Category Archives: Northern Ireland

A collection of travelogues from my trip to Northern Ireland, peppered with reviews and recommendations of accommodation, walking tours, restaurants and pubs.

Travelogue N. Ireland 2: Giant’s Causeway


13-15 March 2023

We arrived at the airport in Castletown, Isle of Man, with plenty of time to spare.

For a small airport, there were five gates servicing an impressive variety of destinations. Sadly, our flight to Belfast was delayed, so we hunkered down in the waiting room with a surprising number of other people also waiting, also with delays.

Our flight was a mere hop (about 100km according to Chris) and we had barely completed ascension when we began our descent into Belfast.

We collected our rental car, a spanky new Ford Focus (quite a step-up on our usual entry-level rentals – and twice the car for half the price compared to Isle of Man!) and headed to our first destination, Castle Carrickfergus. We hoped the detour would not be in vain since we were quite far behind schedule.

Driving into the dusk, the Irish countryside was a sight to behold. Puffy white clouds on the horizon with endless green fields rolling to meet them.

On arrival in Carrickfergus, we drove right up to the Castle and were able to take some very nice snaps from a few key aspects. Worth noting that it didn’t look like we would have been able to go inside even if we had arrived earlier.

On to our home for the night, Larne, which the Vikings had used as a safe harbour for their long boats as they returned home from raiding the rich monasteries up the Irish coast. They named it “Ulfreksfjord”, which is the origin of the town’s other name, “Olderfleet”, and we’re finally defeated In 1018 by a llocal King, Connor.

We had booked at the Harbour Inn, thinking that being a seaside town it would be where the action was. It was right on the harbour, but more of a working port than the waterfront we had imagined.

Nevermind, the only agenda for the evening was a fish ‘n chips dinner, and our hostess proactively recommended we visit the Olderfleet restaurant around the corner, known for their great seafood.

Happy to oblige the recommendation, we were soon seated at a cosy table right next to the fireplace to dry off and warm up from the short but wet walk between the B&B and the restaurant.

Our waitress told us that their establishment – a local legend apparently – was famed for its Chowder, so we compromised and ordered a large bowl of the creamy seafood goodness to share alongside a crunchy battered Cod on a bed of hand cut chips. Perfect fill for a chilly night!


With a vigourous day ahead of us, we decided to have a rest day on the running front. We awoke to an abnormally clear, blue-skies sunshiny day.

We filled our tanks with a sumptuous Full Irish breakfast (that included both potato bread and soda bread) and set out to do the walk along the promenade that our hostess had recommended.

The weather gods rewarded our good decision, and the Sun kept us company on our walk. Not that it provided any warmth, but it was a novelty for our commemorative pics as we did a quick lap of the promenade and got snaps of the memorials that were the noted landmarks along the waterfront.

Then it was off to Giant’s Causeway.

Timed just about perfectly, the sun disappeared as we were driving out of town. It started sleeting and minutes later the temperature had plummeted to zero degrees! Not so bad in our comfy car with the heater belting.

We stopped as planned in Ballycastle. We had not banked on more snow, so it was slow-going as we trudged up the hill on the signposted Historic Walking Trail. We did not get as far as the castle before deciding to turn back to resume our road trip.

True to form, by the time we were back at the car the snow had stopped and the Sun had come out. We satisfied ourselves with a photograph of the memorial in the Town Square to commemorate the moment with a shrug and a laugh, and got back in the car.

We then made our way to The Dark Hedges, a notorious and eerie film set from the TV series Games of Thrones. We realised we must be in quite a temperamental micro-climate, as we got out of the car in sunshine, walked a few hundred metres to the start of the hedges where it was snowing, got caught in a splash of rain as we trudged along the eerie avenue, to wash-rinse-repeat on the reverse journey. One can only put one’s hood up and roll with the punches.

On to Giant’s Causeway!

60 million years in the making, the Causeway was formed when Europe was starting to rip away from North America, in doing so creating huge rifts in the earth’s surface. These produced cracks and later erosion caused rivers to form, resulting in the distinctive hexagonal basalt stones.

If you believe in Science, that is.

Legend has it that an Irish giant named Finn McCool created the Causeway to get across the Irish Sea to face his rival, the Scottish giant Benandonner. Following their fearsome meeting, Benandonner ripped up the causeway as he fled back to Scotland, leaving behind the trail of hexagonal stones.

We kitted up and followed a group of people who looked like they knew where they were going. They had joined the Blue Trail, which led down to the water’s edge and the photo-friendly peninsula of hexagonal stones with backdrop of raging seas on 3 sides.

There were a lot of people posing for pictures and capturing the sight, but fortunately it was a GIANT’s causeway, so there was room for everyone to create spectacular photos that probably – like ours – looked like they were the only people there enjoying a desolate location.

Keen to see more of the coastline, we followed the Red route along the cliff face on the other side of the bay to get to the ‘Amphitheatre’. With the wind whipping around us, and the narrow and muddy trail, it was easy to understand when the trail came to an abrupt stop, with the thick wooden barriers citing caution of treacherous conditions including falling rocks.

Scaling back up to the top, we looked down on the trail and marvelled at the magnitude and magnificence of this natural wonder.

Looking behind us, the contrast of emerald green farmland and lazy sheep was just as breathtaking.

Our parking ticket had cost £10 on arrival but was redeemable at the Causeway Hotel for equivalent value. We traded our ticket for a pair of Rockshore pints and a caramel cheesecake, while our fingers and toes thawed out.

And then on to Bushmills, for our overnight stay.

Bushmills village dates from Norman times (1150–1520) and was originally known as Portcaman but as water powered industries developed from the 1600s, so did the village name. At one time there were seven mills working the river Bush and five distilleries.

