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Posted:  Thursday 13 July 2017

North West Associates
Spring Holiday in Belfast

- 23rd to 27th April -

On Sunday 23rd April a dry, bright, crisp morning thirty-seven North West Associates and friends left Manchester to begin their journey via Scotland for their holiday in Belfast.

On the journey northwards we passed many familiar place names, Preston, Lancaster, and Heysham to name but a few, the roads were very quiet, the motorway free from road works and very little traffic, it was very early on a Sunday morning!

A taste of what is to come . . . .

 We travelled further north enjoying the changing scenery from town to country noting the evidence that spring was on its way.  As we approached the Lake District more familiar place names Kendal, Sedburgh, and of course direction to specific lakes, even a sign to the Yorkshire Dales!!
Once again the scenery changed, now to a more rugged landscape of rolling hills and higher mountains, a number of which were shrouded with clouds.  Isolated farms dotted about plenty of fields with sheep and lambs grazing.
There were a few ‘blots’ on the landscape - wind turbines - but these too are becoming a more familiar sight wherever you travel today.

. . . . and more!

We arrived at Tebay services for a chance to stretch our legs and enjoy a welcome cuppa or Latte.  Once refreshed we continued northwards, past Hadrian’s Wall toward Gretna Green for a lunch stop, a little retail therapy or a chance to enjoy the spring sunshine.  We were asked if any one wished to visit the blacksmith, however, the lure of the shops took precedent.

After the Gretna break we continued towards the Port of Stranraer for the ferry crossing.  Once again passing through stunning scenery and a rare sight for a ‘towny’ - a heron fishing in a stream.

On arriving at the port we boarded the ferry to begin passing through Loch Ryan and crossing the Irish Sea to Belfast.  The crossing was smooth, although those who ventured out on deck noticed a substantial breeze as the ferry began sailing.  Once on board we were able to relax have a drink or two and watch the disappearing coastline of Scotland and looking for first sighting of the Northern Irish coast.

As it appeared we were advised to return to our coach.  On disembarking we had our first look at Belfast and after a drive of about thirty minutes we arrived at the Wellington Park Hotel.

Monday was a free day, great opportunity to travel around the city of Belfast on the “Hop on - Hop off” buses and enjoy a guided tour around Belfast, seeing the famous Harland and Wolff shipbuilding cranes, Samson and Goliath.

The Albert Tower built by Queen Victoria, the tower, similar to the tower in Pisa has a slight tilt but not as pronounced as its Italian counterpart.  However, the big attraction was to visit the Titanic Experience, which the majority of us visited.

We spent some considerable time here, so much to see.  How in 1911 the ship was built, unbelievable how the rivets, far too numerous to count, were all inserted by hand.  The gradual construction of the ship from beginning to when she finally became ready for the infamous journey.  We were able to see the accommodation for passengers, all classes, and crew plus some examples of the crockery used on board.

Staff in the exhibition were always ready to answer any questions, and from certain advantage points, pointed out the building where ‘Game of Thrones’ is filmed, although they were quick to point out the outdoor scenes were filmed at the Giant’s Causeway.

Part of the Titanic tour was entrance to the only remaining White Star Line ship - SS Normadic, the tender used at the port of Cherbourg transferring passengers to and from the Titanic.

Following the tragedy of RMS Titanic, the Nomadic had a varied life, including seeing action in two world wars, a party ship based in Paris, before finally in 2006 returning to Belfast.  Here she was refitted to her original decor when built, again staff on board were excellent in giving the history of the ship and ready to answer any questions.

After spending some more considerable time, and of course a visit to the souvenir shop it was time to rejoin the tour bus and continue the guided tour passing through the Crumlin Road and the Shankhill Road areas, made famous during the city’s turbulent past.  Across the city there are many, some of which are fantastic, murals on the walls depicting some of the history and troubles experienced.

There was a particular painting of a certain famous Belfast lad who played at certain Manchester football club - George Best.

Soon the tour was over time to leave the bus, and return to the hotel where after dinner we swapped tales of the day.

Tuesday we travelled north from Belfast, along the coastal route to the Giant’s Causeway, again seeing place names we have come to know, Londonderry - or Derry - Ballymena, and Antrim.  On arriving at Giant’s Causeway, it was no surprise as to why it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site it is stunning.

The weather once again was dry but cold, at the visitor centre we were advised we could, if so wished, walk to the actual coast, however, the preferred option was to travel on the shuttle buses.  Wise move, it was a considerable walk and very, very, windy on arriving at the coast the views were breathtaking - and they were not joking about the windy conditions!

