Northern Ireland at Spring Bank Holiday
by Pete Bridgstock
Bumping down a minor road at midnight, and finding it a dead end, we finally decided to call it a day, and camp where we were. This was the start of our trip to Ireland. We had headed off to Donegal in the northwest, to have a couple of days round the islands of Owey and Gola. Next day we moved from our impromptu stop, up to Carrickfin near Donegal airport, to a little wild camping site in the dunes at the back of a little white beach - an ideal point to set off for the islands. We would have done so, as well, had the gusty force 6 easterly wind dropped a bit! It was gloriously sunny, and very warm out of the wind, but the wind stayed fresh for the next three or four days. All we managed was a couple of hours in pretty wild conditions, creeping along in the lee of the shore. We did some exploring, walking along beaches and over Malin Head, the most northerly point in Ireland. Wendy found a stone circle, which looked to be made of slate and newly erected. Closer inspection showed it as fibreglass, glued into the ground with expanding foam, and with the authentic moss held in place by nails. One ‘stone’ was even wobbling in the wind - but it’ll probably look OK from a coach window.
We spent a couple of nights in Rosapena Youth Hostel, which was in formerly a country home, and designed by Lutyens. It was fairly basic, but clean and reasonably equipped, and well placed for exploring the northern part of Donegal.
Heading back over the border into Northern Ireland, the weather started to improve. We camped on a commercial site in Bushmills, (at Ballyness Farm - one of the best commercial sites I’ve ever been on - highly recommended) which gave us easy access to the Causeway Coast. Here we fell lucky as the wind dropped to almost nothing. The whole coast is subject to strong tides, and produces some fearsome tide races on spring tides. We were more or less on neap tides, but we still needed to plan to work the tidal flow to our advantage.
Wednesday afternoon, we launched from Dunseverick, and headed east on the last of the flood tide to Carrickarade. This is where the famous rope bridge is set up high above the sea to give access for salmon fishermen to a small island. It’s a big tourist attraction, and it was entertaining to watch people very nervously crossing the bridge above us. Of course, hearing our conversation below caused them to look down…………
The start of the ebbing tide helped us back, as we explored the cliffs and rocks on the way.
Next day, we put in at the same point, but headed west to the Giant’s Causeway. This involves rounding Benbane Head, a significant lump which sticks out into the main tidal flow. We had planned to pass this in the last of the ebb tide, returning in the early part of the flood, but even then, there was considerable current, and a race starting offshore. It would be an interesting place in the middle of a spring tide.
At the Causeway, we were an added attraction for the hordes of tourists, and we have probably graced many photos. There was the added interest of an oil rig being towed past, and some anglers in a small boat bobbing about on the not inconsiderable swell. The swell gave some interesting rock hopping on the way back, but prevented us from getting into the caves on this amazingly spectacular stretch of coast.
The Causeway is reputed to be the work of the legendary giant Finn McCool, and it was in the pub named after him, in Bushmills, that we met the chaps who had been on the little boat. They pronounced us mad (but they were the ones who had been fishing).
We had another move, this time to Strangford Lough. Much of the Lough is a nature reserve, and is a site of major importance birds. Most of this is for winter, but there were still many different species around, some with young chicks. The eastern part of the Lough has many small islands, some of which join together at low tide. This makes navigation need a lot of concentration. We found a campsite on an island with not too many birds in residence and were treated to a magnificent sunset.
Saturday was our final paddling day, and we had arranged to meet up with a pal from Belfast, whom we had originally met in Greenland. He gave us the royal tour in perfect conditions, visiting old settlements, tidal lagoons, and all the best bits of the Lough.
We got a good taste of the paddling variety that Northern Ireland has to offer, but there’s plenty more to go at.
‘We’ were Ann, Nick, Wendy and Pete