Jottings from Ireland
Yeats Country Beckons
With stunning views out across the Atlantic there were many smiling faces at Yeats Country Hotel, Rosses Point, Sligo. It’s the end of Day 4 of the second Emerald Isle Classic and after a damp start the sun broke through and the hoods stayed down. Morgan and Towers have retained the lead despite dropping some time at the lunch halt when they went back too look for a non-existent secret check! One wonders whether the competitors are trying to out psyche each other! They still have a two minutes plus lead over Alastair Caldwell’s AC Aceca but there is still two days and one evening or rallying left so plenty of scope for a change in positions yet.
Phil Surtees, in 12th place has a new gearlever in his A90 - it looks suspiciously like a jack handle - not quite sure what happens when you need to use it as a jack handle but knowing the sweep crew they have probably built in a quick release mechanism! Wilson and Porters problems with the Morris 8 had not been cured by the head gasket change and welding repairs to the head had been required but they still made it to the Final Time Control within lateness.
At the end of day meal the daily prizes continue to be awarded - Roy and Sue Watson received a set of multiplication tables having managed to achieve a 20 minute plus time on a very short regularity section, we assume they went the pretty way! The Clubman category are continuing to enjoy the views as much as the competition elements and were on fine form in the dining area.
David Cook and Peter Ratcliffe, Morgan Plus 4 had a horrendous time leading up to the event with various engine problems but they are settling down well now and are currently lying in 19th place. Tom Callanan and Jo McAllister are steadily moving up the leaderboard, Tom had originally entered and got as far as scrutineering with the Triumph TR4 he used last year but on his way home from Scrutineering an axle problem looked like he’d be our first retirement but co-driver Jo McAllister knew that husband Richard’s Volvo Amazon was at home so this was dusted off and they are up into 4th place, just behind last years winner Philip Armstrong.
Father and Son team of Richard and Jon Sandilands are keeping up with the big boys in the trusty Standard 10, regular adjustment keeps the drum brakes operating as well as can be expected and consistency means that they are still in contention for a top 10 finish.
Peter Brennan and Mick Briggs have taken the Clubmans lead from Fenhalls and Milne-Taylor whilst Ian and Margaret Coomber are just a minute further back in the ex Monte-Carlo Rally Vauxhall Cresta,
Today’s emphasis was on Regularity but there are plenty of test’s tomorrow so the test driving experts will be looking to make up some places.
The following text is extracted from the Narrative that our Route Designer Keith Baud prepares for all his routes, they are a combination of historical fact, local myth, route finding tips and certain other bits that nobody is quite sure of the origin!
Day 4 - Letterkenny to Sligo
In the immortal words of Fred Dibnah. “Did you enjoy that?”
Well today we head south, down the length of Donegal exploring some of the lesser known nooks and crannies of its mountains and coastline. Donegal is the third largest county in Ireland and has the biggest Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking community). Although technically part of Ulster, the English never really got to grips with the wilder regions of Donegal and after partition were happy to let it stay in the Republic.
The first part of the route is easy enough, west and north out of Letterkenny, through Church Hill past St Columbs home at Lough Garton, (he was later fostered at Kilmacrenan) and on past the deep glaciated valley of Lough Beagh in Glenveagh National Park. Soon the distinctive peak of Muckish Mountain (1970ft)rises ahead, the bumpy road across a pass on its southern flank a favourite rally stage of old.
The first regularity of the day is another famous Circuit stage - Cloghaneely - a twisting bumpy ribbon of tarmac dominated by the conical peak of Mount Errigal. The road crosses barren moorland interspersed with rocky outcrops, following in places the line of an old railway line. I guess this may have been part of the much-loved Donegal Narrow Gauge Railway that ran from Strabane to the Atlantic coast and closed in 1959. It must have made a spectacular rail journey
At one point you also pass a large salmon smelt farm but most of the time the dramatic landscape is only relieved by small settlements of single story thatched cottages. Yes, this is picture book Ireland.
Back on the main road a fast run through Gweedore and Crolly brings you to the first Time Control of the day in the Golden Castle Hotel overlooking Annagary Strand. But before they get here, Celtic music lovers might like to take a very short detour into the village of Jackstown near Crolly (in grid square 8220) where they will find Leo’s Tavern, the family pub of the popular group Clannad and where Donegal born Enya also first found fame.
Annagary stands at the start of the coast road around an area known as “The Rosses”, an undulating area of boulder strewn bog land hiding a myriad of little lakes. We stay on the coast, past the grandiosely named Donegal International Airport (it is a long way from anywhere!) and through a succession of tiny settlements and past sandy bays and inlets. Off the coast lies Aran Island or Aranmore (not to be confused with THE Aran Islands off the coast of Galway).
Popular Irish singer Daniel O’Donnell (another Donegal boy) has a house in Kincaslough, but I didn’t spot it. For those of you outside of Ireland who have never heard of him, let’s just say that Daniel is a popular singer who appeals to women of mature years. As an old joke goes:
Q: “What has 100 legs and no teeth?”
A: “The front row at a Daniel O’Donnell concert!”
I digress. After circumnavigating the Rosses you reach Dunglow, an attractive small town known as the Capital of The Rosses. It is home each year to one of the most famous festivals in Ireland, a ten day bash called - for some inexplicable reason - “The Mary from Dungloe”. Don’t get too excited ladies, but ‘tis rumoured that no less than Daniel O’Donnell himself will be putting in an appearance at “The Mary” this year…
With that in mind fellas, no doubt you will be wanting to get out of Dunglow as fast as you can, but take care! The turning to the N56 in Dunglow is hard to spot. Yes, that narrow street opposite the sign-post is IT. But if you miss it don’t worry, just carry on up the main street a bit and take the next obvious left (yellow on your map), a much better road that rejoins the N56 on the outskirts of town.
Then it is a fast run across moorland to the next regularity starting at Gweebarra Bridge, a 300m long bridge across the Gweebarra estuary. The N56 affords some lovely views of the estuary and its golden sands but the little “yellow” from Maas to Ardara is a typical bog road. Undulating and bumpy, so take care.
Ardara is another sleepy little town but renowned as a centre for Donegal Tweed including John Molloy and Kennedy’s. But I do not think that you will have time for shopping, as the TC is in Packy and Josephine McGuires little fuel station (Esso) on the right just before you enter town. They are a lovely old couple who came back to Ardara in the mid ‘80’s after many years in North America. They are getting very excited about you all coming to see them.