With the discovery of the Giant’s Causeway by the wider world in the 1700s, Bushmills became the gateway for visitors, eager to see the mysterious grandeur. By the mid-1800 much of Bushmills had been re-developed and boasted at least three hotels, a busy livestock and produce market, a courthouse and a thriving distillery.

Today Bushmills is still regarded as the gateway to the Giant’s Causeway. With nearly 90 listed buildings, Bushmills is officially designated as a Conservation Village.

We had booked to stay at Finn McCool’s, a cosy B&B hosted above a local pub and easy walking distance to Old Bushmills Distillery.

Chris was so keen to get to the distillery, that we didn’t even unpack our bags, and shot straight up the road after parking the car at Finn’s.

Since Chris has already experienced the “how whiskey is made” tour before (and I’m not interested) we bypassed the usual organised events, and headed straight for the tasting room.

Chris ordered the single malt flight which comprised of three whiskeys, a 12-year-old reserve, a 16-year-old single malt and a 21-year-old single malt. Not a whiskey fan myself, I was delighted to be offered a whiskey-based cocktail called a Daisy that was mixed with all sorts of citrus and apple liqueurs, and barely tasted like whiskey at all!

Chris was enamoured with the 12-year-old reserve, and since it is only available for sale at the distillery, was compelled to order another to celebrate the experience. As an added bonus, when he ordered from the bar, the barman served the whiskey but said he was unable to charge for it since they had already cashed up.

Having immensely enjoyed our excursion, we supported the merchandise store by purchasing a T-shirt for Christian and a Hoodie for me. Another delightful bonus, Chris was told at checkout that his T-shirt was half price!

Chris was feeling quite heady as we retraced back to Finn McCool’s, checked in, and ordered a Pint of Guinness to settle into our new home. Interestingly, a pint of Guinness costs the same price as a pint of beer, which is quite unusual and quite a treat.

We enjoyed a lengthy chat with our host, who was generous with information about Bushmills, Northern Ireland, and the world in general, and was full of questions about our experience of life in South Africa. A regular glued to the bar weighed in periodically with an ‘aye’ or a ‘nay’ to nobody in particular.

By now it was nearly dinner time. Oddly, none of the pubs that we had been to in Northern Ireland so far served food. Our host did invite us to source takeaways from anywhere along the High Street and return to eat them in the pub.

Intent on taking him up on the offer, we exited onto the High Street to see what else was in town. We walked the length of the street and popped into Bushmills Inn to enjoy a beer in the glow of their fireplace.

With limited options on the short High Street, we decided to deviate from our traditional fish and chips to branch out to a Chinese meal (not something we do very often at home either), which we then took back to Finn’s and again enjoyed conversation with our host – with footie on the telly there was all-new conversation about the world of sports – and the regular who was still valiantly propping up the bar.


We were up early enough to get in a quick run before the (inevitably giant) Full Irish breakfast that was included in our room rate. We ran through town, down to aptly-named Runkerry Beach, around the golf course and back along the High Street.

Only when we returned and were waiting at the bar counter for a warm-up tea and coffee did our hostess think to mention that we could actually have run along the tramlines all the way to Giant’s Causeway, only 2 miles away. That would have been epic!

While we were showering and packing, our hostess prepared a feast for us. And while we worked through the table full of goodness that she’d served, she gave a few hints and tips about sightseeing in the area.

It was obviously still cold but there was an icy wind taking real-feel temperature below what we were prepared to bear to visit the Rope Bridge at Carrick-a-Rede. Our hostess told us that with £10 parking fee and £13.50 each to access and cross the bridge, if we weren’t going to make a meal of it then it was best to overshoot the landmark and take the next (free) parking entrance, where there was a pathway to look-out points from where you could see the Rope Bridge.

Great compromise and we did exactly that as we drove out of town.

Last stop on the Giant’s Causeway coastal route was Dunluce Castle, ruins positioned dramatically on a sheer cliff face between Giant’s Causeway and Port Rush.

Even though we’d learnt to be more or less waterproof by now, the light drizzle was still a factor in the cost:benefit of £6 each to wander around the castle ruins. Figuring we would never beat the private tour of Rushen Castle a few days earlier (Castletown, Isle of Man) we satisfied ourselves with the pretty-legit observation decks.

The info on the display boards revealed that while the area had been inhabited for more than 1500 years, the Castle had been finished in 1608 by the MacDonnells, with an entire little town of Scottish-settler subsistence farmers feeding it.

The area was invaded in 1680 and the town burnt to the ground, with the remnants of the Castle bookmarking the story.

Travelogue N. Ireland 4: Belfast


17-19 March 2023

With an extravagant multicourse breakfast on board from our hotel in Enniskillen, we hit the road for the final leg of our Northern Ireland road trip; the drive to Belfast.

With our sights set on attending the Saint Patrick’s Day parade in the Belfast city centre in the early afternoon, Chris put foot and we went straight to drop off the car.

So concluded our 316 mile road trip of Northern Ireland as we pulled into the car rental drop off in Belfast Airport.

With heavy luggage and no time to waste figuring out the buses and whatnot, we got a taxi to take us door-to-door to our B&B in Belfast. All of the taxi cars at Belfast Airport were fancy, so we were soon nestled in the back of a Mercedes-Benz feeling like first class passengers.

Our driver was chatty, telling us all about how wonderful Belfast is and how friendly the people are, and was quick with recommendations for all of the items on our To Do list.

He also revealed that the route we were taking into the city was part of the Ulster Grand Prix motorbike race circuit, and shared the hair-raising speeds that the motorbikes would be taking on the various twists and turns that we were cautiously taking in the comfort of our luxury vehicle.

Our B&B, Gregory by the Warren, was a converted Victorian mansion, delightfully decorated in muted, earthy tones that complimented the double volume and preserved the feels of the pressed ceilings, ornate cornices, embossed wallpaper et cetera.

