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The King’s Road, Giants, Whiskey and You: Exploring Rural Northern Ireland

On one of our days in Belfast, we headed south to Murlough Beach, near Dundrum. Wild flowers and dunes surrounded us as Slieve Donard mountain overlooked our march towards the sea. The beach itself is long and flat and on a hot Friday it was crowded with sunbathers. These sort were not of the olive-skinned Portuguese variety and many a pale Irish lad or lass were certainly nursing a bit of a burn that evening after a cloudless day of hot summer sunshine. We strolled along the long stretch of beach, dodging marooned jellyfish and an enormous populace of sand fleas to take in the absolutely gorgeous views of the beach in the foreground and stunning view of Slieve Donard in the back. Stopping off in quaint Dundrum for lunch after, we concluded our day trip with a couple of great salads at a local bakery café.

Turning north from Belfast, we sought out a few of the “Game of Thrones” filming sites on our way to Bushmills. If you’re into GoT, this is a good site to use as a guide (there are several websites and guided tours are available as well).

We started with the Dark Hedges, aka the Kings Road. The road itself is closed to cars so our navigation system routed us to one end but we followed the signage and drove around to the official car park on the other side. It did appear that we could have parked on either side, but the supply of spaces on the non-parking-lot side is limited. No Lannisters, Baratheons or Starks to be found, but plenty of tourists. And there was no debate about a dire wolf or Arya bruising Joffrey’s questionable bravery and manhood but there was a lot of jostling for the ideal shot with a selfie stick. Onward towards the sea we went…

At the coastline we turned right to check out the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Advanced tickets were required on a busy sunny Irish Saturday but we parked in a lot up the road above the proper one and were able to walk down to the bridge to check out the views of the coast, the idyllic stereotypical Irish rolling hills of pastures, Sheep Island and the islands of Scotland beyond.

Up the Causeway Coastal road we went to visit Pyke (aka Ballintoy Harbor). A narrow road runs from the coastal road to the harbor. It was mobbed with pedestrian and car traffic and we decided that a turnaround was in the cards after watching a couple of tourists trying to get by one another, unsuccessfully, in American sized rental cars on Irish sized narrow lanes. We never cared much for the Greyjoy family anyway.

Our detour from Ballintoy turned into a happy accident as we discovered Whitepark Bay Beach. This one put Murlough Beach to shame. Brilliant white sand which abut cliffs and green green hills; seaweed clinging to rocks at the far end. We strolled the length of it at low tide far away from the hustle and bustle of GoTers selfie-ing it up over the hill at Pyke.

Our last stop before ending at the Bushmills Inn (yes, that Bushmills, whiskey lovers) was the Giant’s Causeway. We took the low road, vs the cliffside path, both down and back and were glad that the sun was shining so we could enjoy the rocks themselves without fear of slipping. Thrusting upward in unique patterns, we’ve never seen anything quite like it. Whether they were placed here by Finn McCaul in preparation for his battle with the Scottish giant or by volcanic activity they’re definitely worth a stopover.

After Bushmills, we continued on the Causeway Coastal route past Royal Portrush (site of the 2019 British Open) to Derry-Londonderry for a quick lunch and walk on the walls before leaving Northern Ireland for Donegal County. Derry is a place we’d thought about staying but chose Belfast instead. While we were happy with that decision, Derry would be an interesting stop for a night or maybe two and while it was Sunday afternoon and most things were closed, we could tell that it has a lot to offer in the evenings.

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