Those of you who have done events that I have been involved with in the past will be familiar with my love of finding the unusual or down right obscure! Many remote places we have visited seem to have invented local festivals in order to boost tourism interest. Who for instance could forget the memorable World Wife Carrying Championships in Ilsalmi Finland, or the Finnish Cattle Calling Championships later in the year. And what about Oulu on the Gulf of Bothnia, tar capital of the world? Here they hold the Tar Rowing Race in July (presumably tar is at its most fluid during the summer), the Santa Claus Dance Championships in January, and in autumn 2000 the town even hosted the World Air Guitar Championships. The mind boggles…
Well so far this year I have drawn a blank with Ireland, but I can reveal that each year Ardara has its own Walking Festival. However the fact that it is held in the cold and wet month of March, and the festival also includes lots of storytelling, music and dance, leads me to conclude that what little walking there is done is between the pubs…
The normal Tourist route south from Ardara is over the beautiful Glengesh Pass. However, Michael Jackson your Competitor Liaison Officer recommended what turned out to be a much prettier and spectacular route than the one shown on the front of Map 10.
The road runs along the south side of Maghera Strand, with lovely views over small islands out to the breaking seas of the wild Atlantic. After the tiny village of Maghera, the road climbs inland, up a steep rock strewn valley with wonderful views back down the valley to the sea.
Eventually you emerge onto high moorland dotted with sheep and small turf roof cottages, there is a particularly well restored one on the left just after the 90 right in grid square 6285. This is Ireland at its most remote so it is not surprising that St Columba came here to seek solitude and peace and built himself a retreat for prayer. Over a period of 15 years St Columba or Colmcille as he is known in Gaelic, founded no fewer than six monasteries in Ireland before leaving the country that he loved to found the famous monastic community on Iona off the coast of Scotland.
The village of Glencolumbkille lies at the end of St Columbas Way, nestling at the end of a narrow bay, facing the endless Atlantic breakers. This is a wild coast, next stop America, and south of here, although regrettably not reachable by road, stands the great cliffs of Slieve League, at 1972ft/601m, reputedly the highest cliffs in Europe. Do however take that claim with a pinch of salt for Slieve League mountain itself, according to the OS map is only 595m high. So unless you count the cliffs as being from 6ft under water to the top of the nearest mountain, that claim is clearly impossible! Still, the cliffs would be an impressive sight if you could get to them.
The road regains the coast near Kilcar and eventually arrives at Fintragh Bay, where Garrett Goold is waiting to serve you lunch at the Clock Tower Restaurant overlooking this Blue Flag beach.
Killybegs, the first place that you pass through after lunch, is one of Ireland’s biggest fishing ports. If you think that our Iberian friends are responsible for the rape of our fish stocks then think again. Fishing is big business in Killybegs.
In February I stopped the night in an excellent pub/hotel cum Chinese restaurant overlooking the harbour. It was full of maritime relics including three superb models of ships in glass cases. No Airfix kits these. These were the sort of thing a shipbuilder gives to the guy who has just commissioned the building of a new bulk carrier or oil tanker.
They were all in the same livery - green and white - and belonged to a local man, Kevin McHugh. I read the brass plaque on each giving the details. The first, which was called something like Atlantic Wanderer, was built in 1994 and was 90m in length; the second, built in 1998 was 120m in length and called Atlantic Adventurer or something similar. But the third, built in 2000, was a whopping 140m in length and called Atlantic Harvester if my memory is correct. For those of you unfamiliar with boats, 140m is around 450ft long - about the size of a Royal Navy destroyer!
But these vessels were not cargo ships, they were purse seine fishing vessels that catch, process and freeze the catch all in one hit. Poor bloody fish - they don’t stand a chance…
Those of you in open cars will be glad to see Killybegs receding in your rear view mirrors for the smell of the fish processing plants, and associated seagull mess - look out, keep your caps on - is pretty awful. However, it is a fast road to get away on, improved with European grants to cater for the convoy of articulated lorries that trundle up and down to the port each day.
Soon you will be on the outskirts of Donegal Town and I would urge you to take the road through the middle rather than the by-pass because Donegal - whilst no longer the County Town - is a charming place. In Gaelic (Dun na nGall) the name means Fort of the Foreigners because it was originally established by the Vikings.
At the centre of Donegal is a square, which is actually triangular in shape but is called “The Diamond”. C’mon, don’t laugh, this IS Ireland you know.
The road system goes clockwise around The Diamond and at the top end - it is on a bit of a slope - is a Donegal institution. Magees Department Store.
Forget all the blandishments you have seen from roadside rivals enticing you through their doors to buy Donegal tweed. If you want the genuine article then Magees is the only place to go. Walking through the doors of Magees Store is like walking onto the set of “Are You Being Served”. It is still run by the same family who established it in 1866, and is the only company still weaving and tailoring traditional hand woven tweed in Donegal - some of the original wooden looms are still in use. Much is exported worldwide, but in Magees Department Store you can still buy traditional tweed caps, scarves and skirts - each with the genuine Magee label telling you the name of the weaver and even which river the cloth was washed in!
I reckon that there is just enough time in the schedule between Lunch and the TC at Belleek for you to stop for 10 minutes or so at Magees. So go on, treat yourself.
South of Donegal sandwiched between the sea and moorland lies a rolling, fertile area of countryside called The Pullens. This narrow neck of land is all that connects Co, Donegal with the rest of the Republic further south. In fact our route crosses back into Ulster briefly on a minor road heading for Lough Erne. We were advised that really we should be using the main roads to cross the border between North and South but heck, these little roads are much more interesting and the only evidence that you have changed countries is the differing road surface.
Lough Erne is one of Irelands most largest, attractive and popular lakes and whilst it flows west into the Atlantic via the River Erne, it is also connected to the Shannon network further south by the Shannon - Erne Waterway which was re-opened in 1994. However, because much of the land around the lake is low lying, I doubt you will see much of it as you head for the famous pottery town of Belleek.
I really think that Competitor Liaison Officer Michael Jackson - who is one of Irelands leading potters - should give you a brief talk on Belleek Pottery, but if he doesn’t then hopefully this potted history should suffice.
It is perhaps incorrect to call it “pottery” because the most distinctive Belleek design is its white Parian ware intricately woven with a basketwork of thin strands of clay. The Pottery was founded in 1857 by John Caldwell Bloomfield who had inherited Castle Caldwell and had a need to increase his income. Having discovered deposits of feldspar, kaolin, flint and clay on the estate he decided to harness the waterpower of the River Erne to start producing earthenware. The Parian ware was produced after 10 years of experiment.