Consulting Google Maps, we hit the road on foot and found quite a direct route into the city that was merely a mile from our digs.

The walk into town went past Belfast University and explained how the majority of pedestrians were of student age. In their hordes! I shivered at how scantily-clad a lot of the girls were; dressed up for St Paddy’s Day in lots of bright green (of what little clothing they were wearing). 

Getting into town, there were already long queues outside quite a few pubs. We were concerned, thinking we may have missed the full show and that we had only arrived in line with the after-party.

Fortunately this was not the case and, as we rounded the corner to where the City Hall was, we realised that it was the students that were pre-gaming, and found ourselves in more like-minded company on the High Street waiting for the parade to start.

Of course by now, being Ireland, it was raining.  Just a light drizzle though, so not enough to dampen (literally) the spirits of the patient onlookers.

The crowd cheered as the first float came into sight; a massive model horse, with a booming fella, riding high and cheerleading the crowds to welcome the parader. Hot on his heels was a giant Neverending Story-looking Dog float… and then another float… and then another…

The crowd cheered and whooped and clapped for the procession of floats, bands, dancers, drummers, stilt-walkers, hula-hoopers and participants of all shapes, sizes and ages. Lions International members formed part of the stream of paraders, each carrying a sign showing where in the world they were from. Anywhere and everywhere! A true indication of how cosmopolitan modern Belfast is.

I was keen to get out of the rain, and even keener to clock our first pint for the Guinness Index… on Saint Patrick’s Day… in actual Ireland! We indiscriminately entered the first pub with a Guinness sign and no queue outside. The former being simple but the latter a challenge on arguably the busiest day of the year in this city.

The Hercules was very busy inside, but the skilful bartenders, managing multiple customers at the same time, kept the drinks flowing. Most of the patrons were watching that Cheltenham festival (horseracing) and furtively glancing back and forth between their race betting stubs and the screen, hoping to have picked a winner. 

Noting that a pint of Guinness was “only“ £4.30, and seeing on the menu that they served the ever-elusive pub pie, we pencilled in a return visit for the following day.

With no particular plan in mind, we next found ourselves at The Crown Liquor Saloon, lured in by the historical façade. In operation since 1860, and with largely the original fittings, it was incredible to be in a living Museum, with its heavy oak bar, individual gated stall booths, and all the original wood, panelling and embossed wallpaper you would expect of a Victorian watering hole. It came in at a price though; a big jump to £5.55 for a pint!

Interlacing sightseeing with our mini pub crawl, we found ourselves back outside the pub that we passed on our way in that had the queue all the way around the corner. By now the pavement was even busier, with new people queueing and already-serviced young patrons purging their St Paddy’s indulgences. Unprompted, the doorman gestured us a silent invite as we passed by, cocking his head toward the entrance, offering for us to jump the queue; we couldn’t help but oblige. 

Lavery’s was prepared for their student patrons, and was serving the bustling barful drinks by the dozen in plastic cups. The TV screens were also showing the horseracing. It was receiving far less attention than in The Hercules, but a very very drunk student did press a “£1 off a pint” voucher into my hand saying that she was sharing her “wee winnings” with me. How nice.

Chris has already been served so we couldn’t use it. I paid it forward by giving it to a mousy and sober girl alone at the bar, who’d been waiting ages to be served, quite bewildered and very out of place. She beamed at the gesture. I wonder if she’s been served yet…

Between our intermittent sightseeing and nursing each of our drinks (paying in Pounds is no joke!) time was moving on and we needed to think about dinner.

Heading towards the Queen’s Quarter, we set our sights on The Parlour which had good reviews for food and atmosphere. Hardly surprising since it was nestled in between the university buildings.

We had a fabulous time for a couple of hours, starting with a £5.10 pint of Guinness, benefiting from the power of observation of the  (not-on-the-menu, absolute bargain £4) cheesy garlic pizza and even having a bolshy English student insist we try a Baby Guinness shot (Kahlua and Bailey’s), as his treat because he was (allegedly) half-Saffa (certainly not the tallest of the tales he’d told us).

As a last blast on the way home, we stuck our head in at the pub around the corner from our accommodation, Ryan’s. With the aromas of dinnertime still hanging in the air, the pub smelt great, and sounded even better with the traditional fiddler-dee band playing and the hum of people enjoying each other’s company (in a calmly fashion).

What a treat to be have experienced a genuine Irish St Paddy’s Day!


Thinking it a clear morning, we started with a jog around the neighbourhood to get our bearings. Typically, as we approached the farthest point of our pre-planned circuit, it started to rain so we had no choice but to grin and bear it on the return journey. 

By the time we were showered and dressed, it was dry again. But of course once we left home and headed into town on foot, it started raining again. Properly.

The first order of business was some necessary banking at Halifax. We arrived at the branch bedraggled and – speaking for myself – in no mood for the admin uphill that inevitably lay ahead.

The upside of the next hour is that it was warm and dry and there was free Wi-Fi in the branch. The downside is that being Halifax Bank, I once again achieved nothing.  The safest bank account in the world, since not even the account holder, try as they might, can access it. Talk about ‘forced savings’. Pffft.

Desperately in need of a mood-lifter, we made a beeline back to The Hercules for that ever-elusive pie. 

Thank heavens they were open and serving, had a table for us, and were sharp-sharp with bringing out the lightest, fluffiest Chicken and Ham (me) and Beef and Bushmills (Christian) pies. I had champ on the side, to be authentic. Mash with green onions. Yum!

In far better spirits and ready to tackle Belfast again, we set about with the order of the afternoon: explore the Titanic Quarter. Extensive signage along the quayside helped immensely with creating a self-guided walking tour.

