Friday, 1 August 2014

Adventures in Northern Ireland

Alongside the extreme Game of Thrones nerdiness that made up Dan's surprise 30th birthday trip to Belfast, we also found time for some of the things you just have to do while in Northern Ireland.

Giant's Causeway
During our Game of Thrones film locations tour we also stopped off at one of Northern Ireland's most famous attractions, the Giant's Causeway.

There are three theories as to how these 40,000 basalt columns came to stand on the northern coast of Ireland:
1. They were made by God.
2. They are a natural phenomena created by an ancient volcanic eruption.
3. They were built by an Irish giant to link Ireland and Scotland. Legend has it that a Scottish giant called Benandonner challenged Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (what a name) to a fight, but when Fionn realised that his Scottish counterpart was much bigger than him, he tricked the giant by pretending to be a baby. Thinking the father of the baby giant would be even bigger, Benandonner ran back to Scotland, ripping up the Causeway as he went so that Fionn would be unable to follow him.

I know which theory I'm putting my money on.

On the way to the Causeway. It's about a 15 minute walk down a steep hill from the car park and visitor centre. Apparently the walk back up is more like 25 minutes, so we cheated and took the bus back to the top.

The Giant's Causeway. Nature at her weirdest.

Northern Ireland isn't the only place to have these hexagonal rocks. Apparently the same can be found on one of the Scottish islands, but as they are so difficult to reach, the Giant's Causeway offers the only opportunity to walk along them. Although they are surprisingly wobbly and slippery, so you have to watch your step as your clambering around them.

Dan at the Giant's Causeway

Little feet, Giant's Causeway

Keeping watch for seals
We saw two bob their noses out of the water a couple of times.

This gives you an idea of how tall the columns are

We did want to try and recreate the sleeve of Led Zeppelin's 'Houses of the Holy', which features the Giant's Causeway, but it was too cold to strip off.

Titanic Belfast
On our last day we headed to the Titanic centre, which tells the full story of the doomed ship from her birth in Belfast to the discovery of her wreck on the ocean floor.

Titanic sign cut from one of the same sheets used to make the ship herself

How the other half lived
Recreated first-class cabin

 Last ever photo of Titanic

Taking some air on deck

For me the most interesting part of the exhibition was the wreck room, where you can see what Titanic looks like after more than 100 years on the ocean floor. Due to her weight and the force with which she sank, the bow of the ship is driven about 30 feet into the seabed and there are plates, shoes and all kinds of artefacts scattered around her. The ship itself is covered in 'rusticles', which make it look like she's melting, but I'm told these are caused by bacteria and would actually disperse if you were to touch them.

It was impossible to take any photos of the underwater footage, but you can see some of the display here.

Titanic Belfast photographed from the slipway where Titanic and her sister ship, Olympic, were built

This was actually my favourite part of the trip, walking along slipway No. 3, where Titanic was built.

This is where Titanic stood while she was being built and her outline is actually marked in white along the slipway. Her bow was facing in land and once completed she was launched arse first into the River Lagan. As well as the outline of the ship they've also marked where the lifeboats sat and have even added benches exactly where they were positioned on the ship itself. It was only walking the length of the outline that I really got a sense of how big Titanic was. Although the photo below of the propellers does show what a big girl she was...

Later in the day we visited the Titanic memorial in the grounds of City Hall, which carries the names of everyone who died...

...including a Ross and a James McGrady, 
which is the name of Dan's older brother.

There was also time for a quick Game of Thrones related photo, as it's filmed at Titanic Studios, which sits next to the Titanic centre. Where we're stood is actually at the stern of Titanic's outline on slipway No. 3.

Ghost Walk
Our last night in Belfast was spent roaming the streets with Ghost Walk Belfast, which operates walking tours every Friday night. It was a great way to discover some of the history of the city, as well as its dark tales, as we took in Belfast's oldest buildings and dark alleys. From grave robbing to live burials, there were certainly some gruesome stories and we were shocked to discover that some of the city's streets were built over graveyards.

A last night in Belfast wouldn't be a last night at all without a drink, so after the walking tour we headed for The Crown. One of Belfast's oldest and best looking pubs. Its booths even have doors so you can shut yourself away from all the bustle of the bar. These shots don't do it justice, but believe me the place looked amazing with its mosaic ceiling and stained glass windows. There's also a restaurant upstairs that does a good Irish stew.

And that was it, our Belfast adventure and Dan's birthday surprise had come to an end. I'm already making plans in my head to go back though, as there were some important things we didn't have chance to do, mainly visiting Sick Records and Good Vibrations. I think we're going to have to go back just so I can ticked them off my list of indie record shops I must visit before I die.

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