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Despite Belfast being just a one-hour flight away from London, I had never visited Northern Ireland before this trip.
My time in the country began in the north east with an exploration of the breathtaking Causeway Coast in County Antrim in the very north east of the country.
The coastline is home to the magnificent Giant’s Causeway (pictured above and below), an iconic formation of around 40,000 interlocking columns of basalt.
Legend has it that the Causeway was created by the giant Finn McCool in order to fight the Scottish giant Benandonner.
The scientific explanation, in no way less impressive in my view, is that the geological marvel was created through volcanic activity when the tectonic plates of the prehistoric Earth violently collided.
For those seeking more information about the Causeway, a stunning visitor centre has just opened there, offering a range of interactive displays.
Designed to work in harmony with the natural beauty of the area, the structure’s sheer black columns erupt majestically from the lush green fields which surround them, a fantastic architectural achievement.
This philosophy is reinforced by the function of the building, which has been constructed with sustainability in mind.
Inside, the centre offers interactive displays which enumerate and elucidate the multifaceted dimensions to the story of the Causeway, from geology to mythology.
None of this, however, truly prepares you for the beauty of the Causeway itself, which has captivated the minds of artists for centuries.
My next stop was the picturesque village of Bushmills, three miles down the coast.
Home to the world-famous whiskey of the same name, I took the opportunity to discover more about the golden liquor in the land of its creation.
During a tour of the distillery, our guide explained the intricacies of the production of Irish whiskey, and its differences to Scotch whisky – which it predates by around 100 years – and its American cousin, bourbon.
We enjoyed some samples of the merchandise, prompting me to pick up a bottle to take home.
The visit was rounded off with an overnight stop at the Bushmills Inn, which boasts an enviable combination of traditional charm and luxurious service, and a restaurant serving some of the finest food for miles around.
No visit to Northern Ireland would be complete without a visit to its capital city Belfast, and this is where I would spend the rest of my journey.
I had the privilege to be guided through the city on a black taxi tour by an incredibly passionate and knowledgeable driver called Gerard McGlade.
During our time together, visiting some of the sites affected by ‘The Troubles’, Gerard shared his insights on the area, and his outlook was typical of all of the people I had the pleasure of meeting in Northern Ireland – acknowledging the past, but looking to the future with hope and a genuine belief in peace.
Particularly eye-opening were the world famous, or perhaps infamous, murals which depict and often glorify scenes of violence from the city’s history.
In their place, however, a new type of mural has begun to spring up, encouraged by the city’s council, displaying images more reflective of the Belfast of today – a modern, vibrant and wholly captivating city.
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