Weekly Photo Challenge: Door to Abbeyville Cathedral

Saint Vulfran Collegiate Church Abbeville France

Guidebooks say that Abbeville was once an attractive place but it was destroyed in the German blitzkrieg of 1940 when the town was reduced to rubble as the German Panzer divisions advanced towards the English Channel but I have to say that I found the rebuilt modern town to be very attractive itself, so attractive as it happens that I can only begin to imagine just how picturesque the original town might once have been.

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Northern Ireland, Top Tips for Visiting the Giant’s Causeway on a Budget

Giant's Causeway Northern Ireland

It hasn’t always been free to visit.  In the 1800s, the Causeway was fenced off by landowners who saw its potential as a tourist attraction and so an easy way to make money but after a long drawn out case the High Court ruled that the public had an ‘ancient right of way’ to visit the Causeway and view the stones.

Now the National Trust wants to turn back the clock.  They haven’t exactly built a fence but they cleverly mislead visitors into paying the extortionate parking and visitor centre admission charge.

Here are my tips for avoiding the Giant National Trust Rip-Off:

1  Walk there.  This might seem rather obvious but as a word of warning it is about a mile walk and there are no footpaths.

2  Use the  Giant’s Causeway and Bushmills light railway.  It is a lot cheaper and you get a train ride there and back.  It only operates in the Summer however.

3  Drive to the Giant’s Causeway and park in the railway car park.  It is only £6.

4  Stay overnight at the Causeway Hotel and park for free.  If not staying overnight park up and have a cup of coffee and become a customer and get entitlement to free parking.

5  Use the National Trust Car Park but only buy one ticket to the visitor centre, a good solution if there is a family of visitors or if there are 4 adults.

6  Use the National Trust car park and just ignore the visitor centre completely.  National Trust say they may clamp cars when visitors haven’t paid but this is most unlikely.  Don’t worry about the clamped car close to the entrance, this belongs to a member of staff and is only there to try and frighten people.

7 Walk from the car park to the Causeway because if you take the bus then this costs another £1 each way.

The National Trust says:

“The admission fee includes: access to the Visitor Centre facilities (cafe, retail, exhibition and toilets including a Changing Places facility), use of a hand-held audio guide to explore the landscape outdoors with over one-hour of content, a guided walking tour led by a National Trust guide lasting more than 45 minutes, and visitor information leaflets and parking.”

Giant's Causeway Rock Garden Plant

Also worth a view:

Views from a disgruntled visitor

Northern Ireland, The Giant’s Causeway

Giant's Causeway Northern Ireland

O, it is excellent to have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant” –  William Shakespeare, ‘Measure for Measure’

Sometimes it is is not necessary to travel huge distances to visit something special.

The Giant’s Causeway is a geological wonder of the World close to home in the UK consisting of about forty thousand interlocking basalt columns resulting from a volcanic eruption about sixty million years ago.  Most of the columns are hexagonal in shape, but there are some with four, five, seven and eight sides.

The tallest are about twelve metres high, and the solidified lava in the cliffs is nearly thirty metres thick in places.  The fascinating patterns in the causeway stones formed as a result of rock crystallization under conditions of accelerated cooling, which usually occurs when molten lava comes into immediate contact with water and the resulting fast accelerated cooling process causes cracking and patterns.

I am not a geologist or a scientist but I can relate to that because I imagine it would be rather similar to my childhood experiences of being prodded into the North Sea by my parents on family holidays when I was a boy and the phsical consequences of being suddenly immersed in freezing cold water.

It was declared the only World Heritage Site in Northern Island by UNESCO in 1986, and a National Nature Reserve in 1987.  In a 2005 Radio Times poll, the Giant’s Causeway was named as the fourth greatest natural wonder in the United Kingdom.

The top three were the Dan Yr Ogof National Showcaves Centre in South Wales, The Cheddar Gorge in Somerset and the White Cliffs of Dover.  These competitions are always subjective of course and open to challenge.  I have never visited the Dan Yr Ogof National Showcaves Centre, Cheddar Gorge is worth a visit but I’m not at all sure about the White Cliffs of Dover!  These polls are always a bit subjective and making up the rest of the top ten were the Jurassic Coast, Loch Lomond, Cwm Idal, Staffa, St Kilda and Lundy Island.