There is a nice café, and a gift shop at the pottery so you can spend a few minutes relaxing before the final stage of your journey to Sligo. I doubt many of you will have the time or inclination to do the factory trip but anyone on the Club route who has a particular interest in ceramics would do well to note that their next control is the MTC at the end of the day at Rosses Point. And you can be up to 60 minutes late at MTC’s without penalty. So, if you want to check out of the TC at Belleek and then spend a little while longer there then you should consider the possibility…
Once over the River Erne you are back in The Republic, but only for about 100 yards, then you are back in Ulster again - so convoluted is the border in these parts. Indeed, if you are looking for fuel you would be wise to take care in which country you buy it!
Finally, after the little town of Garrison on the shore of Lough Melvin, you leave Ulster for good and enter the Republic and the County of Leitrim. To the south of the Lough lie the distinctive flat-topped limestone mountains of Tievebaun, Truskmore, Benwiskin, and, overlooking Sligo town and the coast, the mystical peak of Benbulben.
It was a job to know how best to let you explore these mountains. The Club route swings south through Manorhamilton but the Masters circle north to Kinlough before turning south for a final regularity down the narrow lanes on the eastern flanks of Tievebaun.
As you head south down these lanes you cannot fail to notice a huge pinnacle of rock standing proud of the cliff face directly in front of you. This is Eagles Rock and if you look closely enough at the rock strata and scree slopes below you can see that in fact it appears to be a massive piece of mountain that has detached itself from the main block and slid slightly, still intact and upright, into the valley. I wouldn’t like to live in the shadow of that…
The road runs high above the south west shore of Glenade Lough, affording wonderful views down the valley, before turning south er the flank of the mountain. Now I must warn you that there is about 1km of unsurfaced road where it climbs this mountain but we have dropped the average speed accordingly so you should not need to rush. Eventually you drop into the next valley and join the main road west towards Sligo.
However, before you get there do look out for the strange road sign at the junction at 831415. It points back the way that you have just come from and indicates “The first use of gunpowder in Ireland in 1847”. I asked a few locals and they had never even noticed the sign let alone knew what it referred to…
Please don’t be so relieved to be on a smooth, fast road that you miss the fork right onto a minor road that takes you along the shores of the beautiful Glencar Lough. There are a couple of parking places on the left along here where it is worth stopping just to enjoy the peace and tranquility for a few minutes after what has been a long day. But the other reason for this minor road detour, apart from avoiding the busy town of Sligo, is for those of you with a literary bent to pay a brief homage to the grave of W.B. Yeats in Drumcliff churchyard.
The route does not actually pass through Drumcliff, but if you turn north when you get to the N56 at Rathcormack you will see the church in about 1km on the right. The turning into the small car park is just past the church and there is a nice tea room/gift shop just by the church yard gate. The headstone - with its famous inscription ”Cast a cold eye On life, on death Horseman, pass by!” - lies inside the gate to the left of the church.
We chose the hotel on Rosses Point not because it is the best in the area - it isn’t, but because Sligo is a pig of a place to get through, particularly last thing at night and first thing in the morning. So we are avoiding it like the plague and picked this hotel because it is the only one big enough north of town - and its location overlooking Coney Island (which it is believed gave its name to the one near New York) and Sligo Bay is rather pleasant.
One final note, just as you turn the final sharp right bend at the end of Rosses Point look out for the bronze sculpture on the left. It is of a young woman, her skirt blowing in the wind and her arms stretched out towards the wild waters of the Atlantic, presumably waiting for her sailor husband to come home from the sea.
Beautiful and very poignant.
Mind you, she could be waving at the strange figures of “The Metal Man” who stands on a pillar off shore pointing the safe way for shipping into Sligo harbour. You think I jest?
Donegal here we come
It’s going to be a long day for the Masters as after arriving in Letterkenny they will be going out again on an Evening Section that has been arranged
with the assistance of Jim Callaghan from Donegal Motor Club.
It had been another glorious sunny day and competitors were generally in good spirits as they sat down to their meal. No alocohol mind for those going out that evening!
The day section had been made up of six regularities and a special test so there had been ample opportunities for mistakes to be made and places dropped. The cars are also showing the signs of stress and on the night section the Volvo PV544 of Paul Minassian and Tony Davies was forced to retire with a failed propshaft bearing. Slightly luckier was the Morris 8 of Stephen Wilson and Richard Porter, they blew the head gasket on the way to the evening section. The baggage van went and towed them back in and they proceeded to replace the gasket and restarted next morning.
Robert Harley took a drive up to Londonderry to find some parts to cure his electrical problems, not so lucky was the Mini of Jane and Kenny MacEwan. Peter Banham and Andy Inskip have not yet found the cause of their electrical gremlins but some temporary wiring got the car going in time for the Donegal night section, John and Pauline Dignan are having a good run and did respectably well on the challenging navigation sections that made up the night leg, they had to resort to string to operate the windscreen wipers but after a while even this packed up.
John Bateson and Tina Lowe who had been doing so well slipped back down after loosing time at a couple of regularity timing points. Robin Morgan and Chris Towers have taken the lead but are being chased by Alastair Caldwell and Catriona Rings - an excellent position considering the first time Catriona had seen the maps was a couple of days before the start. The Austin Healey 3000 of Harvey and Jan DuCros are on their first CRA event, they have recently invested in a side mounted exhaust which at least means they have a little more ground clearance for the undulating Donegal roads. Charles Harrison and Pippa Inglis are on quite a steep learning curve, having heard frightening stories about the Irish roads Charles had wisely shielded the underside of the car but a little low causing some minor damage to the chassis rails, Pippa is becoming a dab hand at filling in query forms, but she’ll also extol the virtues of Vredestein tyres - being their marketing manager. Vredestrein are the main sponsors of the Winter Challenge and also a supporter of the Classic Marathon.
In the Clubmans the lead is still held by Richard Fenhalls and Heather Milne-Taylor, Vintage cars are doing extremely well and Peter Brennan / Mick Briggs in a Bentley are just 11 seconds behind. Stephen and Janice Williams, Ronald and Beryl Gee, are all having a good time on their first Irish event, currently lying 5th and 15th respectively. Chris Oakley and Lisa Hanson spent most of the evening in the local garage having a broken shock absorber mount repaired by the local rally man, our very own Penelope Pitstop - Jo Williams has forsaken her Lotus Elite for a very nice Austin-Healey 3000, Janet Lloyd-Jones is still on the maps and they are having a good run with no major penalties to date.
The following text is extracted from the Narrative that our Route Designer Keith Baud prepares for all his routes, they are a combination of historical fact, local myth, route finding tips and certain other bits that nobody is quite sure of the origin!
Day 3 - Limavady to Letterkenny
Today’s run is relatively short so we thought that we would give you a bit of a lie in with a 9:00 start (9:30 for the Clubmen). However, whilst the day might be short please remember that the Masters have a night section tonight that will keep them out of bed to at least midnight…
Leaving the back car park of the hotel, a side road takes you to the main road south towards Dungiven, which like many towns in the locality was owned in the 17c by one of the City of London livery companies - in this case the Skinners.