According to a board, when Queen’s Quay opened in 1877, it provided much-needed berthing space for the numerous sailing colliers. This vast Port of Belfast was once the heart of the world’s largest shipbuilding industry, and it was from a nearby slipway that the ill-fated Titanic was launched in 1911, later to set out on her maiden voyage in 1912.

The sailing ships have long gone, but Queen’s Quay still plays a vital role as a portal into Titanic Quarter – the largest waterfront development (residential, commercial and entertainment) in Europe, at 185 acres with a mile of water frontage. 

There are many monuments and landmarks to visit along the river, not least of which a collection of bridges, the leaning clocktower (built on top of a river, eroded its foundations), a giant blue and white tiled fish, and of course the multi-million Pound Titanic Museum our taxi driver told could be an afternoon’s investment all on its own.

We paid a visit to Hill Street, popular to Belfast’s good-timers for centuries and we’re amused by the names of the pubs. The Thirsty Goat… The Dirty Onion… The Dark Horse. All in buildings aging from 1680 and up! 

In retrospect, I think we may have chosen poorly; it was only once we’d ordered and were seated that we realised that The Harp, based on wall-to-ceiling Bushmills paraphernalia, was a whiskey bar. No mind, it was nice anyway in our velvet wingback chairs in the window.

Well-rested, we took a walk ‘across the tracks’ to hunt down Falls Road to see the famous mural of Bobby Sands, an IRA volunteer who was jailed for a bombing of a clothing factory in Dunmurry and the ensuing gun battle with the police. 

Whilst in prison, Sands was elected as an MP, the youngest at the time. He succumbed to a 66 day hunger strike less than a year later, protesting against the removal of special privileges that  “political” prisoners had but ordinary criminals didn’t. He never took his seat in the House of Commons and a bill was passed preventing people who have served a term in prison from being voted into parliament, in order to prevent any of the other strikers from running to replace him.

We got more than we bargained for; well worth the almost 2km trek to see several murals and sombre tributes to the violent and turbulent times this city has seen, as well as those in other parts of the world like Gaza, Catalonia and our very own South Africa.

Chris was keen to catch some of the Ireland vs England game but we were quite intimidated at the bars in Fall Road which were Irish to the point of having no English signage. Rugby spectating being loud and rowdy by convention didn’t help to make us feel any more welcome as we tested the waters.

We were also reluctant to get drawn into another student fiasco so needed to pick our pub wisely.

We rationalised that downtown would be a dog show and we’d fare better in the ‘burbs. By now familiar with our surroundings, we cut through the Botanical Gardens thinking that the Botanic Inn sounded sedate.

Boy, were we wrong!

There was a fan park of sorts erected between the hotel and the Chicken Wings pop-up street-food restaurant next door and you could hear the roaring crowd from all the way down the street!

We slipped into Plan B and were pleased to find that the The Jeggy Nettle was, although festive and spirited, more age-appropriate.

Exhausted from almost 20km of on-foot mileage over the course of the day (!!) I asked a group of 4 at a table next to the door if we could perch on the end of their booth seat. They smiled and obliged, and we were grateful to squeeze in.

With a resounding victory for the Irish, the patrons were giddy when the game was over and the traditional band started seamlessly as the commentators started their post-match autopsy.

A band of 4, the young lads fiddled and fluted and squeezed on the accordion like life depended on it. An inspired rendition of Fields of Athenry raised a chorus from the customers (including us) and I swear there would have been jigging happening if there was an inch to spare on the heavy-wood ancient floorboards!

With little wind left in our sails, we opted for a quick n easy takeout (but eat-in) type meal. We simply had to go to the Thai-Tanic to fit the theme of the day! 


Hard to believe it was home time already!

We had sights set on a walking tour at 11am (a bit backwards ending off with it, but so be it) and a quick roast lunch before needing to be at the bus station for our 15h30 departure for Dublin International Airport to fly home.

We were at City Hall spot on 11am to meet the guide with the yellow umbrella. He started his patter with the usual go-round of who is from where. When we offered “South Africa”, he shared that our Durban City Hall was built off the same plan as the magnificent Belfast City Hall! I don’t recall ours being as grand, but will have to refresh my memory when next I’m in Durbs.

Our guide was a wealth of knowledge, threading the story of Belfast through the ages from a political, religious and economic perspective as he pointed out places of interest to illustrate the story. As someone who had lived through the latter half of the twentieth century in this troubled city, he spoken sincerely, passionately and often poignantly, padding the sometimes sterile timeline of events with his personal experiences. 

He repeated what we’d learnt in Derry about the Plantation of 1609 and was emphatic that those early days of banning Irish and Catholicism were the seeds of the Troubles, seen centuries before and festering through the ages, with Rebellion through the 1700s to remove the British rule.

He spoke of the devastating potato famine of 1845-1852 and how the Irish people not only received no aid from the UK, but how the British actually exported food from Ireland under armed guard. Some 1.5 million people starved to death and a further estimated 3 million left the country. Apparently 15 US presidents have claimed proudly to be from this Irish stock (including Joe Biden), so who know what a powerhouse Ireland could have been without that brain-drain (sound familiar, South Africa??)

Ireland picked itself up and dusted itself off and by 1880 had a thriving Economy and was an industrial powerhouse for linen, whiskey and its shipyard. The graphic illustrations around the quayside had shown an elegant society with beautiful buildings and horse-drawn carriages, which must have been this heyday.

It was in these grand times that the City Hall was finished (1888), and no expense was spared in the magnificent fittings and fixtures inside. The building is open and free to access, which is also pretty remarkable.

The gardens contain a 30 metre plinth tribute to the Titanic. 

The story as told to us is that Thomas Andrews announced he would build the biggest, fastest, most luxurious, most expensive and ‘unsinkable’ ship. The Titanic was then built by experts with the finest materials. The downfall was wanting to be the the fastest crossing to the US; Titanic was warned by other boats about icebergs, but kept going. The rest is history and almost 2000 people perished.