Subjective?  So how did Lundy Island slip in there?  Over a million people a year go to Giant’s Causeway compared to about two thousand to Lundy Island, I wonder how it got so many votes?   How many people even know where Lundy Island is?  I never trust a survey or a poll!

Northern Ireland Giant's Causeway

After an excellent lunch at the Smuggler’s Inn we made our way to the causeway.  I had read some conflicting advice about this, a lot of visitors had left reviews saying that the National Trust visitor centre is overpriced and disappointing so I was looking for a way to avoid the £9 per person entry fee.  It seems that this is just a giant rip-off because there is no charge to visit the rocks themselves so we parked the car using Richard’s National Trust membership card, turned a blind eye to the ticket office and walked straight through.  Why would any sane person pay £9 to go and see something that is free?

There is a uniformity to the patterns that confused people for a long time and before the geological process that formed the causeway was fully understood some were convinced that it was the result of the labours of an earlier civilization that had built a sort of paved highway across the sea to Scotland.  What made this a credible explanation for them was that the same rock formations occur at Flingal’s Cave across the water.  We know now that this was completely daft but it is a nice story nevertheless.

An even better story of course is the legend that the Irish giant Finn McCool built the causeway to walk to Scotland to fight his Scottish counterpart Benandonner.  When he arrived in Scotland he was alarmed to find that his opponent was much much bigger than him so he immediately returned home in a panic pursued by Benandonner who crossed the bridge looking for him.  To protect Finn his wife Oonagh laid a blanket over him and pretended he was actually Finn’s baby son.  When Benandonner saw the size of the baby, he assumed the father must be gigantic and he fled home in terror, ripping up the Causeway as he went in case he was followed by Finn.

It is an interesting fact that in Irish Finn McCool becomes Fionn mac Cumhaill the hunter-warrior of Irish mythology and the nineteenth century Irish revolutionary organisation known as the Fenian Brotherhood took its name from the inspiration of these legends.

The causeway was predictably busy this afternoon and we shared the site with several coach loads of visitors from Belfast and a car park full of tourists but this didn’t detract from the wonder of the place and we clambered over the rocks and admired the shifting colours and the changing patterns and shadows.

When we had tired of mountaineering we returned to the car park and Richard and Pauline went into the visitor centre while we went to nearby Bushmills for beer and wine at a mini-market and a stop off for a Guiness in a local hotel garden.  When we met again later Richard confirmed what we had feared, the centre was very disappointing and we were glad that we had avoided it and I recommend anyone visiting the causeway to do just the same.

We had a wonderful evening at the Smuggler’s Inn and next morning Richard and I rose early and returned to the causeway to get there before the crowds.  What an excellent decision this turned out to be.  We defiantly parked in the National Trust car park again and then enjoyed an hour on the rocks which at seven o’clock in the morning we had completely to ourselves.

I liked the Giant’s Causeway, it certainly goes into my personal top ten (which is getting rather overcrowded now) and I have to say that I think it deserved to come a bit higher in the Radio Times poll of top ten UK natural wonders.

Giants Causeway County Antrim

Northern Ireland, The Antrim Coast – Just Pictures

Antrim Coast Northern IrelandNorthern Ireland Antrim CoastWild Flowers Antrim Coast

Northern Ireland, The Antrim Coast

Northern Ireland Blue Flag

Because it is a long journey, our driver on the Political Tour, Lawrence, had suggested that we should go straight to Larne before starting the Antrim Coast road drive.  We took his advice even though this meant missing out Carrickfergus and the castle and the harbour where William of Orange landed in 1690 before going on to victory at the Battle of the Boyne, the location of the last witchcraft trial in Ireland in 1711,  and where the RMS Titanic anchored up for the last time before setting off on its fateful journey in 1912.

So we drove directly to Larne and then rather rudely used the by-pass and circumnavigated the town without stopping but this didn’t trouble us because we were heading for the coast.  Along this stretch of north east Ireland runs the A2 road which is said to be the longest stretch of principal highway in the UK which clings so closely to the sea and indeed to create this road the hills were blown up and demolished to provide the foundations.