However, we initially by-pass the town to the east and head for the brooding bulk of Benbradagh and one of those pleasant turns of fate that lead you in new directions when you are doing rally reconnaissance.
I originally looked at using the yellows that run over this 1,500ft mountain for a regularity running east to west, but in grid square 7511 found a metal gate barring the road - permanently. Puzzled, I then skirted around to the west side - where you are now going - to look at the steep hill running up the flanks of the mountain, and at the top found another metal gate - and absolutely no sign of the road marked clearly on the map.
What I DID find however were white markings and lines on the road that indicated that the hill might be used for competition. So I called Richard Young - he of Kirkistown fame - and he said “You are at Benbradagh!”. Further more, as luck would have it, he also told me that the Clerk of the Course was none other than Declan McCay of Maiden City Motor Club who I was seeing later that week about the Donegal Rally.
It would appear that the reason the road over the top of Benbradagh no longer exists is that the USA - during the period of the Cold War - bought the land on top of the mountain to build an early warning or satellite tracking station. Some say they still own it. Anyway, the road over the top was closed and motor sport in Northern Ireland gained a hillclimb!
It is a great little hill, quite steep, with magnificent views from the top. Of course there is no return road so we will wait until we have 10 or so cars at the top, stop for a few minutes whilst we run them back down and then re-start. If you get held up for a few minutes don’t worry, we have hopefully built enough time into the schedule to cover this and anyway, you can always claim delay allowance.
Delay is more likely to be a problem at the start of the next regularity (Masters Only) as you will arrive there in batches of 10 or so. Again, please be patient, and claim delay allowance if you really need it. I was getting a bit fed up with closed gates around Dungiven because for this regularity I had intended taking you right up the end of the valley at Banagher. However, upon rounding the sharp hairpin at the end I found my way blocked by another metal gate! I don’t know what this one is hiding…
The mountains to the south are the Sperrins, an extensive lonely upland area composed of schist and gneiss. Once they were heavily forested but now the windswept heights are clad in heather and blanket bog and populated by sheep. You may see birds of prey patrolling the skies above - including the rare Hen Harrier and the Sperrins are the only place in Ireland where the cloudberry grows. There are also minute deposits of gold in the rocks.
A lonely road crosses these wild uplands, eventually dropping into the relatively green oasis of the Glenelly valley. Incidentally, did any of you notice the issue of Postage Stamps a couple of months ago depicting scenes from Northern Ireland? Every place you have been or are going to is shown on those stamps - including this valley. Like many parts of Ireland, the Sperrin Mountains has suffered a great movement from the land - many Irish emigrating of course to America. The heartland of Ulster migration to the US was the backwoods of the Appalachian Mountains and indeed the word hillbilly is believed to have derived from the followers of King William III.
In the Glenelly Valley sits the Sperrins Heritage Centre which I would love to tell you about but can’t as on every occasion we have called it has been closed! But they have assured us they will be open for coffee on the day.
This can be one of the problems of rally planning. It is sometimes very difficult in remote areas to find a suitable establishment for a control that has the necessary parking and facilities. The Sperrin Heritage Centre is the ONLY place in this lonely valley. For sure, there is a pub marked at the crossroads in Grid Square 6394 - I was originally hoping to use it. When you pass you will see why I didn’t!
Don’t worry too much about the white leading south over the mountains from this crossroads - it is tarmac all the way, and eventually you will emerge into the Owenkillew valley with the village of Gortin at one end.
You will search in vain for any signs of a castle at Beltrim. It is a lovely estate with a great complex of roads which the owner, Dick Blakiston-Houston, is still developing. We have laid out a cracking test on some of the best - we reckon you will love it.
I had originally planned another regularity in the hills to the south-west of Gortin on roads frequently used for the Ulster International Rally. However, Alan Elliott who is COC for the Ulster Historic Rally, and who is helping us in Northern Ireland, preferred that we did not use them so we concurred and are taking you straight to the lunch halt at the Ulster-American Folk Park. However, be careful not to turn in through the gates of the Ulster History Park which lies south of Gortin on map 13. The place that you want is on map 12 between Newtonstewart and Omagh.
This extensive open-air museum was opened in 1976 as part of the American bi-centennial celebrations. Its central point is the cottage from which Thomas Mellon, the great American banker and industrialist, emigrated with his family in 1818 at the age of five. The museum now houses a varied selection of buildings and artefacts depicting the way of life not just of the people of Ulster, but of the emigrants to New England. Everything from turf roofed Donegal cottages to Pennsylvanian log cabins are here all set amongst typical surroundings. There is even a separate Centre for Emigration Studies and the whole complex is the largest of its kind in Europe.
If you do want a look around then do so (we have a special admission rate of £2.50 per person) - but I doubt you will take it all in. Or, if you just want a light lunch and browse around the shop then this is also available.
After lunch we head briefly north to Newtownstewart. I don’t know if you have a more recent map but my edition does NOT show the new by-pass that links the A5 with the B165 at Abercorn Bridge. So at about spot height 50 do look out for signs left leading you into Newtonstewart and don’t fly straight by on the by-pass.
South west of Newtonstewart you will find another great Irish Estate that you will not find mentioned in any guidebook - Bishops Court. This beautiful estate is the home of the Duke of Abercorn and encircles two lovely lakes at the core of the property, which also includes extensive forestry plantations climbing the western flanks of Bessy Bell.
Mickey Gabbett gave us an introduction to Robert Scott, the estate manager, and we were due to meet him late one morning. As we were in the area with several hours to kill before the meeting, I rang Mickey who suggested that we should explore all the roads to find the most suitable before we met Robert.
We drove to the gate that Mickey told us to go to (this is not the main gate) but it was evident from the state of the road, and the condition of the large wrought iron gates that this entrance was rarely used.
However, upon getting out of the car and walking forward to see if I could open the gates for Jim to drive through, I was somewhat surprised to see them swing silently open in front of me. “Ah, they must be remotely controlled”, I thought as I searched the surroundings - with no success - for evidence of a CCTV camera.
After waving Jim through I turned to shut the gates, noting as I did so absolutely no sign of mechanical or electronic opening devices. Indeed they were quite rusty and difficult to close. Odd…
Anyway, we proceeded into the estate, navigating quite easily from the map. It is beautiful, as you will see. On our second lap of the main lake we came around a corner, Jim all arms and elbows on the slippery surface, to be confronted by an old guy by the side of the road who had to step back smartly in order to avoid being run down.
