Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Ambling Around Antrim

Driving out of the beautiful seaside town of Portrush, we pass the famous Royal Portrush Golf Club where over 100,000 spectators are expected to turn up to watch the Irish Open Championship in June of this year [2012].  And of course, Ireland has three of their own playing in this years tournament.    Darren Clarke, reigning Open champion, lives in Portrush & Graeme McDowell was born here too.  Then there's my favourite, Rory McIlroy, who grew up  in Holywood, just outside of Belfast.   My claim to fame, if I can claim it at all, is that my cousin who I'm staying with again tonight just outside of Belfast [in fact, not far at all from Rory's place], told me her daughter went to school with Rory & played in the same golf team as him at school!.... I feel like I'm practically related to him already!   
It has been 65 years since Royal Portrush have hosted the Irish Open & I'm sure the weather God's will put on a cracking week for it.  Fingers crossed.

Royal Portrush Golf Course, Portrush, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland
If you ever get to the North of Ireland, don't leave without driving along the A2 Coastal Road.  A prayer or two for a sunny day wouldn't go a miss either, as there is some stunning scenery to be had when the skies are clear.  This drive has been compared to Australia's Great Ocean Road and the Big Sur in California & is regarded as one of the most scenic drives in Britain & Ireland.    
Along this 86 km scenic coastal route,  from Ballycastle to Larne, we pass through a series of steep coastal valleys & hills, known as the Glens of Antrim.   These Glens comprise of nine wooded river valleys, that spread inwards from the coast.    The principle towns in the Glens are Ballycastle, Cushendun, Cushendall, Waterfoot, Carnlough & Glenarm.

Cushendun, Coastal Antrim, Northern Ireland

Our first stop is Cushendun , an ancient ferry port a stones throw from Scotland with pretty wee whitewashed dwellings sitting alongside others that appear to have been transplanted from another time & place.
Cushendun, Co. Antrim

Adjacent to Cushendun Village is the Antrim Glen of Glendun.
'Glen' folk, I've read, are great storytellers. They will tell you that fairies live around these parts & that they will take devastating revenge on anyone rash enough to cut down a fairy thorn tree!

Cushendun, Co. Antrim

Cushendun village, Co. Antrim

Waters Edge Apartments, Cushendun, Co. Antrim
White sandy beach, Cushendun, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland

We pass through Cushendall next, known locally as the Capital of the Glens, nestled at the bottom of Glenballyeamon.    The prefix 'Cush...' in Cushendall & Cushendun means 'the foot of the river'.    It lies in the shadow of the table topped Lurigethan Mountain and at the meeting point of three of the Glens of Antrim: Glenaan, Glenballyemon and Glencorp.

Cushendall Village, Co. Antrim
If you keep your eyes open as you drive into Cushendall Village, you'll see the large colourful mural on the gable of one of the buildings commemorating 100 years of Hurling in the region.   We had one of those, "do you want to stop & go back & get a photo" moments but decided to keep going.   While we're on the topic of those "do we stop or not" moments - there have been a few over the last month of our travels in Ireland & one thing I'd change when I revisit Ireland is, when my gut feeling is to stop for that photo... I will.   Don't pass up opportunities to take a great photo just because you're in a car heading west & there's no parking spaces to pull over into!  Photos will forever be the storage for your memories of a wonderful holiday, no matter how big or how small.

Glenarriff, Antrim Coast, Northern Ireland

Coastal route near Glenarriff, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland

Lurigethan mountain, Glenarriff, Antrim Coast, Northern Ireland
Horned Sheep, Waterford, Antrim Coast
The most well known of the nine Glens is Glenarriff which sweeps down toward the small village of Waterfoot, lying at the foot of Lurigethan Mountain.     Like all glens in that area, it was shaped during the Ice Age by giant glaciers.    It is sometimes called the 'Queen of the Glens' and is the biggest and most popular of the Glens of Antrim

Garron Point, Northern Ireland
From Waterfoot the road hugs the coastline, all the way to Larne & on a bright sunny day, there is nothing more awe-inspiring.

About 8kms before we reached Carnlough, near Garron Point, we passed the gates of St Killian's college which looked pretty grand from where I was standing at the gateway into the college.     Known locally as Garron Tower, it was built as a summer house by the Marchioness of Londonderry around 1850.     One hundred years later it began life as a boarding school for boys & just 2 years ago, it became a catholic co-ed school which caters for around 830 pupils living in the Larne to Cushendall region.

St Killian's College, Carnlough, Co. Antrim
St Killian's overlooks the southern end of the Irish sea & out across to the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland.
We stop next at Carnlough & have a wander around to find somewhere to have lunch.       Carnlough is a picturesque wee harbour village lying at the foot of Glencloy, another of the nine Glens of Antrim

Carnlough Harbour, Co. Antrim

Carnlough Harbour, Co. Antrim

The small harbour of Carnlough, Antrim Coast, Northern Ireland
The Londondery Arms Hotel , situated on the main street of the village, was built in 1848 & was once owned by Sir Winston Churchill.

The Londonderry Arms Hotel, Carnlough, Co. Antrim
Two doors down from the Londonderry Arms, is this curious establishment [below].  The sign says 'Antrim Coast Private Nursing Home'!    I'm thinking, there's got to be another way in or those poor old dears in there haven't been checked up on in a while!