Our guide’s perspective was that the ship was perfect when it left Belfast and that the proof was in the arrogant and negligent navigational pudding. Nonetheless, the disaster hit Belfast’s ship-building reputation. 

The beautiful design of the Victorian City Hall sparked further discussion on the architecture downtown.

Sadly, Belfast very heavily bombed in World War II over 3 nights in April 1941 because of their well-known contribution to ship and air building for the English. Between the World War and the raging IRA bombings – multiple daily, according to the guide’s personal recollection – many great buildings were destroyed and replaced with functional and boring successors. This explains the eclectic mix of architecture in the inner city. 

Fortunately, buildings of historical value are listed and protected. One such being the majestic The Crown pub that we’d happened upon the previous day. 

Originally called The Railway Inn (because it was opposite old railway), the owner negotiated with a group of skilled Italian artisans who were in the city decorating a church to facelift his bar at night and on weekends. They obliged, hence the ornate work and the rename to the more regal and befitting The Crown.

It sits opposite the Europa Hotel which has the dubious honour of being the most bombed building in Dublin. A victim of poor timing, the hotel was opened at the start of the Troubles. The terrorism caused tourism to tank so the hotel was largely populated with press coming to cover the unrest. The IRA bombed it 33 times.

The IRA no longer exists but Shin Fein is now the leading party. According to a census two years ago, Northern Ireland is now majority Catholic, so could be headed for their first Catholic Prime Minister. And with all the contention around Brexit and having to get special dispensation because having EU borders between Northern Ireland and the Republic breaks the Good Friday Agreement… Watch this space indeed!

The tour ended at the Salmon of Knowledge (the Big Fish we’d seen the previous day) on the banks of the River Lagan, which flows through Belfast and into the Irish Sea. 

On the far side is the Titanic Quarter, with the museum and the minor ship building activities, mostly fitting luxury cruise ships. The addition of the residences, business and light industrial bits make it the biggest waterfront development in the world.

The Big Fish was erected to celebrate the return of salmon to the River of Lagan in 1999 for the first time in 200 years, with pollution having previously driven them away. A bridge had been installed to clean the the river by raising the level of the water and keeping it fast-moving. It not only brought back the fish, but also removed the smell, the eradication of which had stimulated development and tourism in the area. 

The Big Fish is filled with time capsules about life in Belfast in 1999 and with instruction not to open them for 100 years.

Who knows what the contributors chose to preserve. They would have been fresh off the end of the Conflict, in the Good Friday Agreement in Easter 1998. The militarised  borders and checkpoints would just have been removed. Tony Blair had just apologised in parliament for the treatment of the Irish people in the famine. They would no doubt speak of a city divided by religion, with peace walls gated at either end, locked every night at 7pm. (Still in place and locked nightly, and if placed end to end, stretch 21km). They would not yet have seen the population finally reach 7 million, as it is today, only now reaching the same as 1840s! And couldn’t predict that 3/4 of the population lives in the 200 mile strip between Belfast and Dublin! 

The parting shot was some advice on pubs and restaurants. Our guide said that one of downtown Belfast’s novel features is that pubs are required to be in back lanes so families can go about their business in the high streets undisturbed. 

We were delighted to already have visited some of his recommendations and – I couldn’t help it – asked for the cheapest pint in Belfast so we could pay a quick visit and add it to the Index.

That’s how we ended up having our last pint in Belfast as Wetherspoons, for £3.75.

It was a very quick one because we still had a roast lunch to squeeze in.

We got to Maggie May’s at 13h40, just 10 minutes off schedule. We were greeted and seated in the 9-table parlour room of this beautifully preserved Victorian house and served a steaming hot plate of roast beef, with mash and roast taties, carrots and parsnips, drenched in thick brown gravy.

And they lived happily ever after.

The end.

Travelogue N. Ireland 3: Derry & Enniskillen


15 March 2023

Driving in from Bushmills and with only one night in Derry, we prioritised convenience and location for our choice of hotel. The City Hotel, on the banks of the River Foyle and with its view of the Peace Bridge, was perfect for our purposes.

Arriving around lunchtime, our room wasn’t ready yet, which was no problem as we had to speed off to our walking tour anyway. We dashed across town, and met our tour guide, Pat, a few minutes into his intro speech. 

He was telling the group that the name Derry derives from the old Irish word for Oak Grove, and that the original Oak Grove and its settlements were all located on a small hill, which was formerly an island in the River Foyle.

Turns out that he was responding to a common question “is the town called Derry or Londonderry?”; a short question with a long and complicated answer.

From 1541, when Henry VIII became King of Ireland, the English crown steadily sought to assert its control over Ireland.

From the 1550s, areas in the south and west of Ireland were planted with English settlers in the hope of establishing colonies and ‘taming Ireland’s most unruly provinces’.

This ‘plantation’ – newly planted citizens who were given land that often saw Irish farmers losing the land that they’d been working – had changed Ulster (the province that houses the 6 counties that make up Northern Ireland as we know it) beyond recognition.

In the space of a generation they had seen their social order crumble, their culture decline, their religion come under attack, and the landscape radically altered. Although 30,000 British planters had come to Ulster, they had not not been successful in displacing the native Irish in converting them to Anglicanism. 

Part of the Plantation budget was used to secure the town, which had now been renamed from Derry to Londonderry. Construction of the city’s walls began in 1613 and was completed in 1619 at a cost of £11,700. This was a mammoth sum back then!

The walls were designed to cope with recent advances in warfare, particularly the introduction of artillery. Ten metres wide, they consisted of an eight metre thick earthen rampart built with soil, dug from an encircling ditch, and clad with another 2m deep stone face. This meant that even if the outer wall was hit with cannon fire, the compacted earth still provided solid defence AND there was still the second inner stone wall to deal with even if there was time to wreck the outer wall and tunnel the earthen filling. Proper solid!

