Monday, October 5, 2015

UK Trip: Downhill Demesne, Mussenden Temple, and Foyle Hovercraft, Northern Ireland (July 24, 2015)

On our last day by ourselves, we visited a stunning location along the coast.  Downhill Demesne was a large mansion built in the 18th century and later used to billet troops during WWII.  It seemed sad that the place had been in use until fairly recently and was now just a ruin.

Downhill House.
After we walked through what was left of Downhill House we continued walking out to the cliff edge to Mussenden Temple.

At one time a horse and carriage could circle around the Temple.

After leaving Downhill Demesne and Mussenden Temple, we headed inland to Limavady and Foyle Hovercraft.  I thought this activity would appeal to one boy in particular, and I was right.  We all tried out the hovercrafting and then the guys tried out the powerturn buggies while I watched.

After our hovercraft adventure, we made our way to County Tyrone to meet up with family and eat more food than I ever thought was possible!  It was fantastic to meet the people I had been hearing about and corresponding with for the past several years.  We visited family farms and took a trip down to the old homestead in County Armagh.  A dream realized.  Too bad the weather couldn't have held out for one more day!  We spent one full day with family and then left the next morning to get to Dublin for our flight home. 

I truly appreciate the hospitality we were shown.  Everyone was so welcoming.  Meeting these wonderful people, these family members, made this trip a dream come true!

UK Trip: Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Giant's Causeway, and Dunluce Castle, Northern Ireland (July 24, 2015)

Okay, today was a big day.  We were going to be seeing the attractions that we had long been anticipating, namely the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and Giant's Causeway.

And look at the weather we got!  Absolutely perfect.  We started at Carrick-a-Rede.  It was interesting how different the coastline here was from what we saw yesterday.  Here the cliffs were made of limestone like the chalk cliffs along the south of England.

Look how sandy the bottom is.

Crossing back over the bridge.  Not as bad as some had feared.

Some caves in the limestone cliffs.
After a nice lunch along the way, we next stopped at Giant's Causeway.  This seemed to be a bigger tourist attraction than the rope bridge.  There were a lot of people, but you could still get a little piece of the causeway to yourself.  These hexagonal basalt formations are really interesting.

Our next stop along the North Antrim Coast was Dunluce Castle.  It was getting late in the day and we got in here by the skin of our teeth.

We continued on to Portrush and Avarest House, our B&B for the night.  We were upgraded to a nice big room with a sitting area that allowed us nice views of the beach and harbor.

View of Portrush beach from our room.

Although the B&B was very nice, Portrush was a bit too much of a holiday beach town for me.  Next time, a quieter village would be my choice.

UK Trip: Glens of Antrim and Torr Road, Northern Ireland (July 23, 2015)

Today we decided to visit Glenariff Forest Park and hike down the Waterfall Trail.  A little bit of rain at first, but the sky cleared as we hiked along.

After leaving Glenariff, we headed back through Cushendall and then out to the coast to Cushendun, a picturesque little village with some cool caves and Cornish-style houses.

Near the caves.

After a nice lunch, we took the Torr Road to an overlook along the coast.  More than one person warned us about the Torr Road, but I did not think it was that bad.  Maybe we didn't do the worst part of it.  It was a single track road, but there were no sheer drops, just beautiful scenery.  If a car came from the other direction, one of us squeezed over to the side and waited for the other to pass.

The view from Torr Head up and down the coast was absolutely breathtaking.  We could see Scotland only 11 miles away across the Irish Sea.

View from Torr Head.
We were running later than planned, so we got off the Torr Road and missed Fair Head and Murlough Bay and headed into Ballycastle for the night.

UK Trip: Belfast, Northern Ireland (July 22, 2015)

Yesterday was spent traveling from England to Ireland and spending time with relatives in Ballymena.

Today, our plans had been to visit an attraction on Islandmagee called The Gobbins, a footpath along the coast.  It was slated to reopen in June, but as most construction projects go, there were delays and they had not opened by the time of our trip.

Instead, we headed to Titanic Belfast, a museum that explores the history of the famous ship.  First off, the building itself is very interesting architecturally.  I assume the design is meant to resemble the prows of ships.  The interior of the building seems to continue the concept.

The Atrium
The museum is divided into nine galleries that tell the story of shipbuilding in Belfast, and of the Titanic specifically.  The gallery topics are: Boomtown Belfast, The Shipyard, The Launch, The Fit-out, The Maiden Voyage, The Sinking, The Aftermath, Myths & Legends, and Titanic Beneath.  All pretty fascinating, but the first few galleries were thronged with people.  As you moved farther into the galleries, people were more spread out.  I definitely did not see all that was there.

Titanic slipway
After finishing at the museum, we walked over to Titanic's Dock and Pump House.  Here we saw Thompson Graving Dock, the largest dry dock yet built, and where Titanic would be fitted out.

See the capstan in the picture above and below?

Keel blocks inside the dry dock.

Visiting Titanic was not in the original plan, but it was interesting.  After leaving Belfast, we headed toward Larne and up the coast road into Cushendall in the Glens of Antrim with plans to explore one of the glens the next day.

