Friday, June 24–Belfast to Derry

Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge & Sheep Island; Causeway Coast; Giant's Causeway; Bushmills town & distillery gift shop; walking the walls; dinner and a pint at the hotel

Maldron Hotel

Black VW Passat sedan



I discuss politics or religion with very few people. Even so, it's been kind of refreshing to no longer hear all the commentary about the US's Presidential election season which seems like it's been going on since last year. Whoever runs, it will probably be a historically significant election, like the one here in Great Britain yesterday where it was decided to leave the European Union although no one seems to know quite how that will work out.

I had asked for a car with Bluetooth because I had hoped to be able to listen to music and programs on my iPhone but although I was able to sync it with the car's stereo so I can make calls I can't figure out how to use it to listen to my own stuff, so I listen to the radio instead.

I was kind of worried last night how I would feel today. I woke up about 1:30 or 2 AM and had to go to the bathroom again but that was that and I was able to go back to sleep again until about 8:00 AM.

I skipped breakfast in the hotel this morning but had my last Slimfast instead. I took two trips with my stuff over to put it in my car in the pay lot across the street and went back to reception to check out and get a note for the cashier in the lot to comp my parking. That lot was pretty scary but only in the sense that the lanes were very narrow and it was difficult to get into the exit lanes correctly.

The weather today was the nicest it's been since I've been here–partly cloudy with the occasional sun break. When the sun was out and the wind was not blowing it was almost warm enough to take my sweatshirt off but since I was often where it was breezy I just kept it on all day. I started out wearing my best rain hat just in case but by the time I got to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge it was partly sunny so I switched to a ball cap that I could tighten for a better fit in case of wind.

For the first 45 minutes between Belfast & Carrick-a-Rede, I actually drove on real, honest to God, US-style highways & freeways, the M2 & M4. After that, however, it was over hills and mountains and through the country on two-lane roads again but rarely on ones that were only theoretically two-lane. As usual I drove through some stunning and lovely countryside and pretty towns on the way from Belfast to and along the Causeway Coast to here.

The path from the parking lot & ticket center at the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge to the bridge itself is about .7 miles along occasionally steep terrain and some steep hills. From the entrance to the bridge and up and over the hills on the island is probably another quarter of a mile over even rougher terrain which was occasionally problematic and troublesome for me since I'm kind of crappy when it comes to hills, stairs, and uneven terrain anyway. At least the weather was very good for this kind of adventure, and the scenery was wonderful all along.

The bridge itself is rather intimidating and sways and bounces even in very little breeze, but I found crossing it each time easier than going up/down the steep stairs where they take your ticket and let you go across or wandering around the small island. The Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge is a surprisingly popular attraction–I saw and was passed by several dozens of people while I was going down to the bridge and back up, which was a lot of people in just the relatively short time I was there.

The Garmin satnav did a good job getting me from Belfast to the bridge, but once there I turned it off until I got to Bushmills. The Causeway Coast is very well signed, so getting from the bridge to the Causeway was very easy. I took a couple of short side trips along the way, stopping in at the lovely small seaside town of Ballintoy and for a view of the very pretty beach at Whitepark.

I got to the Causeway around 1 and was of course ready for lunch by this point. I rather liked the new large visitors centre that was new since I was there in 2006 (2012, I think one of the staff there told me). I had a pretty good Irish stew with some wonderful brown bread then set out to walk down to the Causeway itself. As I was leaving the visitors centre, the staff member checking tickets had a name tag that said his name was Etienne, so I said "Bonjour, Etienne, je m'appelle Stephen" (he was still on duty when I got back up so I said "Au revoir, Etienne" then).

It's a long, hilly but not steep well-maintained road from the visitors center down to the shore, with a good sidewalk along one side. Most people walked along the road itself, which is pretty safe if you keep an eye out for the shuttle bus that runs between the top and the bottom every few minutes. I found it kind of interesting that since the shuttle isn't actually run by the National Trust but by the local bus company they can charge 1 GBP each way which is definitely worth it coming back up, which is what I did ten years ago and today.

