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