On Wednesday morning, we drove the 12 miles to the Giant’s Causeway. In the last few years the visitors’ centre and entrance has all been re-developed. It was not too busy and we enjoyed a walk along the longer of the two trails looking over the coast. Fulmars were building their nests on the top of some of the columns but the oystercatchers have not yet arrived. The rain had cleared and the Mull of Kintyre was visible in the distance. We would like to walk some of the coastal trail at some point.
Afterwards we continued along the coast to Portrush, had lunch overlooking the bay and then walked along the east strand.
We popped into the secondhand bookshop once he had opened after lunch (many of the other shops were on half-day closing). I did not find anything to buy but spotted a book with limited appeal – a text devoted entirely to knapweeds and their taxonomy. I also heard today of an event which took place last weekend in Scotland and was new to me – the European Rock Stacking Competition in Dunbar. The winner managed to stack 33 rocks on top of each other. I am not sure how long they have to stay up before falling to qualify. A guy from Spain won and can now enter the World Competition in Texas.
Thursday saw us heading south into County Down to visit Mountstewart, a stately home and gardens now under the care of the National Trust. In the morning, you can join a tour (they run every half hour from 11.30) and after 1pm can wander around on your own. I have seen a few 18th century interiors in the last six months but never fail to appreciate them.
The grounds are extensive with a formal garden, a lake and paths among the trees and shrubs. There is a small chapel which is open only rarely and not on this visit. There are red squirrels here but we did not see any.
Out of the grounds and on the shore of Strangford Lough are the remains of the old gas works, the only surviving domestic gas works in Northern Ireland. It was built in 1850 by the Marquis of Londonderry to provide fuel for the estate.
Heading north again we stopped off at Scabro Tower. It sits on a hill now within a country park and was built in 1857 in recognition of the 3rd Marquis’s concern for his tenants during the famine in the mid 19th century.
On a site just below the summit, the remains of huts and a large hill fort have been found indicating people living on the hill around 5,000 years ago. The tower was closed when we visit but when open you can climb 122 steps inside and there is more information and displays about the local history. There is a golf course on the lower slopes and a woodland walk. The views from the summit are over the Lough and the towns with the Mourne Mountains in the distance.
There was a sculpture by the car park.
We drove back into Belfast on the Newtonards Road past some of the Unionist street art in the east of the city, before we joined the motorway and then endured the roadworks before reaching Ballymoney.