The Antrim Coast Private Nursing Home, Carnlough, Co. Antrim
A limestone bridge & archway over Carnlough's main steet, used to be a railway line which travelled from a limestone quarry in the hills behind the village across the coast road to the harbour where small coastal boats would be loaded with  the crushed lime for export.  

Main Street, Carnlough, Co. Antrim
Just south of Carnlough we come to the peaceful wee seaside village of Glenarm, which takes its name from the glen in which it lies, the southernmost of the nine Glens of Antrim.   At the centre of this village is it's Castle, Glenarm Castle which dates back to 1750.  The village itself is reportedly, one of the oldest towns in Ireland.

The Stone bridge across into Glenarm Castle, Glenarm, Co. Antrim

During the great Irish famine, the Glens of Antrim apparently didn't fare as bad as the rest of Ireland.   The Earl of Antrim and the Marquess of Londonderry, prominent landowners of the time, organised relief schemes of food & money for their tenants and built soup kitchens throughout the Glens.

Glenarm has a small Unionist & Protestant majority & like its republican counterpart in nearby Carnlough, has cleaned up its public image by removing flags & political emblems to boost tourism in the area.   It's hard to imagine after visiting both of these beautiful peaceful places, that sectarian tension apparently still exists between the two villages. 

Barbican Gate into Glenarm Castle, Glenarm, Co. Antrim
For 400 years, Glenarm Castle has been the family home of the Earls of Antrim and the setting of a glorious Walled Garden which is only open to visitors from May to September.  Sadly, today when we drove into Glenarm, the Barbican Gateway into the Castle & gardens was firmly closed.  I've read that it is apparently at its best at this time of the year - spring time - with its show of wild flowers such as primroses & lovely yellow irises.

Glenarm Castle, Glenarm, Co. Antrim
We did however, find a driveway which we boldly drove down to get a glimpse of the castle from behind a large  iron gate.   Glenarm Castle is a family home, however it is open to the general public for guided tours on occassions.     Just this July [2012], the castle will play host to Ronan Keating who will deliver a live evening concert along with his friend & guest Sharon Corr.
We continue on from here down the old Antrim Coast Road towards Larne, then cut across to Antrim to visit one of my new found cousins who lives near the town.  I met her for the first time in Enniskillen when she drove down for the night to join four other members of her family for dinner with me.  It was lovely to see her again & to have a relaxing coffee break & enjoy the gorgeous views of the Antrim countryside from her home, before heading to Helen's Bay to spend our last night of our holiday with my cousin Audrey again. 

Looking out over the Antrim Countryside from my cousin's home in Antrim
But just before we leave County Antrim, I want to tell you about a former prime minister of New Zealand who came from these parts...  I myself didn't know this until researching a little more about Antrim for my blog.

Just south of Antrim [the town], is Glenavy, where in 1839, John Ballance was born in a restored farmhouse which now houses an array of exhibitions, audio-visual displays & a library of information on the man, pioneer life, maori culture & the impact Irish immigrants had on New Zealand.   Ballance held the Prime Minister's office during 1891-1893; he is recognized as the architect of the welfare state in New Zealand, which is still going strong today.    Ironically, I live just 60kms north of a little settlement called Glenavy, in NZ.  Now I know where it got its name!

Arriving at my cousins home on the outskirts of Belfast after 5pm, I  had just enough time to have a quick Skype chat with Audrey's two sisters, both of whom live in Vancouver now, before heading out the door for dinner at the Crawfordsburn Inn, near Helen's Bay.
Crawfordsburn, Co. Down
Crawfordsburn is a small picturesque tudor town in County Down & lies between Holywood [for golfing fans, that's Rory McIroy's home village] & Bangor on the outskirts of Belfast.

The Old Inn, Crawfordsburn has been in existence since the 17th century. Records show this building to have been standing in its present form since 1614.   The thatched portion of The Old Inn is the most ancient part of the Inn. 

The Old Inn, Crawfordsburn, Co. Down
My meal at The Old Inn, was superb & was a lovely place to unwind with Audrey & Ray who had been so kind to us & made us feel so welcome.  I hope they're prepared for me coming back again.... and again in the future!?  I've loved this place.


  1. poblados hermosos, otra manera de vivir, interacciòn de naturaleza y la humanidad. Que bello!

  2. Thank you for your comment. Yes, the villages around the Northern Antrim Coast are indeed incredibly beautiful. We were very lucky with the weather this day :)

  3. Always nice to read about The Antrim Coast and glad you seem to have had great (sunny) weather for it.

    1. It's a stunning coast line & deserves to be promoted more. We were exceptionally lucky with the weather as you can see by the photos. Thanks for dropping by.

  4. I was looking at the search results that led someone to MY blog about Garron Tower and once again found yours donw the list. After reading it again, I was going to leave a comment and noticed I'd left one almost a year ago to the day - I've absolutely no memory of doing this but then at 63 my memory isn't what it was ! My only added comment would be that although technically not "the coast road" as it goes inland a bit more, I would definitely advise visitors to start it, as you did, at Portstewart.