Thursday, 15 February 2018


Heading north out of Cushendun the Causeway Coastal Route takes on the name Torr Road, and after a few miles there is a turnoff from this to Torr Head.  This headland, with its spectacular views of the Mull of Kintyre, was used in the 1800s to record the passage of Transatlantic ships for Lloyds of London, and the remains of the old lookout station are still visible.  This was also one of the first places where Marconi’s wireless telegraphy system was installed.  Nestled against the headland on Portaleen Bay is a small harbour, a reminder of a former salmon fishery. 

Further north is Murlough Bay, known for its flora, fauna and geology, with birdlife including eider ducks and peregrine falcons.  Beyond the bay is Fair Head, which has been described as Northern Ireland’s tallest cliff face, rising to 600 feet above sea level.  As well as fantastic views along the coast and across to Scotland, there are goods views of Rathlin Island, which lies just across the way.  The headland is popular with rock climbers.  Running around the headland is a path called The Grey Man’s Path.  The Grey Man in question is said to derive from a local legend about a “devil-horse” living in nearby Lough Dhu who wandered along the path disguised as a human and frightened the living daylights out of a local woman called Mary McAnulty. 

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Fair Head from Ballycastle.  Photo by Ardfern, via Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, 9 February 2018


Like Cushendall, Cushendun, at the foot of Glendun, one of the nine Glens of Antrim, is classed as a “conservation village”, and as such is protected by the National Trust.  The name comes from the Irish Cois Abhann Duinne, which means “beside the River Dun”, the river that tumbles down from the valley of Glendun.  The village was planned in 1912 by Clough Williams-Ellis at the request of Baron Cushendun, and the Cornish appearance of the village is no accident, as Williams-Ellis designed it in this way to please the Baron’s wife Maud, who was from my home town of Penzance.  There is even a row of whitewashed cottages named after her. The village passed to the care of the National Trust in 1954.

Just to the north of the village is Castle Carra, thought to have been built in the 14th century and now a ruin.  The castle was the scene of a series of shenanigans involving Shane O’Neill and the McDonnells, culminating in O’Neill being stabbed to death as revenge for his earlier defeat of the McDonnells.  Not content with this act of violence, they cut his head off and sent it to representatives of Queen Elizabeth in Dublin. 

Last, and by no means least, fans of the hit series Game of Thrones will want to include a visit to Cushendun Caves on a visit to the village.  The caves, formed from over 400 million years of weathering, appeared in the series as the background for the Stormlands, one of the nine constituent regions of the Seven Kingdoms.  They can be reached by following the walk suggested via this link.  

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Cushendun Caves. Photo by Anne Burgess, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 1 February 2018


Formerly known as Newtown Glens, Cushendall and the surrounding area is classed as a “conservation area”.  The ‘dall’ part of the name comes from the River Dall which tumbles down to the beach via the Cushendall Golf Club course.  One of the main historic landmarks in the village is the Curfew Tower, also known as Turnly’s Tower, after Francis Turnly of the East India Company, who erected the tower as “a place of confinement for idlers and rioters”.  However, the history of the area goes back much further; there are the remains of Bronze Age forts in the mountains overlooking the village.  In 1924 the village became one of the first places in Ireland to have street lighting installed. 

On the outskirts of the village is Cottage Wood, with footpaths, viewpoints and picnic facilities.  Lovers of wildlife should keep their eyes peeled for the Red Squirrel, which are regularly seen here.  About a mile outside the village lie the evocative ruins of the Old Layde Church, dating from the early 1600s, although records suggest a church existed here as long ago as 1288.  Cushendall’s big event of the year is the Heart of the Glens Festival, which takes place in August and is a throwback to the days when there were eight fair days held throughout the year.

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Cushendall Beach. Photo by Anne Burgess, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 24 January 2018


To the north of Carnlough the shore-hugging Causeway Coastal Route veers to the west, where it reaches Red Bay.  Glenariff, one of the nine “Glens of Antrim” and known as the “Queen of the Glens”, drops down to the sea here, and there is a small village by the same name.  Glenariff Forest Park speads over 1,000 acres, with woodlands, lakes, waterfalls and recreational areas.  Just beyond the neighbouring village of Waterfoot lie the ruins of Red Bay Castle, built in the 13th century by the Bissett family, self-styled Lords of the Glens of Antrim.  The family’s descendents, the MacDonells of Antrim, rebuilt the castle in the 16th century, only for it to be burned to the ground in 1565 by Shane O’Neill of Tyrone.  The MacDonnells rebuilt it again, but it fell into disrepair and after a further restoration was subsequently destroyed by Oliver Cromwell during his conquest of Ireland, hence the scant ruins on view today.  So not much to see here now, but worth swinging by anyway for the wonderful views across to the Mull of Kintyre.

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Waterfoot, taken in 1990. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018


Continuing north from Glenarm along the glorious coast road which hugs the Antrim shore, we come to Carnlough (‘cairn of the lake’), a village on the bay of the same name and lying at the mouth of Glencloy.  The villagers must be made of stern stuff, the harbour here being one of a number of locations on the Northern Ireland coast known for its New Years Day swims.  The limestone cliffs in the vicinity have played an important role in the area’s history right from Neolithic times, when the flint deposits in the cliffs served as tools for these ancient inhabitants.  Much later quarries were set up to extract the limestone, and the harbour, originally a stone pier built in the 1700s, was redeveloped in the mid-19th century by the Marchioness of Londonderry.  The limestone was used for the construction of the harbor, as well as many of the houses in the village, and a 1.5 km mineral tramway was built for transporting the stone.  

