south. It’s small enough to cover in one day but big enough to get lost.

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Tommy and I bought some ice cream from a boy who was so young he could hardly add the numbers to know what to charge us. We walked to the ferry dock to catch the bus to our next destination. Burt’s Puffin Bus took us to the RSPB Seabird Centre located on the western end of the island. This is the main attraction and day visitors come to Rathlin for the spectacular birding. You can walk, but it’s a difficult 4 miles to and 4 miles back from the Seabird Centre, so I would recommend the £5 return bus service. There is also a small fee to enter the Centre, but they have staff to point out the puffins, and telescopes to give you a close view of these amazing birds. Note Bene: you will not get a good picture of puffins unless you have a very powerful telescopic camera lens. Don’t believe the photos you see online. The puffins are about ¼ mile away from the closest viewpoint.

On the bus ride back Burt was kind enough to drop us off at Mill Bay – where the seals congregate. We saw a dozen seals and they all have a habit of poking their heads out of the water and staring at us. Tommy and I decided to climb along the rugged shore line in hopes of reaching Rue Point – the South Lighthouse before our dinner reservation at McCuaig’s Pub. The coast was lined with 50m high cliffs that were topped with pasture land. We climbed along the rocks where the cliffs meet the sea. This was difficult walking/bouldering and we had to jump a few fences along the way. We came upon a cave which we cautiously entered. Our useless flashlight made us disappear into complete darkness only 10 meters into the cave. Little did we know that this cave was 500ft long and the site of the Rathlin Island Massacre of July 1575. Beneath the lifeless dirt floor lays the bones of hundreds of women and children that fled to this cave during the attack. Sir John Norreys’ soldiers hunted those hiding in the caves and, despite their surrender, killed all who lived on the island. This was the first of the three known occasions the the whole population of Rathlin would be extinguished. – We left the cave. It was spooky, and we were straight up scared. Note: Andy McInroy has extensively photographed Rathlin’s caves. His website should inspire you to explore the island’s secrets.

As we climbed along the coast each time we turned a corner of cliffs we were sure the lighthouse would be in sight. After a few hours of this we finally checked Google Maps and saw that at this rate we would never reach the lighthouse before dark. We found a grassy route up the cliffs and traversed pastureland to find the lighthouse. After passing a lake and jumping a few more fences we finally reached the lighthouse. We jogged the few miles back to the pub and passed only two inhabited houses. There were plenty of stone ruins along the way. Most are remains from potato famine times when the island was deserted.

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Rue Point Lighthouse

McCuaig’s pub was the only choice, so I cannot complain about the food. Good for a drink, but if you have the option to eat at your accommodation I would suggest it. The sun sets at 11pm in July, so Tommy and I stayed up reading books on the sordid history of the island. The next morning we walked to the third and final East Lighthouse before catching our ferry to the mainland.