The walls contain four gates with rectangular towers rising above the city walls. The city within was laid out in a grid pattern at the centre of which was an open air diamond shaped meeting area (what would be the town square, in essence).

The walls were in astoundingly good condition for having stood for more than 400 years and the only adjustment that has been made in modern times, is to lay tarmac on top of the compacted dirt so that the wide walkway is no longer muddy and is more convenient for everyone to enjoy. We had been walking slowly along the wall from one Gate to another as Pat pointed out things of interest and historical significance.

The bulk of the story tells of the endless wrangles between the Protestants and Catholics. The second half of the 1600s was one of the bloodiest eras in Irish history, including the 105 day siege of 1689, where the Protestants closed the city doors, not only leaving the Catholics on the outside of the wall, but also having to wait them out without starving.

Similar standoffs continued to rage right until The Troubles in the late 20th century. There are still living relics, reminding us how recently this struggle happened in Derry. There are still high metal nets dotted along the walls, designed to protect some of the historically significant buildings that were the regular target of petrol bombing from other factions.

Concluding the tour, we went into the Guildhall, which is a free-access exhibition that tells the history of the town of Londonderry, with fun interactives. It also displays John Hume’s awards; the only person to have received the Nobel, Martin Luther and Gandhi peace prizes for his role in orchestrating the peace treaty.

Christian is particularly good at pinning on a mental map, so we then went to fill in the gaps of things he’d seen on the tour that warranted a closer look. Quite easily navigating the city, using the city wall as our guide, we found the mural of the Derry Girls from the popular TV show of the same name that we enjoyed immensely. 

On a more sombre note, we went to pay homage to the site of the Bloody Sunday massacre, with the memorial that now commemorates the landmark. According to Pat, it took years and years to formally evaluate what had happened that day, and it was finally found that the police had overreacted, and the bloodshed was avoidable. Short of the acknowledgement, no further action has been taken; sounds very familiar in light of how similar things are handled back home in South Africa.

By now on the hunt for dinner, we thought the evening’s arrangement would be an easy one since the oldest pub in Derry, which we had spotted on our way to meet the tour, had Chicken and Ham Pie on the menu, which were another box on the To Do list.

Of course, nothing is ever simple. We arrived at the restaurant, had a Guinness and found that we still had another 40 minute wait to get a table because there were two events happening in this venue. Unable to even order until we had secured a table, we would have been eating well after nine, which would not do.

We slipped into Plan B, which was a Dinner for Two set menu offer at our hotel restaurant with two 2 course meals and a bottle of wine for £50. We were unlikely to do much better. 

The hotel did us proud and the French onion soup and crispy bread was served quick and hot; appreciated after an afternoon of walking around in the rain. A roast dinner to follow washed down with an Italian merlot was just a bonus.


It seems that the best Irish weather is first thing in the morning.
Filling our boots from the hotel buffet, we checked out, but left the car in the parking lot as we went out to make the most of the sunshine. We took a walk across the Peace Bridge and a loop around the outer city wall, through the ‘West Bank Loyalists’ Protestant enclave with its red-white-and-blue painted enclave… at which time it started to rain, which was our cue to hit the road.

Today’s drive would see us covering 70 miles to see what the South West of Northern Ireland had to offer.

Enniskillen is a Fermanagh House county town 400 years in the making, founded by a charter of King James I in 1612, and grown as a plantation town under the guidance of Captain William Cole.
The name Enniskillen comes from the Irish ‘inis’ meaning island and ‘Cethlenn’ which is believed to be Kathleen (Queen of the Formorians) who, after being wounded in battle, took refuge on the island and died.

The island, chosen as a strategic site, was formally a McGuire stronghold, one of the medieval chieftains of Fermanagh. It is the only island town in Ireland. As well as houses in public buildings, there were wooden bridges, built at the east and west into of the island. These bridges have, of course, long since been replaced with modern concrete versions. The main street of Enniskillen runs the full length of the island, from one bridge to the other. We managed to keep ourselves entertained for the full afternoon on the small section of island.

We made a visit to Enniskillen Castle, which sits on the banks of the river just before the far bridge. Signboards outside the castle speak of how the Meadows make for a great meeting place to enjoy the day going by, assuming there is ever a day when it doesn’t rain.

We enjoyed a slow stroll along the length of the High Street, window shopping and reviewing the menus displayed in the many pubs and restaurants, looking for the ever-elusive pie.

The rain picked up a bit so we were forced to seek refuge in the Horseshoe & Saddlers pub to have a pint in a window table from where we could people-watch.

Being such a small town, we’d already ticked off all the landmarks so when the rain abated we returned to our hotel for some downtime. We’d booked in the motel section of the Enniskillen Hotel, so had 4 star amenities at our disposal for a 3 star price tag!

Having had a lighten than usual day, our massive breakfast lasted longer than usual and when dinnertime rolled around, it was more of a precaution than a requirement.

We decided to wander into town to see what grabbed us, starting with a pint of Guinness at the landmark Victorian pub, Blake’s of the Hollow.

Still not madly hungry, we were drawn to the more modern Firehouse to share a ridiculously good pulled pork and caramelised onion pizza.

Travelogue N.Ireland 1: Isle of Man


9-13 March 2023

Having spent the better part of a week with the family in Waterford, it was an easy connect to hop to Isle of Man for a weekend.

Christian had flown into Dublin Airport to join me and the family had graciously offered to drive me to Dublin, so we left Waterford at 10am in order to synchronise the meet-up (including a quick stop-in for a brunch snack at the heavenly Avoca Café en route.

It was bittersweet; sad to leave the family behind but pleased to see Chris again and to be embarking on a new adventure.