The cliff formations and the crashing waves were spectacular.  A few hardy souls managed to venture out on the rocks, but not too far and certainly not high up on the cliffs, and saw first-hand the amazing hexagonal shaped rocks carved by the sea and other natural elements.

After a short stay we boarded the shuttle busses back to the Visitor Centre, and as at the Titanic Experience we bought souvenirs of our visit.  We made our way back to the coach park and saw the hexagonal shaped blocks on the road depicting the natural formations of the Giant’s Causeway.

After leaving the Giant’s Causeway, we had an added extra visit, Bushmills Whiskey Distillery.  Our driver had contact the distillery and arranged for us to visit.  A number of us enjoyed the guided tour, giving us an insight of the traditional methods used, which has not changed much for over 400 years, to produce the famous whiskey.
Plus, at the end of the tour was an opportunity, if one so wished, to enjoy a taste of the finished drink.
Those who didn’t take the tour enjoyed some refreshment in the distillery restaurant.

Before leaving, once again there was time to buy purchase souvenirs including a bottle of the famous whiskey!!

Our journey back took us once again along the coastal road, more spectacular views including white sandy beaches, passing along narrow roads through Ballymena back on to the motorway network to Belfast.  We arrived back at the hotel after a fantastic, busy day out, all eager to sit in the bar at night and talk about the days visits.

Wednesday dawned, overcast, dull but dry, we boarded the coach for our visit to Dublin.  Once again passing very familiar place names, some tinged with sadness such as Hillsborough, down the motorway system, passing the Mountains of Mourne.  It was about here the road and directional signs were in both English and Gaelic and distances in kilometres, not miles, evidence we were in the Republic of Ireland.
We drove over the River Boyne close to where the Battle of the Boyne took place.  However one very familiar place name stood out, Drogheda, although many will recall that as a television series and the fictional homestead in Australia, who can forget the gorgeous Father Ralph de Bricassart, and of course Meggie from the ‘Thorn Birds’?

Approaching Dublin we passed through an extremely long tunnel.  Once out of the tunnel we were in Dublin making our way to the Church Restaurant for lunch, as we drove alongside the River Liffey.  Stuart, our driver, pointed out a few of the famous Georgian buildings such as the Customs House.  We arrived at the restaurant, and as it name implies, it was originally a church, building was started in the late 17th century and completed in 1703.

Sadly, as with a number of churches the congregation diminished, especially as the surrounding area changed from residential to a commercial area, and the church finally closed in 1986.  Then in 1997 it was purchased, had a complete refurbishment and became ‘The Church Bar and Restaurant’.

Many of the original features still exist within the building, the Baptismal Font, beautiful stained-glass windows, a gallery around three sides, the organ, which the composer George Frideric Handel, living nearby, played when visiting the church and a bust of Sir Arthur Guinness, founder of the Guinness Brewery, who was married at the church in 1761.
Several eminent people were also buried within the grounds, including Lord Norbury, the infamous ‘hanging judge’, one of many judges who were given that title.

After lunch we had some free time to look around.  Sadly we didn't manage to see the famous statue of Molly Malone, we were told she had been moved to a quieter location to avoid any more vandalism to her.  However, we managed to try a little more retail therapy Dublin style before leaving Dublin and heading back to Belfast.  Once again passing through the long tunnel travelling north.

Whether or not there were the ‘forty shades of green’ amongst the trees, as on ‘Rafferty’s Motor Car’, is unknown but Ireland certainly lived up to its other name, The Emerald Isle, and a fitting last day to a brilliant holiday.

Thursday we left the Wellington Park Hotel having a final look at Belfast’s famous sites - Queens University, Titanic Experience building, and the cranes Samson and Goliath while making our way to catch the ferry back to Scotland and the drive back south home.
We all agreed it had been a wonderful holiday and thanks to be relayed to John Greatbanks for arranging it, although sadly due to ill health he was unable to go himself.  But thanks must also be given to John Horrocks who stepped into the breach at the last minute to ensure the holiday went as smoothly as always.

It should be noted, however, there were a couple of small hitches involving case keys, one set were left in the owner’s car, parked at Manchester.  The second set ‘lost’ were actually found after the whole contents of Margaret’s bag had been emptied.  The only thing which seemed to be missing when the bag was emptied was the hat stand - Mary Poppins!!!!  The locks were expertly removed by the use of a small saw, obviously hotel staff had encountered similar problems like this before!!  Unfortunately new locks needed to be purchased sometime after arriving home.

All-in-all we had a lovely holiday, comfortable hotel, good food, excellent hotel staff and wonderful company.

Here’s looking forward to the next holiday.

Enid Taylor

(ch  30/06/2017)

(ph  (11/07/2017)

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