We reversed to where he was dragging himself from the undergrowth at the edge of the lake and wound the window down.
“How did you chaps get in?” he asked.
“Well you are never going to believe this”, I said and started telling him the story of the gates, all the time thinking, “is this the estate manager or, His Grace?”
“Well, who are you and where are you from?” I explained what we were doing and that I was from Devon and Jim was originally from Roscommon.
“Ah, he said, “Roscommon eh! Isn’t the local paper called the Roscommon Champion?”
At this point Jim, who had been uncharacteristically silent during the conversation, joined in with, ”I used to be motoring correspondent of the Roscommon Champion in the ‘50’s!”
“Did you really - how interesting”, replied the old gentleman and finally, holding out his hand, he introduced himself, “James Abercorn”.
B**gg**r “, I thought, that’s blown it!
But no, The Duke was gracious in his welcome and stood with us a while telling us about the estate and how only the previous year his daughter had got married on one of the islands in the lake. I am sure that a hundred years ago he would have set the dogs on us...
So, when you are cruising through the estate, and enjoying the lovely landscape, just silently give thanks to the Duke of Abercorn for allowing a bunch of malodorous discontents like yourselves access to his private domain. And if you pass an old chap enjoying a quiet stroll, please doff your cap to him - it might just be His Grace.
West of Barons Court the countryside opens up a bit into rolling farmland with the little town of Castlederg at its centre. The Peugeot-Talbot dealership in Castlederg used to be owned (perhaps still is?) by a rapid Hillman Avenger driver called Robin Lyons. The heavily fortified police station is testimony to the fact that this area, close to the border with Donegal, was a bit of a trouble spot a few years ago.
So far, we have not managed to include many typical Irish pubs in our control schedule. Mainly because the Irish are late starters, most places do not open until lunchtime - but then stay open all afternoon and most of the night!
However, now the sun is over the metaphorical yardarm, he lonely Anglers Rest will give you the chance to sample the traditional Irish hospitality of owner Lawrence Duffy before embarking on the next regularity which will take you back into the Irish Republic and the County of Donegal.
I do not expect you to be too impressed with your first sight of Donegal, for this corner of Ireland is poor, remote and desolate. I doubt you will be impressed with the quality of the roads either, the difference is quite marked once you cross the border. Donegal roads have a marked “crown” to the surface - if indeed they have a surface! So drivers of low slung cars will have to keep a careful eye open on the road ahead for bumps and potholes. But as you can see from the time schedule, we have kept average speeds very low.
Of course one of the problems is that whilst geographically, Donegal is part of Ulster (that’s the old Kingdom - not the modern Province) its location right out here on the north westernmost tip of the Republic means that it is the last place the Dail thinks about when it comes to spending any money.
However, that does mean that in Donegal you still get the feel of what old Ireland used to be like, even if its lanes are becoming increasingly ribboned with bland new houses picked straight from the Lego book of house plans. “Statements”, Mickey calls ‘em.
An ancient stone bridge separates the twin towns of Ballybofey and Stranorlar over the River Finn - one of the areas prime salmon rivers of Donegal. From here the Club route goes straight to the overnight halt at Letterkenny whilst the Masters visit Jacksons Hotel for a Time Control before one final regularity of the afternoon. When you reach the “T” junction in Ballybofey the Club route turns right to cross the bridge whilst the Masters go left and then fork right at the gaily painted Bonners Corner Bar onto the R252. Jacksons Hotel is in about 100m set back on a slip road to the right.
The final regularity over Cark Mountain takes you pass one of the large wind farms that are increasingly spreading across the mountains of Ireland. Whatever your feelings about them one cannot fail to be impressed by the sheer size of these monsters. Personally I’m all for renewable energy but what I am not so sure about is why we have to group the turbines together into “farms”. I see no objection to the lone wind turbine and cannot understand why we can’t take a leaf from the Dutch or Danish book where villagers will club together to erect one wind turbine so supplement their local needs. Surely that is more ecologically friendly than trying to supply the National Grid with a landscape scarring moorland full of them!
But love them or loathe them they are impressive and a board by these tells you how it was the first wind farm in Ireland developed by two brothers Seamus and John Herron. Each turbine here as a 200tonne concrete foundation and produces 660 kw of power. Each Tower is 150ft (45m high) and the diameter of the rotors is 47m. At a wind speed of 55mph the turbines stop turning to avoid damage to the machinery, but they are built to withstand wind speeds of 155mph.
This used to be a stage on the old Donegal International Rally when I last visited but I do not think they use it for the current event.
Eventually you drop down into the broad valley of the River Swilly and enter the town Letterkenny. Although architecturally and visually it is nothing exciting, commercially Letterkenny is the largest town in Donegal, or indeed this part of Ireland. It does have a large cathedral but of more interest to ladies who may be in need of a bit of retail therapy is the fact that it is reputed to have the longest main street in Ireland.
I had not been to Letterkenny for about 10 years and was amazed at the changes that have taken place. It was always quite a busy place but now there are masses of new houses, retail parks and multi-screen cinemas - just like any modern town in the British Isles. A lot of this wealth has come from its proximity to Londonderry in the north, and this is reinforced by the number of prestige car dealers that there now are in the town.
We had originally planned to use the Mount Errigal Hotel, for years the traditional home of the Donegal International Rally. I remember the last time I was there Ireland were playing Italy in the World Cup and at kick off at 9pm the entire staff of the restaurant disappeared to watch the match on the screens dotted throughout the hotel. Ireland won that memorable match and the rest of the night was spent in a long haze of Guinness.
As I say, we did plan to use the Mount Errigal for historic reasons, but it was being refurbished so we had to go for the brand new Raddison instead…
Sun, Sun, Sun and a slight breeze.
At the end of day two the Emerald Isle Classic is still lead by the MGB of Manx based tax exile John Bateson with Tina Lowe doing a fine job on the clocks and maps. For the whole day their penalty was only seven seconds. Morgan and Towers in the Alfa are still holding second with only a 20 second deficit on the leaders. Last year’s winner Philip Armstrong was very unlucky to meet some sheep just before a regularity timing point and consequently gained a 32 second penalty, just like being in Wales! John and Pauline Dignan dropped a couple of places with their MGA, this has enabled the TR3A of James Warner and George Melville to move up into 4th place.
In the Clubmans lowest penalty of the day was gained by Nigel and Paula Broderick in the big Mercedes-Benz 300 SEC, just 12 seconds and this moves them up into seventh place. David and Yvonne Moffat are doing well with their Bentley S2 - but did find some of the roads a bit narrow! Second and Third places in the Clubman category are being held by Vintage Cars - Peter Brennan / Mick Briggs Bentley 4.5 Le Mans holding a scant three second lead over the Chrysler 75 of David and Jacky Hall, Jacky was suffering throughout the day after a little over indulgence in Irish hospitality the night before.