Ireland A2 Road Trip

The road here clings like Velcro to the base of the cliffs and swings around the headlands and bays in extravagant sweeps and roller-coaster twists and turns.  To our left were the glens of County Antrim decorated with dainty wild flowers and rolling gently down to the coastline and to our right was the Irish Sea and just twenty miles or so away the coast of nearby Scotland.

The going was slow because we stopped several times to admire the beaches and the uninterrupted views and by mid morning we had only covered a few miles north when we stopped for coffee at the walled garden of Glenarm.  It was a charming place but there was no time to stop longer than a cappucchino and soon we were back on the road.

County Antrim is one of the staunchest Protestant and Loyalist parts of Northern Ireland and we were left in no doubt about that as we drove through villages where the kerb stones and the lampposts were painted red, white and blue and a Union flag flew above the front door of almost every house.  Until that is we came to Cushendun, a harbour village abandoned by the A2 road and which is a catholic enclave emblazoned with green, white and orange.

Northern Ireland Antrim Coast

We were in the far north east now and these stretches of the road regularly appear in top ten lists of drives in the UK.  It only ever really makes it to number two in a list of coastal drives in Ireland however, coming in behind the Dingle peninsular and having driven that only last year I have to say that I am inclined to agree with that judgement.  In my opinion It is better than the Ring of Kerry by some considerable way.   It isn’t exactly the Amalfi drive, nothing can hope to compare with the Amalfi drive but it is well worth making the effort to get behind the wheel of a car and experience this wonderful part of the British Isles.

Can anyone suggest a UK top ten drive?

Three quarters of the four hundred miles of Northern Ireland coast are protected areas and as we made the next section of the journey to Ballycastle it was easy to understand why.  The sun was shining today but it was still quite cool and I suppose that the unpredictable climate is a bonus here because if Northern Ireland had the climate of the Spanish Costas then it wouldn’t be long before they were covered in sun loungers and the shoreline would be overrun with pedalos and water sports.

By mid afternoon we reached the seaside town of Ballycastle and as the parking was free we pulled in and went to explore the beach and the harbour.  The seashore stretched some considerable way and we took a stroll along the dunes and back at the car we transferred some grains of sand from our shoes to the car floor and although we didn’t know it now this was likely to become a problem later…

Resisting the temptation of a pub stop and a Guinness we carried on now to our next destination, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge.

Carrick a Rede Rope Bridge Northern Ireland

The travel guides make this sound like a death defying challenge to cross a swaying rope bridge with only irregular wooden steps and rotting rope handles to separate you from certain death on the jagged rocks below followed by a swirling watery grave as the unpredictable currents carry your shattered and broken body out into the sea.

The truth is that this is not nearly so exciting as is made out and there is no Indiana Jones sort of danger whatsoever and visitors cross over the twenty metre bridge as though on a pedestrian crossing on any town centre High Street and make their way to the rather disappointing final destination on the walk.  It is as safe as being on a cycle path in the Netherlands, as safe as a bubble-wrapped Amazon parcel delivery!

Samuel Johnson is reported to have said the the Giant’s Causeway was worth seeing but not worth going to see and whilst I would take issue with him over that I think his assessment could easily be applied to Carrick-a-Rede!

If the bridge is a disappointment (especially having paid £6 each for the privilege) the coastal walks are not and the thirty minute walk there and back from the inevitable National Trust centre and souvenir shop provided splendid views along the rocky coast in both directions and today with the sun shining we could almost make out people waving to us from Scotland.

This part of the coastal drive was almost over now so back at the car we drove the final few miles towards the Giant’s Causeway and our hotel for the night, The Smuggler’s Inn.

Carrick a rede rope bridge Northern Ireland

Weekly Photo Challenge: Muse

Cacassonne City Walls

“It is said that the stones have a magnetism that draw people back time and time to the city. I’ve heard it’s to do with ley lines.  Carcassonne has the same legend.  At certain points across the earth the energy builds up and creates a pull, a pulse and in these places unusual and mystical things can happen”  Patrice Chaplin – ‘Albany Park’     

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Northern Ireland, Belfast Street Images

Belfast  Beacon Of Hope002Belfast Trade Union MuralBig Fish BelfastBelfast Cathedral Quarter