On Northern Ireland’s dramatic coastline, Yvette Huddleston found the ingredients for a perfect family holiday.
For years Northern Ireland was associated with the violence and unrest of the Troubles. The riots in Belfast earlier this year during the Union Flag protests were an unwelcome reminder of those times, but the country is striving to step out of the shadow of its past.
This year Derry, one of the province’s major cities, is the European City of Culture – amongst a host of exciting cultural events, the 2013 Turner Prize exhibition is being held there. Hopes are high that the year-long title will not only assist cross-community relations but also increase visitor numbers to the province.
It certainly deserves to be enjoyed by more people – it is a beautiful region with some breathtaking scenery and it has a lot to offer the tourist or holidaymaker.
Our week-long family holiday near Ballymena in County Antrim was one of the most peaceful and relaxing breaks we have had and getting to that part of Northern Ireland is relatively straightforward from Yorkshire and we chose to drive and take the ferry across. The shortest crossing is from Cairnryan on the west coast of Scotland to Larne. From Larne it was a short drive to our base not far inland from the Giant’s Causeway coast – rightly described as one of the most stunning and scenic coastlines in the world. As long as you go prepared for all types of weather you are guaranteed to find something of interest.
We stayed at Montalto farmhouse, a lovely self-catering holiday home set in rolling countryside, owned by the friendly and welcoming O’Donnell family. Since it is a working farm, there was always plenty going on – and as we were there during lambing time, we were greeted on our return from trips everyday with more new arrivals.
One of our first explorations was of Skerry, the impressive hill behind the farmhouse. It’s always good to do a local walk when you arrive somewhere new as a way of getting your bearings and becoming familiar with the place that is going to be your home from home.
Despite the grey and damp conditions, we were rewarded with a lovely view from the summit over the surrounding countryside.
The nearby coastal village of Cushendun is just a short drive away from Montalto and it is a fascinating place to while away an afternoon. Situated at the mouth of the river Dun and nestling at the foot of Glendun, one of the loveliest of the famous Glens of Antrim, it is a picturesque settlement which has long been an inspiration for painters and writers.
In 1912 architect Clough Williams-Ellis was commissioned by local Conservative MP and author Ronald McNeill (later Lord Cushendun) to create Cushendun in the style of a Cornish village.
Seven houses and a village square were initially built and in 1923 O’Neill commissioned Williams-Ellis again to design and create Maud’s Cottages and Glenmona House. The village overlooks a beautiful long, sweeping beach and a harbour from where we were able to see a particularly stunning sunset.
You can’t stay on this coastline without visiting one of its most spectacular highlights – the Giant’s Causeway – and we, purely by chance, chose the most magnificent day to do it.
The sun was shining in a glorious blue sky (though it was the only day of our visit when it did) and we saw this astonishing geological rock formation in near-perfect conditions.
There are around 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption, the tallest of which are about 12m high.
At some points the solidified lava in the cliffs measures up to 28m. Most of the columns, the tops of which form stepping stones that lead from the foot of the cliffs out to sea, are hexagonal, creating the slightly unnerving impression that you are walking on elaborately designed flooring.
Further along the coast is the stunning White Park Bay – a wonderful two-mile stretch of sand which, when we visited, was virtually deserted.
There is a fantastically located youth hostel that overlooks the beach, but there is no swimming allowed because of the strong tides. One morning we awoke to grey skies and by the time we had finished breakfast it was snowing quite heavily with a strong side wind – the perfect day for a visit to the Bushmills whiskey distillery.
We packed quite a lot into our week’s stay, but still only saw a tiny portion of what Northern Ireland has to offer – we will be back.
Yvette Huddleston travelled by ferry from Cairnryan to Larne, the shortest crossing operated by P&O: www.poferries.com
Jet 2 fly from Leeds Bradford direct to Belfast’s Aldegrove airport: www.jet2.com
Montalto Farmhouse near Ballymena www.montalto-farmhouse.co.uk.