Elaine and Bill Littleboy had a last minute change of car as they had not been able to cure a braking problem - one hopes they were sympathetic to John Cornwell and David Battersby when John found that his E Type brakes were not quite as good as hoped and gentled punted the Littleboy’s rear end.
James Ewing, one of our stalwart competitors managed to miss the secret check today and copped a five minute penalty, this is his first time out with David Peebles and hopefully they will remain friends after this little error!
The sweep crews were working well into the night sorting out the various mechanical problems that have cropped up during the day, the most serious seems to be the gearbox in the Austin A90 of Phil Surtees and Sue Shoosmith, Phil was making Sue get out and push the car for the reversing manoeuvres! Not an easy task with a car as heavy as the A90. Barbara Morris was searching for an oil seal for her Volvo P1800 - anxious not to drop back from 18th position, her navigator David Shields warming to the challenge of guiding Barbara through the Irish lanes.
It was another stunning day with all crews basking in the sunshine and enjoying the camaraderie that is developing, the route was providing a challenge for the Masters but the slightly easier Clubmans route was being achieved by most crews and very few road penalties are being incurred unless caused by mechanical problems. The “fresh out of the box” Bentley T1 of Robert Harley and Trina Walsh has developed alternator problems but hopefully this will be sorted when the replacement components can be sourced. The Bentley 4.5 Le Mans of David walker and
It look as though a way to make the circuit consistency tests more challenging will have to be found as no fewer than 25 crews managed to get a clean sheet - it would probably have been a different story had the weather conditions not been so favourable.
The following text is extracted from the Narrative that our Route Designer Keith Baud prepares for all his routes, they are a combination of historical fact, local myth, route finding tips and certain other bits that nobody is quite sure of the origin!
Day 2 - Newcastle to Giants Causeway
Today is a bit of an odd day as far as the rally timetable is concerned. You will notice that there are no time controls between the start this morning and lunch north of Belfast. This is because there are too many variables that could affect your time schedule. There is the ferry to cross Strangford Lough, the lapping regularity at Kirkistown Race Circuit, and the City of Belfast to get through. So, we have given you plenty of time to make the journey this morning and if you arrive at Ballygalley early, then you can have a more leisurely lunch.
We head inland from Newcastle to the elegant little town of Castlewellan, laid out around two squares in 1750 by the Earl of Annesley. Castlewellan is also home to the HQ of the Northern Ireland Forestry Commission and it is in their large car park that we have the first test of the day. Those of you who are gardeners will also recognise the Castlewellan name amongst species of plants and there is a large Arboretum here, as well as what is reputed to be the largest maze in the world - opened in 2001.
After the test we head east for Downpatrick, the reputed burial place of St Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland. The town actually gets its name from an Iron Age fort or dun in Gaelic upon which they eventually built the cathedral. The current building is relatively new, but the Anglo-Norman adventurer John de Courcy established the original cathedral in 1177. He threw out the Augustine monks who inhabited the original abbey and imported some Benedictines from Chester, and changed the dedication to St Patrick, whose body he claimed to have found, along with those of St Colmcille (Columba) and St Brigid.
There is no doubt that St Patrick was in the area because his ship was carried by the wind and tide into Strangford Lough and eventually up the River Slaney where he landed near the village of Saul. The fact that Saul is now a long way inland confirms that global warming and rising sea levels was just as big a problem in the 5c as it is now!
The Club competitors will go through Downpatrick on their way to the ferry but those on the Masters route turn south before the town, to bypass it on quieter by-roads on their way to the first regularity of the day. On the way you will ass the incredibly hilly Downpatrick Race Course, where just a few weeks ago they held the first race meeting on a Sunday in Ireland.
As I’m sure you know, the Irish are big into horse racing. We all know about flat racing, steeple chasing and hurdles, but whilst researching for these notes I came across a vague reference to swimming races for horses. The mind boggles! Do they do the breast stroke, crawl or - heaven forbid - backstroke? What about a 400m medley? Do they wear Speedo costumes, goggles and rubber hats? Perhaps they even have diving competitions! Can you imagine a horse coming off the 10 metre board and performing a double somersault with tuck? It would make a hell of a splash…
Perhaps someone can fill me in on this, I’m dying to know. Or, perhaps it is all just a little bit of Irish fun?
The little village of Strangford - where you will catch the ferry to cross the narrow entrance of the Lough of the same name - is a peaceful little place. If you have to queue then take a stroll around its narrow streets. The ferry takes 30 cars and crosses every half hour on the hour and half hour.
The Lough takes its name from the Viking - Strong Fiord - because the tides that rip in and out through the narrow entrance can be particularly violent. It is basically an inland see 18 miles long and with an 80 mile coastline, dotted with numerous small islands that are in fact drowned drumlins. The Lough is separated from the Irish Sea by the long, flat Ards Peninsula, with the town of Newtownards at its northern end.
The crossing itself takes about 5 minutes - so no sea sick pills needed - and once over the other side you disembark on the handsome waterfront of Portaferry. It would be easy to take the main road north towards Kirkistown, but I decided to take you on a minor road along the edge of the water so you can appreciate the quiet beauty of this area. To your left, across the Lough you will probably catch a glimpse the ruins of Audleys Castle, on the Castle Ward Estate on the southern shore. Perhaps of more immediate interest - if it is still there - is the substantial sailing yacht that was aground on the rocks when we last passed in late March. It looked as if it had been blown ashore on high spring tides so I do not know if they will get it off or just leave it to break up.
After leaving the waters edge you pass on your right at Ardquin what appears to be a farmhouse built between the walls of an ancient monastery. I cannot find out any more about that one.
Kirkistown is one of Ireland’s leading Motor Racing Circuits and was established just after the Second World War on the disused airfield by the 500 Motor Racing Club of Ireland. Until Mondello Park came into use in the late 60’s, Kirkistown was Ireland’s only permanent circuit, most racing took place on public road circuits.
Over the years all of Irelands leading drivers have cut their teeth at Kirkistown including John Watson, Brian Nelson, Eddy Irvine and current GP Team boss Eddy Jordan. The circuit is still run by the 500 Club, and is managed by friendly motor sport journo Richard Young, who still races single seaters and has twice been Irish Hill Climb Champion.