Despite well-oiled logistics seeing our plan executed perfectly, we were delayed in Dublin by our plane arriving late. 

Surprisingly, even though we only landed in Isle of Man just before 6pm, it was not yet sunset and we were able to get our rental car sorted and hit the road while it was still light.

We had booked to stay in the capital, Douglas, for 3 nights. Since the island is so small, it was easier to unpack and make one hotel our homebase and then explore the length and breadth as satellite trips.

Having downloaded offline Google Maps, we found our accommodation very easily. Arrandale House, a modest and well-priced hotel in the city centre opposite Hutchinson Square park, had easy access to the promenade, shopping streets, as well as the main artery road that would link us to the other towns.

There was snow everywhere, so we kitted up before heading out to explore our new surrounds. Hats, scarves, gloves, jackets… not the usual seaside outfit!

Down to the Promenade which, even in the dim evening light, looked impressive with its long crescent of Victorian facades lining the land side of the blue orb of the natural bay.

It was that witching hour of the evening when you get the best mix of people doing their thing in public places. While there were still some people jogging and cycling (in this weather, gasp!), there were others who had already had a ‘long day’ and were (hopefully) headed home, and others (like us – heading in, bearing in mind this was Friday night and a seaside holiday destination) on a mission to get fed and/or watered.

We walked from one end to the other to get our bearings and earmark things we wanted to see in the light of day, and then headed to the top-rated chippie for a fresh ‘n delicious seafood feast of bacon and garlic scallops to start, with crunchy battered flaky cod and salted vinegary chips as the main event to warm the cockles.

It had been a long day of travels – especially for Chris – and we had Netflix in our hotel room, so we opted for a movie night in so we would be fresh and ready to road trip the next day.


One of our criteria for accommodation was an inclusive breakfast package. Being largely stomach-driven, it adds immeasurable admin to have to source breakfast before the day can even start.

The Arrandale did us particularly proud with cereals, yoghurts, fruits and juices self-serve while the hot breakfast you choose off the laminated menu on the table is prepared. A hot bevvie of choice is also served almost immediately. Rare but appreciated, hot chocolate was an option… and served as a whole pot, which is usually a decadence reserved for tea!

With a full day ahead, the Full English was the only smart option. We’d barely had time to neck our starters and first cup of coffee/chocolate (respectively) when the plate of fried deliciousness was served to us.

Ready to take on the world, we packed all our warm gear into the rental car and hit the road, headed north.

Although Chris had prepared me with the knowledge that Isle of Man is 32 miles from north to south and 12 miles across at its widest point, I still had “road trip” in my head, so boy was I surprised when we got to our first stop, Onchan, in six minutes. 

It was so sudden that we didn’t even stop. It really felt like an extension – a suburb – of Douglas, so unlikely to produce any new adventure.

Soldiering on, at a leisurely 40 mph, we were still in the next stop, Laxey, in 20 minutes. 

We parked the car close to the primary landmark: the Great Laxey Wheel. 

Built in 1854 to pump water from the Great Laxey Mine complex, the ‘Lady Isabella’ (as it was fondly dubbed, after the wife of the Governor who commissioned it) is a feat of Victorian engineering. It was constructed as a power source; while the rest of the world was moving to steam power, Isle of Man had no coal so decided to use the abundance of running water as a hydro power source rather than being reliant on importing coal. It is still the largest working water wheel in the world today.

We returned to the car via Ham and Egg Terrace, so-named because the enterprising ladies who lived in this row of terrace houses – the longest under a single roof on all the island back then – served tea and refreshments to the stream of tourists who flooded in from the UK to have their holidays on Isle of Man and came to see Lady Isabella. One of these tea rooms still exists; Brown’s, established in 1906.

Having walked Laxey from end to end, and with nothing open even though it was midday on a Saturday, it was time to move on.

Again a short hop, Ramsey looked a lot more lively. We took a walk along the quayside and what looked like it must be an important bridge at the harbour, when the wind picked up and cut through us with its iciness.

With a sign outside The Commercial Hotel promising Guinness at £4.20 a pint, a short stint in front of the fireplace (and a logging on our Guinness Index) was exactly what the day needed.

The pub was already quite busy, so we occupied ourselves with eavesdropping the colourful conversation being passed between the bar lady and the (clearly regular) patrons that covered all sorts of things ranging from politics to very domestic situationships!

Plucking up the courage to resume our tour, we returned to the car and continued the journey to the north, to Point of Ayre, with its famed lighthouse called ‘The Winkie’.

It was so cold and windy that we did little more than nip out of the car, take some snaps and jump back into the car like we’d escaped an ice age!

It was very rewarding sightseeing, thanks for the super-short travel distances and easy access to points of interest so we felt the levels of achievement for the day warranted an early return to Homebase.

We got back to Douglas just in time. The rain had started to set in and the temperature had plummeted. Since our hotel room had Netflix, we took a couple of hours out to relax and hole in from the inclement weather outside.

Being Saturday night in Douglas, we needed to at least put some effort into trying one or two of the acclaimed pubs on the promenade.

It was a bit hit-and-miss, as we realised there were some pivotal sporting events that had the more popular bars full to bursting. Never shy of an Irish pub, we settled in O’Donnells in the shopping street for a pint while we planned next steps.

Following online recommendations, we tried the Thirsty Pigeon next, where a local called Finney adopted us, having seen my curiosity at the open entertainment section that he had discarded on the communal bar counter in front of him. 

I showed interest in the crossword blockbuster and asked the waitress for a pen; he introduced himself and joined in the game. We spent a couple of hours talking to him about the island while we populated the brainteaser games in the newspaper together. 

It was very definitely past our dinner time and Chris was highly motivated for an Indian meal so we headed back in the direction of home to hit up the curry den we’d earmarked on our way out.

