(This is Day 4 of my travelogue of Northern Ireland – for Day 1 click here)
With a 9:30 am scheduled start, our tour du jour gave us plenty of time to detour for another almond croissant and tea with milk and sugar at nearby Caffe Nero in the morning before slowly sauntering a mere quarter block to our waiting coach. Turns out we could have made many detours, since it took 45 minutes for Paul, our scrappy driver, to get the microphone working. In the meantime we listened to an entire album of Madonna’s greatest hits because the speaker (unfortunately for me) was working just fine. Cousin Sharon rolled with it – another sign of an expert traveler (and/or Madonna fan).
Okay, I sang along to the chorus of “La Isla Bonita.” And “Like a Prayer.”
Our Giant’s Causeway tour, purchased through Viator, would route us to Bushmills Distillery initially, then skirt past distant Dunluce Castle, and go up to the Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge before heading back down to Belfast via the glens and coast of Antrim.
Old Bushmills boasts “Ireland’s oldest whiskey” and was not far out of Belfast. Sharon was tickled to get Paul’s one discount ticket for a bottle of the highly prized and celebrated 12-year blue label not available in the United States. Because we were late, we only had about 10 minutes in the tasting room and, mind you, it was still before noon. I never drank whiskey before noon in my life. Couple that with a tight schedule and you’ve got yourself a surprise morning liquor buzz. Please, don’t judge.
Next was Dunluce Castle, pictured waaay in the back here, on a cliff. I have to say it was nothing more than a nice photostop among many. It was not quite deserving of the status of listed attractions on the tour, in my opinion. It looked to be under repair, too, so it was even harder to take an adequate photo. But the coastal view was nice.
On the way to our star attraction, Paul told us the legend of Giant’s Causeway’s origin by the benevolent and magic giant Finn McCool, who built the causeway as stepping stones to get to Scotland. I had trouble listening (see Bushmills paragraph above), so all I could tell you is it had something to do with a giant baby’s teeth and a pancake.
You wouldn’t know it from the pictures here, but there were people speaking all sorts of languages crawling all over the rocks. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Causeway draws people from all over the world any time of year. It’s about a 15-minute walk down to the rocks, but you can take a trolley for a pound per person. The rocks were moss-covered, slippery and, yes, hexagonal, for the most part. Folklore aside, this spectacle is actually a field of columnar basalt – also found in eastern Washington state, Wyoming’s Devil’s Tower, and Mars, the planet – but in this case it has been washed away by the ocean tide over millions of years.
There was a little pub called The Nook nearby, where Sharon had an Irish Coffee and I had the carrot soup. We were both happy. A strange collection of framed items hung on the walls. This one in particular caught my eye – a collection of wax seals of British aristocracy, with the center showing that of Lady Grantham. Do we have any fans of Downton Abbey here? (Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?)
Next was Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, and I have to say I was much more excited about this until I realized I wasn’t given money, I actually paid to walk 165 stairs down to a collection of rope and wood slats slapped together a hundred feet over the ocean’s deadly crashing waves below. In 30 mile per hour winds. Was I scared?
Yep. (before and after below)
Then relieved. Relieved is a good feeling. Was Sharon scared?
You be the judge.
On the way back, we visited the gift shop and I was delighted to find a confection completely new to me: Fifteens. Something unique in the texture seemed extra rich, decadent and sugar-laden, but also to whisper conspiratorially, You need this. Or perhaps more succinctly, You have just feared for your life. It doesn’t matter that this is made of 90% sugar. You want it. No, you’ve earned it.
I later learned this is a Northern Ireland confection made of 15 marshmallows, 15 glace cherries, and 15 digestive (or graham) crackers, rolled, refrigerated, and dusted in desiccated coconut. Why did it take so many years of life before I even heard of these? Why wasn’t I fifteen when someone said, “Hey, you’re fifteen, so I made you something: fifteens! Here are fifteen of them. Enjoy!”
I haven’t been fifteen in good long while.
On the way back, Paul would point across a field now and then and tell us we were gazing upon the Glen of Such-and-Such, known for so-and-so. At first, I thought there wasn’t much to see. I was thinking back two years ago to our Galway-Connemara tour, where we happened upon an old Famine graveyard, monastery ruins, and perhaps even a ghost. But then, as we carried along, despite feeling a little sick from the combination of how fast Paul liked to take hills and curves and how high my blood sugar just spiked, I became enchanted. Over here, a pristine white-stone-faced Georgian home with red shutters overlooking the Atlantic shore. There, the ruins of a Medieval stone archway overgrown with brilliant green moss and hanging ivy.
This little fishing village of Glencove was nothing more than a rest stop. In my sugary stupor, I vowed nothing less than to come back in six months, or Bob’s your uncle.
For the last hour of our coach ride back to Belfast, we didn’t have much of a view, as we left the coastal highway. Once we returned, we stopped in to the Grand Opera House, which happened to be right next door to our hotel. We had walked by many times and were intrigued to see what was playing: Ghost: the Musical.
The show by the Ulster Operatic Company was indeed based on the 1990 movie Ghost, in which Patrick Swayze’s character Sam Wheat is secretly murdered and becomes a ghost to warn his girlfriend of impending danger. Many people remember Whoopi Goldberg’s character Oda Mae Brown, a funny, flamboyant charlatan who actually has the psychic ability to help Sam communicate with Molly (Demi Moore) from the “other side.”
Now, just imagine that you’re doing a play based on the movie in Northern Ireland with local actors. You’d think, maybe, there’d be a talented person of color to play, well, anyone? Okay, maybe the extras could all be, uh, Northern European-looking, if that is in fact all that your casting pool comprises. However, it seems especially important to have the character of Oda Mae Brown represented by a woman of color. The actress portraying her delivered the classic lines fairly accurately (“Rita, you in danger, girl.”) But, well, I have to say I would have liked some diversity and definitely not a spray tan. That being said, I think their upcoming musical adaptation of Legally Blonde is going to be on point.
Going to a musical was fun, anyway. It reminded me of what it feels like to live life with a little extra drama and song. Overall it made for an exciting end to an already-extra dramatic day. For me, anyway.