Like most airfield circuits it is very fast, with a long and wide back straight (you will be using it in the reverse direction than it is normally run). At one end is a farm, quite a way from the track, in which the farmer keeps some goats. Richard told us that once, a Formula 3000 went off so fast that it crashed through the hedge and into the farmyard, frightening one goat so much that it needed counselling for three weeks…
Hopefully you will enjoy lapping Kirkistown, but then your journey continues north, along the coast. If it is a fine day - and I hope that it is - you may be able to see the mountains of the Isle of Man way across the sea to the right. Close to, if the tide is out, you may catch sight of seals basking on the rocky shoreline. Eventually you arrive at the southern outskirts of the village of Ballywalter, and turn left into the back entrance of the Ballywalter Estate owned by another of Mickey’s mates - Brian Mulholland, Lord Dunleath.
He is a nice guy and has just spent a fortune and 56 weeks refurbishing his magnificent mansion. It really is gorgeous as you will see as you flash by the front about half way through the test! It was a toss up whether we stopped for morning tea - as he suggested - or used the estate roads for a long test. I thought that you would prefer the test.
The nuisance is that I have temporarily mislaid the book he gave me about the history of the house so I cannot, at the moment, tell you much more. It was commandeered by the Air Force during the Second World War as a maintenance depot. They landed bombers on the beach at Ballywalter and then dragged them into the estate through a hole in the encircling wall. Since its refurbishment a couple of years ago the house is becoming sought after as a film location - Spike Milligan’s classic story Puckoon was recently filmed there.
After Ballywalter, all that remains of the morning is a long run north through Newtownards, Belfast and Carrickfergus to the lunch halt at Ballygalley. But it is a run full of interest.
After passing through the village of Grey Abbey you rejoin the coast of Strangford Lough and head north past the famous gardens at Mount Stewart - named after the wealthy Stewart family from Scotland. The only building on the estate that you are likely to see as you pass is the Temple of the Winds, on a bank overlooking the Lough.
In the distance, at the far end of the Lough you will see a tall tower surmounting a prominent hill. This is Scrabo Tower above Newtownards and the hill it sits upon is actually a volcanic plug of lava, formed at the same time as the Giants Causeway, where you are going at the end of this days run.
Newtownards is a busy place to get through but if you follow the signs for Belfast along its many one way streets you will not have a big problem. That is, not until you reach a set of traffic lights at a crossroads at the western end of town - suddenly there are no signs! Your sense of direction tells you to go straight on, but in fact the correct route is left, down past a big Tesco to a roundabout where you go right onto the A 20 dual carriageway towards Belfast.
In fact it would not matter if you did go straight on at the aforementioned lights because then you would be on the old Belfast Road - the original A 20, which joins the dual carriageway just before Dundonald. Those of you with a sense of motoring history may even prefer to do this because you would then be driving along part of the original Ards Circuit, a famous road circuit that connected Newtownards, Dundonald and Comber, and home, if my memory serves correctly, to the original TT Races.
Whichever way you go, once you get to Dundonald you will start to notice on buildings on both sides of the road, some of the distinctive and colourful paintings that epitomise the armed struggle in Northern Ireland. They are more than just graffiti, but are magnificent examples of folk art. I don’t know if they applied for planning permission for them but I can’t see the local council refusing can you?
Many of the murals show the emblem of the Bloody Hand of Ulster which is not, as you may think, a symbol that is relative to the current struggle. Jim Gavin told me that in fact the Bloody Hand of Ulster comes from the story of two Viking brothers who undertook a wager that whoever first set foot on Ulster soil would claim it as his own.
Neck and neck they raced for shore in their longboats but one brother, convinced he would be narrowly beaten by the other, took out his sword, cut off his own hand and lobbed it ashore (presumably with his good arm) and thereby claimed the booty. Which begs the question; if the wager was for the first person to set FOOT in Ireland?
Presumably the Bloody Foot of Ulster would not have quite the same ring to it…
But don’t get too focused on looking at the murals that you miss the sight of Stormont set in parkland at the end of a long drive to your right - opposite the Hastings Stormont Hotel(you have to look over your shoulder to see it). And I am sure that you are worried about finding your way through a large City like Belfast - but it really is surprisingly simple - trust me.
Just keep driving straight on west into the city on the A20, ignoring all the signs imploring you to take ring roads etc. Eventually you will see ahead and to the right of you, the two huge yellow cranes of the Harland and Wolff Shipyards towering above the rows of terraced houses. This is where the Titanic was built amongst others, and next door to the shipyards is Belfast City airport on the site of the old Short Bros. Aircraft factory, where the Sunderland Flying Boat was built.
But as I say, just keep going straight ahead until you see the flyovers of the Motorway ahead of you. As soon as you join the Motorway make sure that you get over into the right hand two lanes and follow the signs for “The North M2/M5” and NOT the M3 or you will get sucked south into the city centre. A few miles further north look out for signs to “Carrickfergus/White Abbey M5” and again do not follow Larne signs or the M2 will take you on a long detour inland.
Eventually, the motorway becomes a dual carriageway heading up the side of Belfast Lough to the seaside town of Carrickfergus (The Rock of Fergus), its harbour dominated by the largest and best preserved Norman Castle in Ireland. It was built, not personally you understand, by that cathedral builder from Downpatrick - John de Courcy. In 1315 it was captures after a yearlong siege by Lord Edward Bruce from Scotland but a year later the English retook it and held on for the next 300 years. William of Orange also landed here on his way to the Battle of The Boyne.
Interestingly the last military engagement to bee seen at Carrickfergus was in 1778 when the American privateer John Paul Jones (I though he was lead singer with Manfred Mann) attacked HMS Drake with his vessel Ranger. This vessel was not the only American “Ranger” to be connected with Carrickfergus for, in June 1942, that famous American Force - The US Rangers (as opposed to the Lone Ranger) - was formed here in the town. The US connections with the town are also reinforced by the fact that Andrew Jackson - 7th President - was the son of a Carrickfergus family who emigrated in 1765.
However, if there is one building in Carrickfergus that DOES deserve a mention then that is the Public Toilets in the car park next to the castle. Jim raved to me about these and insisted that I joined him in the urinals. Indeed they are fine toilets - housed in a typically ‘60’s brick and concrete structure. But what sets them apart is that they are spotlessly clean, have cold and HOT running water, and piped music to every cubicle. (No, it wasn’t George Michael…).
But, if you can control your bladders long enough, only a short run over the hills remain before you reach the lunch halt at another Hastings Hotel - The Ballygalley Castle. (By the way - Jim told me that “Bally” means Town). The original building was built in 1625 but service has improved somewhat since then…
This afternoon we will be exploring the Glens of Antrim and the Northern Ireland coast. The Glens are deep valleys incised into the surrounding limestone and basalt plateaux and was very much a forgotten corner of Ireland until a military corniche road was built along the coast in 1832. This road makes a lovely drive with far reaching views across the sea to the Mull of Kintyre. On a clear day you can even see Ailsa Craig - Paddys Milestone - sticking up from the Forth of Clyde.
