welcomes visitors daily from April until September. It’s a horticultural spectacle in an incomparable setting by the sea with water features, fruit and vegetable gardens, imaginative herbaceous borders and displays of flowers that burst with color. Climb the mount for a view of the castle, the sea and the estate beyond. Then relax and enjoy a snack or light lunch featuring the estate’s own produce in the charming tea room, overlooking the kitchen garden.
For picturesque photo moments, drive the Causeway Coastal Route on up to Derry, Northern Ireland’s second largest city. And if there’s mist, even better, as it’ll add a bit of Irish magic and mystery to the scene. This is most apparent at the Giant’s Causeway, a geological wonder that is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s an awe-inducing marvel containing over 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, which were created as a result of intense volcanic and geological activity.
For visitors, it provides a glimpse into the Earth’s most ancient past; an epic sixty million year-old legacy to the cooling and shrinking of successive lava flows. This is a place that’s also steeped in myth and legend, with stories of a mighty giant, Finn Mccool, who left behind an ancient home full of folklore. Local folks believe that between the hexagons, the mythical features carved out in the rocks and the sea, there’s real magic. They say that you may not always see it right away, but stand on the stones, use your imagination and just wait. It won’t be long until you feel it.
Upon reaching Derry or Londonderry, you’ll be in the oldest intact walled city in all of Ireland. You’ll also be in a town that’s been the subject of a naming dispute between Irish nationalists and unionists. Generally, although not always, the former favor using Derry, and the latter prefer Londonderry. Legally, the city and county are called “Londonderry,” while the local government district containing the city is referred to as “Derry.” You’ll learn that there are also other names for this place, such as Cathedral City, Walled City, Maiden City, Legenderry and my favorite, Stroke City (Derry/ Londonderry).
Begin your exploration of the city with a visit to the Tower Museum, which tells the town’s colorful and dramatic history from past to present. Follow it up by joining one of Martin Mccrossan’s City Tours to view the historic walls from along the rampart walkway and at ground level. Measuring almost one mile around, the walls date back to the early 1600s when they were first constructed to protect the English and Scots settlers of the new town
that was established here as part of the Plantation of Ulster. As you stroll, you’ll learn the names and significance of the various bastions and gates, as well as get a glimpse of famed St. Columb’s Cathedral.
Like Belfast, Derry was also the scene of political strife for many years, and it, too, has murals depicting the issues and events of the times, including the infamous Bloody Sunday. Murals cover the buildings within the Bogside (Irish Republican section) and throughout the Loyalist-occupied areas of town. Of note is the Peace Mural, found on the Bogside, which represents the peace process and negotiations that have helped bring an end to the terrible violence of the past. Walking and taxi tours are available for those interested in learning more about this turbulent history and its effects on the populace.
Derry’s Craft Village is a well-known mecca for visitors and locals alike, and has often been described as a hidden jewel in the city’s crown. This cultural oasis is an eclectic mix of artisan craft shops, charming cafes and balconied apartments. Dickensian in appearance, with a thatched cottage to boot, it encapsulates a sense of times gone If you’re a “Game of Thrones” fan or a “thronie,” you’ll be in good company in Northern Ireland, as there are multitudes of visitors coming from all over the world to indulge their fascination with this popular show. There are numerous sites sprinkled throughout the area that have been used to film the award-winning series. You can follow in the footsteps of the stars and plot a path through the dramatic scenery, taking you to where some of the pivotal scenes were shot, including Winterfell, Robb Stark’s Camp, the Haunted Forest and Inch Abbey. Though the sites are easily accessible for those who wish to explore on their own, there are also several different tour companies which offer various “Game of Thrones” experiences.
No matter what you see or do during your stay in this fair country, remember to take the time to savor each experience one bite at a time. And as they say in Gaelic, “Ithe Sásta,” or “Bon Appetit!”
For all things Northern Ireland, visit: www.tourismni.com