After negotiating our way out of the city we headed east and started our coastal drive at Magilligan point, a nothing sort of place really at the edge of an army practice firing range and close to a high security prison. We stopped for coffee and watched the ferry as it crossed Lake Foyle on its way to the Republic and visited a restored Martello Tower, built during the Napoleonic Wars as protection against invasion.
There wasn’t a great deal to detain as at Milligan Point so we began the one hundred and thirty mile road trip along the coastal scenic drive which clings to the coastline like velcro alongside a ribbon of continuous sandy beach.
Enjoying the sunshine we stopped frequently at the empty beaches stretching expansively both east and west to watch the Atlantic breakers raging in on a strong wind that tousled our hair and tugged at our coats, walked along the crisp firm sand and filled our willing lungs with salty sea air.
We left the coast briefly to visit the ruins of Downhill House, a stately mansion built in the late eighteenth century by Frederick 4th Earl of Bristol and Lord Bishop of Derry, an exceptionally wealthy man who imagined a classic mansion in a scenic location and lavishly filled with fabulous art and a well stocked library.
It didn’t turn out to be a very good spot and it suffered from salt corrosion, Atlantic storms and a major fire which did extensive damage in 1851. It was restored but during World War Two it was used as a billet for the RAF and the men living there had little regard for history or culture and left it in a desperate condition.
Sadly this is a familiar story about misbehaving troops in requisitioned big houses and country estates and many suffered the same fate. No need for the Luftwaffe to get involved. Apparently owners in general didn’t mind their properties being borrowed for schools or hospitals but dreaded the armed forces being moved in because this guaranteed damage and expense.
After the war the place was dismantled for its stone for alternative construction work nearby.
After Castlerock we were obliged to leave the coast and drive towards the town of Coleraine so that we were able to cross the inconvenient River Bann, at one hundred miles long the longest river in Northern Ireland and then back to the coast at Port Stewart which was surprisingly busy and we struggled to find a car parking space close to the town.
After a lunch time stop for refreshment we bypassed nearby Portrush and continued to follow the coast until we reached Dunluce Castle. The road is rather precarious at this point, it reminded me of the Amalfi Drive in Italy and we approached the castle along a twisting route that dropped dramatically down to the cliffs and showed it off to its best advantage.
Even though it was late afternoon and close to closing time it was still rather busy and the car park was full and there were a couple of tour buses out of Belfast disgorging their passengers. Dunluce Castle was used in the TV show ‘Game of Thrones‘ and for reasons that I don’t understand these filming locations attract thousands of visitors. On account of this it was rather overcrowded so with natural skinflint tendencies kicking in we declined the opportunity to take the internal tour of the ruins and satisfied ourselves instead with a wander around the exterior.
Actually I am not sure that the £5 entrance fee was really worth it because without doubt the best views were from the surrounding cliffs and that is what I always tell myself when I have been too mean to pay the admission fee.
From there to the small town of Bushmills and our overnight accommodation and after a good day things started to unravel. While Kim and Margaret settled into the accommodation, Mike and I were entrusted with finding somewhere to eat later. This proved more difficult than we had imagined and all that we could find was a hotel restaurant but not until half past nine. We booked it but I knew this would be too late and would meet with disapproval.
It was too late and it did meet with disapproval so we rang to cancel and walked out instead for a fish and chip supper. On the positive side, once forgiven we got to go to the pub.