I have an obsession with the ocean, and I’m not picky about how land meets the sea. Cliffs, sandy shores, jagged rocks or beaches made of shells- every one of them is my favorite. I’m not even particular about the weather when I’m standing on terra firma, gazing at the mighty ocean; I am just as happy with rain, mist, cold and wind as I am with sun, warmth and gentle ocean breezes. It’s the ocean, man. I love her.
It’s my duty as a blogger and all-around decent human being to share some of my favorite shoreline locations, and the northern coast of Ireland and Northern Ireland will not disappoint you, dear reader.
Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland: The drive from Trim, Ireland to Derry took about three and a half hours, and although it was raining, the drive was still quite lovely. Northern Ireland, as you know, is a separate country, with it’s own currency, road signs and history. Speed limits are posted in miles, rather than kilometers, but you’ll still drive to the left. It’s a good idea to gas up before driving in to Northern Ireland, as gas is somewhat more expensive there, and if you are traveling between Ireland and Northern Ireland, you’ll want to remember to stop at an ATM to withdraw some Pounds so you have cash on hand. Derry is a good sized city, and if we ever go back, we will definitely spend some time exploring it. It’s the only city in Ireland that is completely walled, and our host at the BnB encouraged us to take the roughly mile-long walk along the top of the wall. The town of Derry was also embroiled in the fighting between the IRA (who wanted to unite Ireland) and the Unionists (who want to keep Northern Ireland within the UK), and there are still skirmishes and bar brawls in certain areas of the city related to the IRA. It’s really a fascinating city with lots of stories to tell!
We booked a family room at Merchant’s House to overnight in Derry. For dinner, we can highly recommend Brown’s In Town, a quiet restaurant with delicious food. Our FAVORITE part of our experience in Derry was sharing breakfast with all of the guests from Merchant’s and Saddler’s House. We were served a delicious, traditional, family-style Irish breakfast with travelers from all over Europe, and it was the perfect start to a busy day. Everyone was so warm and friendly, and by the end of breakfast we felt like old friends.
Carrick-a-Rede: Our first stop along the Northern Ireland coast was Carrick-a-Rede, which is a rope bridge over the cliffs along the shore. The hike down to the bridge is easy, and the scenery is breathtaking. Even though I don’t like heights, I wasn’t bothered too much by the rope bridge itself, and I thought the stop was really worthwhile. Once you get over the rope bridge, there is space to wander around, take pictures and bask in the beauty of Northern Ireland’s coast.
Giant’s Causeway: We headed west after the rope bridge, and because we had read a lot about Giant’s Causeway, and we very excited to see it. However, it’s a VERY busy sight, with tour bus after tour bus unloading large groups of people. The rock formations were interesting, but there were so many tourists, we didn’t stay long. Inside the visitor’s center there is a small cafe, and we can recommend the Irish stew as an inexpensive but tasty lunch. It’s not a sight I would go out of my way to see again, and pictures (without people crawling all over the rocks) do the area more justice, in my opinion.
Dunluce Castle: Run, don’t walk to Dunluce Castle! (pronounced: dun-loose). You guys. There are ruins all over Ireland, so you might think, what’s the big deal with Dunluce Castle? Well, first of all, it is perched on the edgy-edge of a cliff, and some of it has already fallen into the ocean, so you have the feeling that the last of it might slip off the cliff at any moment! (Apparently the kitchen fell into the ocean during a party, and that was the “last straw” before the lady of the house decided to move out. I should think so!). There are towers and rooms and great halls and hidden nooks to explore, and you really get s feel of how it might have been to live in such a place. I have to say that medieval people were certainly tougher than me when it comes to walking surfaces; an hour on those cobbled floors and I was more than ready to walk on paved surfaces again.
After a couple of hours exploring Dunluce Castle, we drove west, out of Northern Ireland, toward County Donegal, Ireland. For dinner, we stopped in Donegal Town and enjoyed a nice meal at The Blueberry Cafe. I remember asking our server about the scones, “Why are they SO good?” She was lovely, and we talked at length about ingredients and the differences between Irish cream and butter, and what we use here in the States. Apparently it makes a big difference.
Slieve League: Everyone who knows anything about Ireland talks about The Cliffs of Moher and their magnificence. I would say that the Cliffs of Moher are second to Slieve League. A distant second. We have visited both sites, and hands down found Slieve League Cliffs to be the more impressive! For one thing, the cliffs are 2,000 feet at their highest point (The Cliffs of Moher are around 500 feet high) and since Slieve League is so remote, you’ll find fewer people and more wildlife. We initially attempted the hike from the backside (established by monks ages ago), but were concerned that the mist and fog would obscure the cliffs and drop-offs to such a degree as to make it unsafe for the kids who like to run ahead.
After a bit of a romp among the sheep, and about a mile of hiking into the fog, we decided to turn around and drive to Slieve League the “normal way.” You’ll notice a parking lot with restrooms just before the gate, but we saw several cars continue through the gate and up the road to the cliffs. It would seem that you can drive most of the way to the top.
Hiking around the cliffs is thrilling. We kept our distance from the edge because the wind gusts were quite strong, and we didn’t wish to be blown off by accident. What a tragic end that would be! Also, I imagine if you are falling 2,000 feet, you have quite a bit of time to think about how dumb you were to get so close to the edge, and I’d rather spend my last seconds thinking something other than, “Well, that was dumb.”
There are ruins to see and paths to walk, so we spent about three hours exploring around the cliffs. The kids even found a pond, and some rocks to throw into it.
I love that Ireland is so wild and untamed, and that they don’t put fences up everywhere to keep visitors safe. The beauty here is raw and unyielding but also soulful and familiar.
We will certainly return to Ireland at some point. And when we do, we would love to spend several days in the northern parts of the island, revisiting the sites we loved, and exploring new ones!