From the Causeway I drove into Bushmills, stopping off at a small free public car park sort of in the center of town to wander around a bit and take some pictures before going on to the old Bushmills distillery. I skipped the tour of the distillery since the process is basically the same at any distillery–what varies the most is the number of times the product is distilled before the final desired end–but I did go to the gift & whisky store where I bought a couple of items including some chocolate made with Bushmills, a shot glass, a mug, and a bottle of Bushmills honey whisky which is pretty drinkable in a cup of tea.

The route from Bushmills to Derry and my hotel was pretty easy to follow, since at every roundabout all I had to do was take the exit for the Causeway Coastal Route. Every time I use the Garmin sat nav I notice that although it's always correct which exit I'm supposed to take it's often wrong what the street I'm supposed to turn onto is actually called.

Driving through many of the towns today, and here in Derry, was just as bad as in Belfast yesterday. Driving along narrow streets which are barely two lanes wide to begin with becomes slightly terrifying when there are people parked along and often on the sidewalks on both sides and, as I said earlier, on either side of the road facing whichever way the vehicle was originally traveling.

The Maldron hotel is right alongside a small, narrow road that runs along the inside part of the wall. I drove around the block looking for the small, scarily narrow entrance to the hotel's also small, scarily underground parking lot. The first time I went in, I couldn't find a space I would feel comfortable parking the car in and had a hard time backing back out until I was where I could exit the lot and drive around again until I got back to the entrance to the lot. This was also rather difficult since there was a van parked along the street blocking the way. I was kind of scared trying to back up until I could back in somewhere and turn the car around and would probably have been still there if a nice woman whose car was one of the ones parked along the road hadn't guided me backwards and into an alleyway where I could change directions back up to the lot. Once again, I found it almost impossible to find a place to park but settled for what looked slightly more like a parking space than a traffic lane. I took the elevator upstairs to the reception desk on the ground floor where one of the women on duty said my car would probably be alright if it wasn't blocking anyone in or the single traffic lane, and it wasn't. She also suggested checking tomorrow morning and seeing if I could move my car into a better space, which I think I'll do,.

My room is up on the 2nd floor and I think is facing an interior courtyard so there's no view at all but it's actually rather spacious and has a very nice, large desk and a shower in a bathtub and bathroom that has plenty of space to put things. I took a couple of trips in the elevator to bring my stuff up.

I then went back out for a walk along the entire length of Derry's city walls, starting at the entrance nearest my hotel. I have to say that I didn't remember the walls being so hilly themselves and having so many stairs, since they follow the terrain of the hills around the town center.

When I got back to where I had went up on the walls near my hotel, I was pretty tired of walking around and decided to have dinner and a pint in the restaurant here in the hotel, which is where I will have my included breakfast tomorrow and the day after. The food and beer were pretty good, but service was a lot slower than it should have been especially considering how many wait staff were working compared with how relatively few customers there were. I asked to bill the tab to my room and left the restaurant part, and decided I'd see what the lounge part was like. That, too, is quite nice and was much busier than the restaurant was. There were two musicians, a guitarist and a singer who also played the penny whistle, and they were very good. I sat at a small table near the door, which was a good thing because the waiter whom I'd told I wanted to bill my dinner to my room tracked me down because the woman who checked me in at reception had forgotten to get a credit card for incidentals, such as dinner or drinks here in the hotel or the laundry service I plan on using tomorrow. (I have more than enough clothes to last two weeks if I have to go that long but I might as well use a laundry service when it's available where I'm staying; despite the ridiculous expense, it does save me from having to find a laundromat and hang out there until my laundry goes through a wash cycle and however many drying cycles it takes until it's actually done.)

I went back into the hotel's lounge to listen to a few more songs. The guys were pretty good. Although the place was quite busy and most people there were in groups of various sizes and paying more attention to having a good time in each other's company they did applaud the performers often.

It's now about 1 AM. I plan on getting up early enough to drop my laundry off at reception before 8 AM, having my included breakfast, and buying a ticket for the 10 AM hop on, hop off bus tour of Derry and the local area. I'll probably need to take a bit of a nap sometime in the afternoon before going out again for a wander around on my own again and find somewhere outside the hotel for dinner and probably a pint. Then tomorrow night I need to decide where I want to go between here in Derry and my next hotel in Donegal city.

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