Leaving Belfast today. Not entirely rested. We're going to book a proper AirBnB place tonight where we can actually stay indoors for the entire day. And we're going to be sleeping in a new country tonight. Or at least that's the plan.
Outta the house before 9AM. We know the rules...
Unlike the sunny weather we enjoyed on our day off yesterday, it's looking pretty dismal for our ride out of town. Low clouds hang above our heads, thick and grey, expectant with water. So we leave with our rainsuits on. The mornings are getting too chilly to ride without them anyway.
We head towards a stretch of road called the A2, otherwise known as the Antrim Coast Road.
It's a delicious stretch of pavement that follows Northern Ireland's north shore and gives us stunning views of the North Channel
Not even an hour out of Belfast, Neda comes in over the comminicator, "We need to stop. I don't feel very well."
Oh no. As we slowed to pull over on the shoulder, I was going to ask her what exactly was wrong. But then I saw her reach into her backpack, grab a roll of toilet paper, climb over the low stone wall, and hurry quickly away from the road...
So, while Neda is taking care of business, I do what I normally do. Take pictures. But not of her though...
Minutes pass. And then several more minutes later, I yell over the stone wall, "Everything ok?"
"Uh huh", came the weak reply.
I climb over the wall and walk over to her. She looks miserable.
So I do the only thing I know that comes naturally to me.
I take a picture.
"Noooo! You're not putting that on the Internet!"
"Ok ok. I promise."
Poor Neda. Getting the slurries while on the road really sucks.
We head out again.
At Cushendun Bay, we stop for a scenic break as the Glendun River opens out into the Straits of the North Channel
Near the marina, Neda feeds the ducks. One swan is dominating her attention though.
I take some glamour shots of the bikes, Cushendun Beach in the background.
The scenery is beautiful here
We take a little detour off the A2 and stay closer to the coast on Tor Road, passing through a quilt-work of green farmland.
Some entertaining twists and turns in the road
There's a popular lookout at the end of a dead end road called Torr Head
A dilapidated coast guard station stands at the top of Torr Head, and you can hike around it to get great views of the sea and shore below. There are a couple of other bikers walking around and we nod our heads to each other in acknowledgement. Their mouths are pursed when they do so, which is the International Bikers sign for: "Not a good day for a ride"...
The view from Torr Head. Spectacular!
We climb back on the bikes to head west along the top of the Antrim Coast Road, and as soon as we pull out of Torr Head, the rains slam down on top of our heads. Exactly like we knew it would. Sorry, no more pictures while riding in the rain. The road is slick and winding, so it's best to keep both hands on the handlebars - instead of taking blurry pictures of water droplets on the camera's lens.
Our next stop: Ballintoy Harbour, otherwise known as The Iron Islands on the Game of Thrones
Yes, another Game of Thrones shooting location. We've been all over Croatia and Spain visiting them, it's kind of become a theme for our European leg. Why stop now? Belfast is actually where one of the main production sound stages for the show is located.
Taking a walk around the Iron Islands, keeping an eye out for Theon Greyjoy. Still pouring buckets so we keep our helmets on.
It's always funny walking around with our helmets on. We keep the comms open, so while we wander around the area, I don't even have to be within visual range of Neda and we're still talking in each other's ears. To passersby, it looks like we're talking to ourselves. In the background, I can hear the microphone pick up the *plok* *plok* *plok* of the rain hitting her helmet.
The rain collecting on my camera lens gives this picture a neat tilt-shift look
The pictures may look dreamy, but these are cold, wet and miserable conditions for both walking and riding around here. We had fairly good weather in Scotland and the Isle of Man. I figure the rains were overdue, given where we are.
After just another 15 minutes ride westwards, we run across a huge parking lot and an even bigger visitors centre. We park the bikes and then take a 20 minute hike (too cheap to pay for a shuttle bus) towards the coast to find:
Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland's most popular tourist attraction
The Giant's Causeway is thousands of hexagonal basalt rock columns rising out from the floor of the coastline. They look totally alien and cool, and you wonder how nature could make anything look like that.
We're not the only ones who think it looks cool. Led Zeppelin did too, so they put it on the cover of their Houses of the Holy album
The photoshoot for the Houses of the Holy album cover was done on a grey and rainy day (seems like there aren't any other days but these at the Giant's Causeway), so the figures were washed out. Unhappy with the way the photos turned out, the photographer sent them to an airbrush artist who accidentally tinted the photo with unintended colours. The rest is history.
Too cold and wet to put on a blonde wig and crawl around these rocks butt-nekkid. If I did, I'd definitely need a lot of airbrushing...
I wanted to take a picture of the rocks for my web Page. I noticed there was a Plant growing between the columns!
I had to Google how these patterns were formed. So unusual!
You know how mud or salt dries into hexagonal shapes, like on the desert floor or the floor of a dried lake or river bed? 60 million years, basalt lava came up from below the chalk floor and dried, the surface forming hexagon shapes. But as the lava cooled, these surface cracks extended all the way down the basalt rock, forming these amazing-looking hexagonal columns that rise and fall around the landscape.
There are around 40,000 columns at the Giant's Causeway
Legend has it, the Irish giant, Finn MacCool (no joke), was challenged to a duel by a Scottish giant, Benandonner, who lived across the strait. So MacCool built a causeway across the North Channel so he could fight the Scot. Since this is an Irish tale, the Irish giant wins in the story, and the Scottish giant runs back across the channel, destroying the causeway behind him so MacCool couldn't follow him back.
There are similar basalt rock columns on the other side of the North Channel on the Scottish side, at Fingal's Cave.
So the story must totally be true.
The columns look like 3D bar charts or those toys where you stick your face
or your hand below a bed of pins and they move up to mimic the same shape
An estimated 1 million Led Zeppelin fans visit Giant's Causeway every year
It's so crowded here, even in the pouring rain! I had to wait awhile for people to move out of my shot, so after some time, I just took pictures of tourists at the Causeway...
Here's another tourist descending down the basalt column stairway to heaven
Pedestrian access to the Giant's Causeway is free (which we like). How they make money is charging you for the shuttle bus between the parking lot and the coast: £1 each way (Nah), and also entrance fee to the visitor's centre, which is £9 per person (Big Nope).
The parking lot is only for people who paid to get into the visitors centre, so we parked just outside the lot
I love that we can park our bikes pretty much anywhere in Europe and nobody cares. I hate that it is still pouring rain when we head out again. No matter. If the sun refused to shine, I would still be loving you. That's me, singing to my bike...
The original plan was to keep following the Antrim Coast Road a bit south towards Londonderry before heading north again. I was very interested in seeing the Bloody Sunday memorial and some of the murals on the buildings in the town where the 1972 massacre took place. But we had done a lot of sight-seeing today and it would probably take another 3-4 hours if we took the long way down and then back up again.
Despite our early start, we were quickly running out of daylight. Plus it was still raining...
So the decision was made to call it a day and take the short, 15-minute ferry from Magilligan Point, crossing the border...
Shiver me Shamrocks!