* Rotate phone for best view | Click any pic to enlarge*
But first, the night before...
Sufficiently refuelled by the log fire and Guinness in Ballintoy after the Portbradden adventure (prev blog post here) - 30 minutes later we were checking into our digs for the night - the Portrush Townhouse.
A 'boutique 5 star hostel', this is the second time we've stayed here and we'll be back many more times. Some people can be put off at the word 'hostel' - there is a dorm room somewhere on site - but both times we stayed it was peacefully quiet at night and the bathrooms, kitchen and social area were all clean, tidy and spacious. This place feels more like a small hotel or B&B.
We paid £60 for one of the double rooms, which actually come with an extra bunk bed in each so it would be a great budget option for families or groups of friends. Some pics below and plenty of great Trip Advisor reports here.
The board games would be put to use later that night, post-food gorge...
It must be stated at this point that I cannot confirm or deny I made a fort out of the bunk bed.*
Outdoor gear suitably stored and dressier threads donned, a five minute brisk walk in the winter air and we arrived at the Macaulay Culkin-ified Ramore Restaurants. Cocktails ahoy...
Tonight was the first time I'd been to the top floor restaurant - the Mermaid Kitchen & Bar. Unlike the main Ramore Wine Bar where serving is on a walk in/first-come-first-served basis, the Mermaid has to be booked in advance. It feels a little bit more premium and it seems to be for those that want to spend a few hours over dinner and drinks. As with the main restaurant though, both the food & drink and team looking after us were superb.
Cocktails first for a bit of refreshment. I'd usually go for a Mojito but the Hendricks Southside sounded great - Hendricks Gin, Cucumber, Mint, Elderflower Cordial & Fresh Lime Juice - while the others did have Mojitos and a classic Margarita. Thumbs up from all.
Red wine was next, luring me into choosing a beetroot & goats cheese salad for starter and steak for main. Again, happy to report both were amazing, especially the steak with it's 'tomato/mushroom/asparagus & black pepper jus' topping. My mouth's watering again writing this. Under a bit of peer pressure I was also persuaded to try a forkful of Sea Bass (a reminder again that I'm not a fish fan) - flipping tasty. Not fishy at all. I think the more-chicken-like a fish is, the more chance I'll like it.
I was also 'forced' to try a bit of the Salted Caramel Nemesis Tart, Toffee Sauce & Chantilly Cream. No pics (the wine made me forget) but holy moly. Do it.
(For more info and menus, click here)
After about 2 hours we finally rolled out like stuffed penguins, waddling 50 paces down and round to the cosy Harbour bar for more superb hospitality and banter from local bar legend Willy and his full-of-beans team.
LET'S GET EXPLORING
Successfully surviving the food coma, an 8am alarm had us up and out along the coast for what was thankfully turning out to be a dry and bright winter's day.
First stop en route was at Dunluce Castle to take in the view, followed by Bushmills for a well-needed coffee break at the French Rooms (forgot to take a pic, but another one I'd recommend stopping at even just to admire the decor and browse around the gift shop).
Coffee-in-hand leaving the place, I spotted this sign on the opposite side of the road. We had a creepy dander up it's driveway past a row of other open-doored freaky little houses - think I'll have to ask our friends at Abandoned NI to explore this one in more detail!
Onward we go...
LAND OF THE GIANTS
I remember very little from the last time I was at the Giant's Causeway - too many years ago and the rain was going sidewards that day to take in anything properly. Arriving this time I wasn't sure if I was impressed or let down at the sight of the new(ish) Visitor Centre.
So much had been said on the news when it opened that I guess I was expecting something like Belfast's distinctive Titanic exhibition centre. But skipping forward 2 hours after having explored it and the area a bit more, you get to see the design and materials (including a grass covered roof) have been chosen so that it doesn't stand out, naturally blending in with the shapes in the surrounding land. Good decision.
Self-guided walking tour headsets in hand (well, in bag for now), we left the Visitor Centre and took the long way round to reach the world-renowned, mythical hexagonal pillars - walking along the Red Trail of the Causeway Walking Route (more info here). I had seen the most amazing pictures of the Giant's Causeway from above years ago - so today was a big box ticker for me.
The route runs along the edge of the Causeway's 100ft high coastal cliffs - parallel to the easier route on the road below.
The path can get a bit close to the edge in places, so keep an eye on younger ones and keep dogs on the lead. Eventually you'll get to this amazing outcrop that has the 100ft drop on both sides of you. Can you spot Wally below?
From where I am in the above pics, you can see the tiny dots of people below, plus the ongoing curving shape of the coast either side.
Looking to the left...
...and looking to the right. Definitely one to avoid on a windy day (I had to get down on my honkers here, to concentrate on taking pics).
You might even spot some local wildlife in the thorn bushes. Offer them some goats cheese, steak and wine and they'll happily eat out of your hand.
Eventually the path gives you the choice of heading along the cliff top or down to the sea. With another location to check out on today's road trip, we decided on the shorter trip down to the water and infamous lava-formed columns.
Taking a left here brings you back to the main Causeway, but for the sake of an extra 20 minutes head on forward to check out some cool views and formations...
Again, if you see the local wildlife pretending to be one of the stone columns, give it some food and it will move on for you to get some memorable touristy pics.
As you head back, keep checking in on the little map/leaflet you've likely collected at the Visitor Centre - it gives you great info on the various structures you pass on the approach back to the main tourist-pulling area of the Causeway.
High there ;p
Check out this incredible drone footage - you can clearly see the walking trail, giving you an idea of the scale of the place. No wonder it pulled in close to a million visitors last year!
...and if you've ever wondered if you could fit in the mouth of a basking shark, you can find out the answer among other things at the interactive areas in the Visitor Centre. For small and big kids alike...
*OK, I did make a fort out of the bunk bed in Portrush too.
Next stop >>> Carrick-a-rede & Ballycastle...
Thanks for reading!