On Saturday morning we were almost first off the ferry and made it to Ballymoney in good time. After breakfast we wandered into town for a caffeine fix and to use the wifi in a local café. Every time we come, a few more shops have closed. It is still the marching season here and several flute bands walked through the high street before getting on their buses to Derry. Shortly afterwards, some heavily armoured police Landrovers from Belfast followed them. In the afternoon we drove to Portstewart which has renovated the promenade since we were here last year. There is a wider path by the beach, curved street lamps and a sculpture entitled ‘The Fishing Boat’ by Niall O’Neill.
We visited the Art Shop; the proprietor is someone we have bought antique maps from in the past and we had a look through his collection but did not find anything we wanted. He told us that he was now getting into movie posters and I overheard him saying to another customer that he had about 600.
On Sunday evening we took James’s parents and other relatives out for a meal at a hotel on the coast to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. This morning we drove along part of the Causeway Coast and popped into the secondhand bookshop there where I found another two volumes for a natural history series I am collecting. We continued past Dunseverick, Ballintoy and on to Whitepark Bay with Islay and the Mull of Kintyre on the horizon. The bay has a four-star Youth Hostel which might be a stopping off point when we walk the coastal path at some point in the future. We are looking forward to James retiring and we can have longer sojourns over here. There is now a day passenger ferry over to Islay which includes lunch at the distillery. The beach is backed by wildflower strewn cliffs, the ruins of the old youth hostel and pasture for cattle. It is somewhere to go hunting for fossils: belemnites, a relative of the ammonite, can be found in some of the stones and rocks on this beach and I have a small collection accumulated over the years, on my mantelpiece.
On our way back to Ballymoney we passed the Dark Hedges which were relatively unknown outside Northern Ireland until they featured in ‘Game of Thrones’. Now you can hardly move for tourists, a new hotel has sprung up and they are finally on the map.
We are now in a queue at Belfast Docks waiting to get on the ferry.
We spent the morning exploring Stromness, dodging the cars in its narrow streets and enjoying the very interesting museum which covered the local history and natural history plus the town’s links to the exploration of the North West Passage, the Hudson Bay Company and parts of Africa. There are narrow passages down to the water and running up the hill. Stromness still has an independent bookshop and a great cafe.
After lunch we headed south across the Churchill Barriers at Scapa Flow which are now causeways to link four islands. The first, Lamb Holm, has an Italian chapel built from two Nissen huts by the Italian prisoners of war who worked on the barriers.
Weddell Bay had a little corner near the barrier which was great for shell and sea glass hunting. We also stopped off at the Fossil & Heritage Museum which in addition to all the fossil collections, also had an exhibition on the barriers. I discovered what a belemnite was, which interested me as we have several fossils which are cross-sections of its guard. We find them regularly on White Park Bay in Northern Ireland. Further on we passed the shipwrecks near the barriers.
Once we were on South Ronaldsay it was a fairly straight run down to Burwick where the ferry departs for John O’Groats. On the gable end of one roadside house we passed, someone had stencilled ‘brothel’ in large letters. At Burwick we watched the ferry depart and looked at the huge pile of concrete shapes waiting to be added to the harbour wall defences.
Back in St Margaret Hope where we had booked our evening meal it was time to have an aperitif. We wandered past a house which obviously belonged to the local hoarder as the garden was full of stuff as was the inside of the house as far as we could see. The first hostelry we found turned out to be dark inside, no-one in the public bar and no-one else in sight. We walked straight out the back door and on into the Murray Arms where we had a very friendly welcome in the bar and whiled away an hour with the newspaper until our table was ready in a nearby restaurant.