Through a number found in the Lonely Planet guide to Ireland we tracked down a trip with North Irish Diver, which would get us out to The Maidens lighthouse. This was the only lighthouse that Bob was concerned we wouldn’t get to. It was arranged on the Monday night for Tuesday afternoon so we had to do a bit of reshuffling of our plans for the rest of the week, but it didn’t cause any problems.
To make the most of the day, I managed to convince Bob on the Tuesday morning that he wanted to go to Crumlin Road Gaol, which was only closed as an operational prison in 1996. After some dodgy navigation around Belfast (on my part), we finally made it there and it was well worth the visit. We signed up for the tour, which was fascinating if a little disturbing in places. They still have the original mechanisms for carrying out hangings in place, which were revealed to us rather dramatically! The fact that in my lifetime there were still prisoners there made it feel more real. They have a lot of cells set up to show how they would have looked right through from the mid-1800s to 1996.
Once we’d had a bit of lunch in the café at the jail we headed back to Islandmagee where our boat was due to set off from Ballylumford harbour. We met Peter and Darren at the harbour and climbed on board. The boat was great, with an open section at the back but a covered section over most of the boat. We’d actually paid for the boat to go out so we were the only ones on the trip. Off we went towards the Maidens where we had some stunning views of the black and white striped lighthouse there. We’d managed to see it from the mainland, but it was quite a distance away and there’s nothing like seeing a lighthouse from the sea (or the air for that matter, see my previous post)! There’s also the remains of an old lighthouse on the neighbouring island and we had some great views of both – alongside some lighthouse-bagging seals! After finishing up at the Maidens we headed back towards the mainland and further south to see the fascinating coastline, the Gobbins, including the seven sisters and Portmuck harbour where there used to be a nice coastal path which is now impassable in many places (apparently they are attempting to reinstate it though in the near future). Fortunately, Peter and Darren were happy enough to go as far south as Whitehead so we could get a view of “our” lighthouse (Black Head) from the sea! It was great to get a new angle on it and see our honeymoon accommodation too. It was a great boat trip and we were pleased, once back home, to see Peter on an episode of ‘Coast’ from the first series!
We had a really enjoyable evening at Bentra Grill, which was a short distance from where we were staying. Fantastic food, great company and a lighthouse on the window too!
On Wednesday, a wet and windy day, we had an early start in order to reach Ballycastle in time for the first boat across to Rathlin island. The island is home to three lighthouses, but we were unable to take the car over (only island residents are allowed to do so). So, in order to get around the island we’d arranged to hire bikes from a lovely lady called Jennifer at Soerneog View Hostel. Riding a bike on Rathlin island marked my first attempt at cycling in at least 15 years. To start with I genuinely thought I wouldn’t be able to do it (particularly with the strong wind – we were lucky with the rain holding off in the end), but I persisted and a while later we found ourselves at the place we chose to leave to bikes to get to the lighthouse on the most southern point of the island. To avoid walking past a group of cows we took a bit of a longer route and eventually reached the lighthouse. The waves crashing over the rocks meant we didn’t spend a lot of time at the lighthouse, but we took a quick break and had something to eat in the area.
The second lighthouse we visited was on the most north easterly point of the island. This was relatively uneventful to reach and we had a nice walk along a path in order to reach the lighthouse. We were able to see the light in operation and we enjoyed the peaceful location. The final lighthouse was the hardest to get to. It not only involved a long cycle of uphill and downhill most of the way, we also had a bit of a walk at the other end – again going off piste to avoid some cows. We were rather disappointed with the lighthouse, not because it wasn’t interesting to look it (it is, in fact, really interesting to look at with the lamp room located in front of the main tower on a lower level). I was really looking forward to seeing it, but unfortunately it all appeared to be locked up and there was no way of seeing the lighthouse from the island. Feeling a little dejected we headed back to the bikes and reached them just after the rain started. We had a bit of a rush (as much as we could anyway) back to Jennifer to drop the bikes off in time to catch the ferry. We reached her house at a few minutes before the boat was due to leave and she phoned ahead to the people on the boat and asked them to wait for us. She then very kindly gave us a lift to the boat just in time for us to get on. Such a lovely lady!
On the way back we stopped off at the Dark Hedges near Ballymoney. It is an avenue lined on either side by beech trees planted in the eighteenth century and it’s really beautiful – although I wouldn’t want to be there at night! Again we enjoyed another meal at Bentra Grill, having both noticed how many things on the menu we wanted to try the night before!
Although we’d not managed to see the lighthouse lamp room on the western point of Rathlin island, it marked our final lighthouse sighting in Northern Ireland. We hope to revisit in the future and (fingers crossed) get the chance to see the Rathlin West lighthouse from the sea (or the air, if I’m lucky)!!!
Next on the honeymoon blog posts: our final day in Northern Ireland and onwards to some Scottish lighthouses! 🙂