We first head inland from Ballygalley to the first Regularity of the afternoon which starts up a public road hillclimb still used to this day. This part of the Antrim moorlands reminds me very much of the North York Moors - high open moorland and big skies. As you are crossing these uplands you may get a glimpse away to the west of the unmistakable outline of Slemish Mountain - where St Patrick was a shepherd for six years. Eventually you drop down a tiny road into the pretty coastal village of Glenarm, passing the 19c gateway to Glenarm Castle - home of the Earl of Antrim (One of the few that Mickey G doesn’t know).
The next settlement on the coast - Cairnlough - was once an industrious little place. Narrow gauge railways brought limestone down from quarries in the hills to the little port. The Arch that you go under carried one. Gunpowder was also produced locally by a German company. Today Cairnlough is much sleepier, the only reason for people to stop being the Londonderry Arms on the left which once belonged to the Churchill family and houses a small collection of photographs and memorabilia concerning the famous race horse Arkle.
The coast road north is a lovely drive. Built mainly on an old raised beach, it hugs the cliffs as its snakes along with great views across the sea to Scotland and occasional views inland to deep valleys, high bluffs and tumbling waterfalls. After rounding Garron Point, Red Bay opens up with the village of Glenarrif at its head. Again, those interested in hill climbing (Richard?) might like to note the yellow road running south parallel with the coast road from Galboly at the top of the map. This is another hillclimb still used to this day.
A word of caution about Glenariff though. Both times we have passed up this road we have been confronted with Road Closed signs as they appear to be laying new drains. The last time one of the workmen told us that the work would be finished by Easter but in truth we do not know. So, if the road IS still closed then you will have to take the A43 to get to the Time Control in the café right at the end of the valley.
From Glenariff, the Masters take a long loop west over high moorland and another regularity whilst the Club shortcut down Glenballylemon back to the coast. Both are attractive runs and come together again in the little National Trust village of Cushenden at the foot of Glencorp (Glen of Slaughter) and Glendun (Brown Glen). This rather fey and picturesque village owes its design to Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, the architect responsible for the fantasy village of Portmeirion in North Wales.
From Cushenden, a twisting, turning and narrow road snakes its way along the cliff tops towards the north eastern most corner of the Province. This is the famous Torr Head Drive - an old Circuit of Ireland favourite but rarely used for competition any more. IF you get time to look, the drive affords magnificent views across to Scotland and, as you move further north west, across the sea to Rathlin Island, just 5 miles off the coast.
It was whilst taking refuge in a cave on Rathlin in 1306 that Robert the Bruce learnt his famous lesson in perseverance from a spider. Today, the small population of the island needs similar fortitude to eke out a meagre existence from fishing and farming.
After Torr Head you reach the little seaside resort of Ballycastle where the two route split for the final run to Giants Causeway. The Masters dive inland to tackle an interesting little test at Mike and Sue Stewart-Moore’s farm at Moyarget Lodge, whilst the Club route hugs the coast line to pass Kinbane Castle and the famous Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.
This tourist attraction is actually erected each spring to allow the salmon fishermen access to their nets off the island of Carrick-a-Rede. You can park up for £3 and walk over the 66ft long bridge, which sways alarmingly 80ft above the rocks. If you do, just thank your lucky stars that you did not cross it a few years ago when there was only a handrail on one side….
Finally, after passing the ruins of Dunseverick Castle on the cliffs to your right, a glorious view opens up ahead towards the Inishowen Peninsula in Donegal. But you have come to see the Giants Causeway - almost journeys end for today.
We have actually sited the control in the Causeway Hotel for a very good reason. It costs nothing to visit the Giants Causeway (except if you are too lazy to walk when it is 60p each way on the bus) but the local council will charge you £5 to park your car in the public car park. However, parking at the hotel, which adjoins the car park is free. So I hope that you will have a tea or coffee whilst you are waiting for your time to come up to reward the owners for being so considerate….
Effectively that’s the end of rallying for today. But the overnight halt in Limavady is a little way away and hell - you haven’t come all this way NOT to see one of the wonders of the world have you? Well, I would not get too excited if I were you.
You get to the Giants Causeway by walking past the Visitor Centre and along a tarmac road down the cliff side. It is a pleasant 10 minute walk with extensive views out to sea. When I was there you could just make out the hazy outline of the Isle of Mull way out on the horizon.
The road turns a corner at the end of the cliff, you go a few hundred yards more and there is a turning place for the bus and, if your reaction is the same as mine, you will think, “Is this it?”. It’s not that I am jaded having seen so many natural wonders on my travels, nor that I am uninterested in them - I got A level Geology at school y’know. It’s just that the Giants Causeway is just not - well - as BIG as the photos would have you believe. Still, I am in good company - it didn’t do much for Sir Walter Scott or Thackeray either!
Of course if you believe Irish Mythology, then the giant Ulster warrior Finn McCool constructed it so that he could get across the sea to Scotland to see some bird he fancied. I have to say that the Irish version is a damn sight more interesting than the expert’s version which is that it was formed about 60 million years ago when a volcanic eruption forced lava up through fissures in the overlying chalk. This formed a layer of hard basalt that cracked as it cooled, forming masses of adjoining columns, mostly hexagonal in shape.
I bet you will be back on the bus to the top within 5 minutes….
So what else can you waste the rest of the afternoon on?
The obvious one would be to consider calling in at the famous Bushmills Distillery on the way to Limavady - but that would be a bit pointless as the last guided tour is at 15:45.
However, please stick with it as I am going to suggest that instead of hightailing it straight to the Roe Park Hotel at Limavady to put your feet up with a stiff drink, that you take in one or both small diversions to places of interest that you will not find in any guide book. Go for it!
The first involves continuing along the A2 coast road for 4 or 5 miles to the town of Portrush, a Victorian resort that is popular with people to this day. Portsush is situated at one corner of a triangle of roads joining the three towns of Portrush, Portstewart and Coleraine. And what makes this triangle of roads so interesting is that, along with the Isle of Man, it remains one of the last great motor-cycle road race circuits in the world.
Each year this circuit hosts the North-West 200 Motor Cycle races, and you will have no problem at all following the line of the circuit because do you know when the race was? Yesterday! Yes, just 24 hours ago total nutters - for that is what you must be to pull 200mph on these fast roads - will be racing their powerful bikes around this famous circuit. So if biking is your bag then a few laps will be right up your street - literally.
The other sight(s) lay a little further off route to the west of Coleraine but I urge you to go and have a look.