Almost as if Finney had conjured the weather to illustrate the story he’d shared of Life on the Island, it was blowing a gale of cold air from the sea, exacerbating the light rain. Like a novice, I had our holi-brolly out, thinking it would combat the elements. On the contrary, the wind kept catching it and concaving it so forcibly and repeatedly that the poor thing didn’t stand a chance; the spokes buckled and it was soon sent to an undignified final resting place, rammed into Her Majesty’s bin.

A couple a few steps behind us chuckled good-nature fly as they witnessed my surrender. Clearly locals who knew better than to even bother. Tightening my hood and shoving my gloved hands deeper into my pockets, I joined the ranks of Grin and Bear It.

We arrived at a warm and dry Flavours restaurant ready to commit. Unfortunately they were not. “Fully booked”, they said.


Not skipping a beat, we went around the corner to Taste of Bengal. Also fully booked. We should have thought to reserve ahead as soon as we noted the drunken Stag parties and very very drunken Hen do at the Pigeon.

Sticking to theme, we resorted to a kebab instead, having passed one that smelled particularly alluring on our curry-hunt.

Quick, fresh and tasty, we were not disappointed! 


Mixing things up a bit, I had the kippers – an Isle of Man speciality – for breakfast. Served in place of the sausage and bacon on an otherwise Full English plate, it was a bet well-placed. Yum!

The quest for the day involved crossing the island to Peel, on the West Coast. What may sound like a massive undertaking was in actuality only a 17km journey.

We were soon parked in the Old Market and picking a direction to explore. Drawn by the Castle, we headed quayside. 

On closer inspection, the castle was not open for access so we made do with a walk around the castle wall and imagining what had gone on inside.

We then took a turn through the Cathedral gardens. With the building boasting having occupied its position since the 4th Century, the gardens had been cleverly crafted into a timeline of exhibits of relics commemorating the bishops who had made their mark on it over time. 

Making use of the good weather, we added Port Erin onto our itinerary for the day. Although our origin and destination were both coastal, Google Maps took us on an inland route.

Despite not having fresh snowfall for days, the exposed hilltops combined with the icy winds had preserved the snow and made for a white-knuckle drive over the (fortunately) short distance.

Christian was forced to steer the little rental Noddy car to where mightier vehicles had forged tyre trails, and periodically give way to motorists from the other direction. Fortunately, the drivers in Isle of Man seem to be very unhurried and polite so it wasn’t difficult to negotiate oncoming traffic.

Arriving in Port Erin, we parked the car and struggled to find something to do. Town was shut tight for the weekend, so we did a bit of window shopping along the main street, and then walked along the quay side to the building at the end, which we hoped would be something interesting. It was not.

On the return journey, we did a stop-in at Bushy’s in the Bay Hotel to warm up, and have a swift pint. With the blazing fire, and a good playlist, it made for a very relaxing ‘excursion’.

On the way back to the car, we were horrified to see that there were people swimming in the sea.  Clearly not all locals were that crazy though, since there were friends and onlookers on the beach, dressed pretty much the same as we were with jackets, scarves, hats, gloves… Exactly what you would expect under these conditions. 

As now-seasoned tourists, we cleverly checked the curry house times upfront. We planned our evening around it so as not to be caught short again. 

We had a last few things to see in Douglas, so dropped off the car and hoofed along the promenade to the old town.

Masterfully ticking off the end of the To Do list, we were at Taste of Bengal in time to be their first table for the evening… We smugly worked our way through multiple courses with our bottle of red (from the dingy Off Licence downstairs) as the tables filled up around us. Fool me once, indeed! 


We awoke to sunshine on our last morning. Well, sort of sunshine. It was bright and not raining.

… Until we were half way through our run on the promenade!

Fortunately we were dressed for it so didn’t get too drenched. And nothing that a hot shower, a pot of hot chocolate and a full English breakfast couldn’t cure.

Ahead of schedule, we enjoyed a leisurely drive down to Castletown. We had a couple of hours to wander around before getting to the airport for our flight to Belfast.

With no particular agenda, we made our way to the main attraction, Castle Rushen, first. The large wooden entrance door was shut tight.

While we were reading the information board and reviewing the open times, the door opened and a man appeared. He told us we were early for opening. And not just a few minutes; the castle was only opening for viewing for the season from 1 April. We were weeks too early!

Seeing our disappointment, he told us he had some business to attend to but to come back in half an hour and he would then let us in to have a quick look. 

It was easy to wile the time away, doing a quick circuit around the old town and reading the monument boards on the various historical landmarks.

We learnt that Castletown was once the ancient capital of the Isle of Man and the House of Keys across the road from the Castle was home to the Manx parliament between the years 1821 to 1874. It was at the centre of 19th-century political life and has been restored to its former appearance of 1866, a milestone in Manx history because the self-elected house took its first steps along the road to modern democracy by becoming a popularly elected Body, in essence forming the first parliament in the world.

Returning to the Castle at 11:30, the door was again shut tight. We pressed the bell, and another man greeted us at the door. He introduced himself as the Pest Control Guy and inviting us in. He directed us to our original host, who was in his office.

We were treated to a full hour of private tour into every nook and cranny of the castle, with commentary along the way as to how the castle had grown and provided service for more than a millennium.

Our host guided us through a couple of dining rooms, decorated to illustrate the very different eras that had enjoyed the space. We saw the Lord’s Chambers, the vault, the banquet hall, and got to see spectacular views from the castle battlements, right at the top of the building, with clear view as far as the eye could see in every direction.

Our host narrated the tour throughout, complimenting the living history exhibits with information about modern Manx, the people, the language, the economy and even his experience of the most recent plight, the Covid pandemic.

Thanking him profusely for his time and being so accommodating, we tackled the final strait to the airport to conclude our weekend.

We had seen and done everything on our list – and a few things that weren’t – and still only done 108km in total!