Another spinoff from this activity was the Londonderry Arms Hotel, built in 1848 as a coaching house.  Between 1921 and 1924 the hotel was owned by Sir Winston Churchill courtesy of an inheritance from a second cousin who was a grandson of the Marchioness.  The Marchioness, meanwhile, used to stay in a summer residence a few miles to the north of Carnlough known as the Garron Tower, a dark grey castle-like structure with turreted towers.  The building is now occupied by St Killian’s College and lies just off the coast road, which here is known as the Garron Road.  Back in Carnlough, as well as the charms of the village itself there is a scenic drive called the Slemish Scenic Drive which follows Glencoy up to Slemish Mountain, where St Patrick spent 6 years in captivity.

No piece on Carnlough would be complete without making a mention of one of the most famous former residents of the village, Paddy the carrier pigeon.  During the D-Day landings Paddy was sent to France with a coded message on the Allied advance, a secret mission codenamed U2, and remarkably was back home within 5 hours.  He was rewarded for his efforts by being awarded the Dicken Medal for bravery, the only Irish pigeon to have received the award.  Paddy died in 1954, but his memory lives on in the form of a commemorative plaque erected at the harbour.

Map of the area.

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Photo by Arnold Price, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 11 January 2018


Glenarm and its surroundings constitute one of the nine “Antrim Glens”, or valleys which are among the attractions of this part of Northern Ireland.  The glen itself, the river, the bay and the village are all called Glenarm, which stands for “Glen of the Army”, a reminder of a bloody past dating back to the Normans.  The harbour at Glenarm has a long history, but has been restored and updated, and nowadays houses a marina used by yachts and pleasure boats.  The village itself, dating from the 17th century, is a Conservation Area. 

Across the river from the village is Glenarm Castle andWalled Garden, home to the Dunluce family.  The castle originates from the 13th century when one John Bisset, expelled from Scotland for murder, arrived in the area and established a castle for the defence of his newly acquired land.  However, it was in 1636 that the present-day version of the castle was built by the Earl of Antrim Sir Randall McDonnell. The Walled Garden dates from the 18th century and is one of Irelands oldest.  There is a tea room which last year had a glowing write-up in the Belfast Telegraph.  The garden is open to visitors from March until September, however the castle itself is only occasionally open to the public, and is available for group visits.  The Glenarm Forest Park used to be part of the demesne of Glenarm Castle but is now open to the public and maintained by Ulster Wildlife Trust.

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Glenarm Castle. Photo by Glenarm Castle, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 5 January 2018


Larne is a major gateway to Northern Ireland courtesy of the ferry link to Cairnryan, 6 miles north of Stranraer in Scotland.  Formerly known as Latharna, from Lathar, son of the pre-Christian King Hugony the Great, one of the earliest records of the area dates from Roman times, when a galley bound for Scotland was blown off course to a place called Portus Saxa, believed to be Larne Lough.  The lough was later named after the Norse King Ulfrich during the time of the Viking raids.  Fast forward to the 18th century, when the quays which had been built in the port were used by people emigrating to America.  It was the coming of the railway which led to Larne being established as the departure point for ferries to Scotland, initially using a paddlesteamer called the Briton, a service which lasted until 1863.  Three years later the harbour was bought by James Chaine, a linen merchant’s son, who updated the port and re-established the link to Scotland.   People arriving at Larne by sea will be reminded of this by the ChaineMemorial Tower which dominates the harbour entrance. 

During the First World War Larne became a naval port, then during the Second World War the port played an important role for the Allied Forces, including as a conduit for troops preparing for the D-Day Landings.  In the post-war period, after various ups and downs with efforts to establish ferry links once more, the Larne-Cairnryan service finally started in 1973.  This outcome, which contributed considerably to the success of the port, was facilitated by one Colonel Frank Bustard, who was made a Freeman of Larne in recognition of his efforts.

If you are visiting Larne with a car or motorbike, the coastal route heading north from the town is highly recommended.  We did this route in the other direction after exploring the Antrim coast, and the journey was a delight due to the way the road hugged the coastline with the attendant views of Scotland.  At one point I nearly caused my husband to crash the car when I spotted a seal poking its head out of the water a short distance offshore. 

Back in town, the Larne Museum and Arts Centre provides a fascinating insight into the history of the town, including a display devoted to a famous warship called the Princess Victoria.  For lovers of the great outdoors, as well as the tower, James Chaine’s memory lives on in the form of Chaine Park, a green space with wonderful views, especially for people who, like me, love watching the comings and goings of shipping and ferries.  Just to the south of the port, the ruins of Olderfleet Castle, dating from at least the 13th century, lie on Curran Point facing the Lough.

For a list of events in Larne, follow this link.

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The Chaine Memorial Tower. Photo by Albert Bridge, via Wikimedia Commons