Set your satnav for a trip across the Irish Sea
Most impressive of all is Irish Ferries’ €150million (£130million) WB Yeats, due to operate on the Holyhead-Dublin route from September. Some 640ft in length and weighing 55,000 tonnes, the giant “cruise ferry” has suites with outside balconies, a range of restaurants and bars, a club class lounge and a cinema – facilities to rival many cruise ships.
Once in Ireland, however, you won’t have to readjust your sense of geographical scale: distances are nicely manageable, and traffic tends to be lighter. And make room in the boot for purchases of the quality foodstuffs that are the result of a gastronomic revolution: golden rapeseed oil, Irish cheeses, smoked fish and meats, jams, breads and chutneys.
For British visitors, Ireland beguilingly mingles familiarity with difference: the idiom, accent, and rhythms of speech are all different; and while visitors to Northern Ireland encounter the road signs and red postal boxes of home, travellers in the Republic will note bilingual road signs, distances in kilometres, and other indicators of a foreign land. All the more reason to visit – soak up this difference, familiarity, and the sheer grandeur of the landscapes. Here are three circular itineraries – from each of the key entry ports, to help you make the best of Ireland’s roads.
(walledcitybrewery.com), before dinner in Soda & Starch (sodaandstarch.com).
Take some time to walk the walls of Londonderry, admiring views of the Donegal hills. Consider a guided walk: McCrossan’s Tours (derrycitytours. com) offers valuable insights into a long and tempestuous history. Afterwards, call into the Victorian Guildhall, with its sheets of stained glass; and stock up on goods at Warehouse (thewarehousederry.com). Then hit the A6, driving through the heathery uplands of the Sperrin Mountains towards Belfast. Pause at Bellaghy to visit Seamus Heaney HomePlace (seamusheaneyhome.com), an arts centre and museum devoted to the legacy of this Nobel laureate.
Or visit Ditty’s (dittysbakery.com) in nearby Castledawson, which offers fabulous baked goods: assemble a feast, and drive a few miles south to the 17th-century National Trust property at Springhill (nationaltrust. org). From here it’s a 40-minute drive back to Belfast, and to the Merchant Ferry fares, like airfares, are flexible and may be adjusted according to demand for any particular sailing. Those listed below are the lowest return for a car plus two adult passengers. They may not be available on all dates, so should be treated as a guide only. We also give the maximum number of sailings in each direction at peak times.
(08717 300 400; irishferries.com) car and two adults Fastest crossing time: 1 hr 49 min Max frequency: six per day
0844 770 7070; stenaline.co.uk)