UK Trip: York, England (July 20, 2015)

Okay, these posts are taking me forever to complete, so I am going to keep the writing to a minimum and let the pictures tell the story.

This morning we checked out of our B&B and headed over to York Minster before heading back to Manchester Airport.  My pictures just can't do justice to the beautiful stained glass.  There was an interesting exhibit on how they were repairing one of the large windows. 

The undercroft was also very interesting.  There is a whole museum down there in space created during emergency excavations to keep the central tower from collapsing during the 1960s and 1970s.  It was fascinating to see walls from the old Norman Minster running under the present building.

Doomsday Stone
We bought tickets to climb up to the tower.  I don't think I did that the last time we were here.  Fantastic views of the city and surrounding countryside.

Flying Buttresses

Looking down on the city.
That ended our time in York.  If we were to do it again, I would try to get York done all in one day.  Upon reflection, we should have visited the Minster in the morning, maybe even done a guided tour.  In  the afternoon we could have done the tour of the town and finished up in time for dinner.  That would have left us with time the following day to visit some of the countryside.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

UK Trip: York, England (July 19, 2015)

Today, our plan was to take a free walking tour of York with White Rose York Tours.  We met our guide (and Hagrid look-a-like), Alan Sharp, near the Minster at a place referred to as "Windy Corner" (and it was pretty windy).  The story behind the name "Windy Corner" is that the devil and the wind came to York to make mayhem.  The devil said he was going to go into the Minster and stir things up a bit, but the wind told him not to because he would get trapped and never get out.  The devil asked for the wind to wait for him at the corner and the wind is waiting for him still.

York, the capital of the North, has been home to Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, and Normans.  There is a lot of history here and Alan did a good job of explaining it and highlighting some of the leading characters (or at least the most colorful ones).

Bootham Bar, a gatehouse at the northwest entrance to the town and the one closest to the Minster, has some of the oldest surviving stonework (11th century).

Bootham Bar

St. Mary's Abbey, dating from around 1080, was once one of the richest abbeys in England.  The Abbey fell into decline with King Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monastaries, and much of the stone was pilfered for other building projects.

St. Mary's Abbey

York Minster (aka Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St. Peter in York - there's a mouthful) is the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe.

Spires of York Minster

York Minster

The Shambles, with some buildings dating from the 14th century, is where the butcher shops all used to be located.  All the blood and guts used to just run down the gutter.  I'm sure it was a really pleasant place to go (especially with long skirts - yuck).  Now a tourist mecca.

The Shambles

Clifford's Tower is the keep left over from the York Castle.  After the castle was destroyed in the 1600's, the keep was used as a prison until 1929.

Climbing the steps to Clifford's Tower.

View of York Minster from Clifford's Tower.

Spires of York Minster.

After the tour, we took a break back at the guest house before dinner.  Tonight, we did go into The House of Trembling Madness, but it was pretty packed and some of us just weren't feeling in the mood for pub food.  We ended up at a Nepalese place called Yak & Yeti that was pretty good.  Back to the Guest House in time for the final episode of Top Gear.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

UK Trip: Prestbury and York, England (July 18, 2015)

This morning we left Wales behind and headed first to Prestbury to meet some relatives, and then to York, where we were going to spend a couple of days sightseeing.

The family was ready to greet us when we arrived around noon and we fell to chatting right away.  We had a lovely lunch (more of a dinner really) and the boys all walked down to the village to play tennis while we talked.  After chatting for awhile, the rest of us walked into the village.  We saw a rubber duck race in the stream and met up with the boys.  It was a nice, walkable, little village with lovely homes.  We got along so well, that it seemed a shame to leave, but we had reservations in York that evening.

We got to York with only one wrong turn and arrived around 7:00 p.m.  We were staying at the St. Raphael Guest House on Queen Anne Street.  This was very close to the B&B we had stayed in 20 years ago (Tree Tops Guesthouse, now No. 21 York) on St Mary's Street.  This location is ideal.  It is just outside the city wall near Bootham Bar (one of the gates) and close to York Minster.

St. Raphael Guest House

The Guesthouse was run much more like a business than the previous places we had stayed.  There was no one to meet us when we arrived.  Instead, we had been emailed the code to get in the building and there was an envelope with room keys and parking pass waiting for us.  Our room was called "The Minster" and was on the top floor.  I believe this may have been the only place I found on the entire trip where we could all share one room (not necessarily a good idea, as it means waiting for everyone to get ready in the morning using only one bathroom).

The problem with having no one to greet us was that there was also no one there to ask about restaurants.  I had picked a place in advance using TripAdvisor.  It was called The House of Trembling Madness (how cool a name is that?) and was located on Stonegate, but we walked up and back several times without finding it.  We then walked around and around looking for another place to eat.  This drives me CRAZY!  It was a Saturday night and there were a lot of "hen" parties and 20-somethings out having a good time.  All very loud and intimidating.  I was not in the best of moods because between the four of us, we couldn't come to a decision.  We finally went to a pizza place that we had passed earlier.  Not a good introduction to York.

Hint:  The House of Trembling Madness is on Stonegate, as we thought.  The sign is on the big glass window, but it is a liquor store in front.  The restaurant is through the store and up the stairs.