At 12th Century Carrickfergus Castle

Ivy (nee Joseph) Ridge is a very close friend of my close friend Sunita (Sue) Pillai from Bombay. It was Sue who put me on to Ivy and when I emailed Ivy to let her know that I would soon be visiting Belfast, she responded promptly and warmly and told me that she would arrive at the Youth Hostel to pick me up and show me around her neighborhood. I was overwhelmed by her hospitality and, to my immense surprise, we both clicked instantly. It was as if we had known each other forever!

At 11 am. on Sunday morning, Ivy arrived, as planned. I had eaten breakfast and had taken a walk around Great Victoria Street by the time she packed me off in her car and drove me along the beautiful Causeway Coast as it is known. Ivy has lived in Ireland for about 14 years and has grown to love the country immensely. Her husband Darryl is a Forest Officer…so it was only natural that she suggested we link up with him and her kids, Stephanie and Ryan in the forest. I was more than happy to place myself in her hands.

Carrickfergus Castle:
Our first stop on the lovely coastal road was the 12th century Norman castle of Carrickfergus which stands on the very edge of the harbor as if guarding it from intruders. It is in a remarkable state of preservation and is extremely picturesque against the few colorful boats that bob in the harbor. Unfortunately, we were unable to enter it to explore the interior as it opened only at 2 pm on Sundays. Still, I was quite pleased with the pictures we took as the sun was out and despite the chilly wind that blew incessantly, the day didn’t seem dreary. This castle was visited by William III and a sculpture of him in pirate’s dress stands at the entrance.
The Antrim Coast:
Miles of coastal road brought the magnificent drama of sea, waves, rocky promontories and beaches into view as we ate up the miles. As we passed the seaside villages of Gywnne and the larger port town of Larne, I was struck by the sheer beauty of the country. Ivy was an enthusiastic guide as she pointed out to me items of interest that I should not miss.

Soon, we reached the little town of Ballygally (don’t you just love these Irish names?) where a castle haunted by a friendly ghost has been converted into a luxury hotel (left).


We visited it briefly before we sought sustenance in a pub called The Meeting Point (left). There I treated Ivy to a traditional Irish Sunday Roast which was an enormous platter for two that could easily have fed four. There was turkey and ham, cocktail sausages and lamb shank, all superbly roasted and served with champ (mashed potato with spring onions), the best roasted potatoes I have ever eaten (Ivy actually told me how they are made), roasted carrots, Brussels sprouts, and the most delicious sauteed beetroot I have found. I ordered Guinness to accompany my meal but Ivy, who was driving, sensibly stuck to water. It was truly a meal to remember and though we were both stuffed, there was plenty on the platter that we returned (as it appears that doggie bags are frowned upon in Northern Ireland’s polite society–pity!!!)

Glenariff Forest Park:
Further north we drove through the harbor town of Glenarm where Ivy informed me that her husband Darryl owns a boat that is permanently moored here. In the summer, they are ardent sea farers, sailing to neighboring islands and enjoying the outdoors. As a forest officer, Darryl spends a great deal of time in the great outdoors and climbing, trekking, walking, hunting and fishing are his passions, interests which he shares with his kids. Before long, we were in Glennarif Forest Park where we were joined by the rest of the Ridge family.

Then began one of the most memorable parts of my trip–a long and interesting trek through a forest trail that took us past gushing waterfalls and stunning autumnal scenery. There was dead fall on the paths and small patches of freshly fallen snow which made negotiating the pathway’s rather challenging, especially for those of us who did not have suitable footwear. Still, with a hand from Darryl and a lot of giggling from the kids, I managed well and as we climbed higher to the accompaniment of the thundering waters of the cascades, I felt as if I had left civilization far behind and allowed the arms of nature to embrace me completely. It was heavenly and I wished I could have stayed there forever. Unfortunately, night falls early and rapidly in these parts in winter and by 4. 30, we began to lose daylight.

It was time to return homewards to Ivy’s home in Ballymena where, at her kitchen table, we warmed ourselves with large cups of tea. By 5. 30, I got up to leave and Ivy dropped me to Ballymena station from where I caught a train back to Belfast. In the company of two sweet Irish girls who were returning to the city after spending the weekend at their parents’ home in the country, I found myself back on Great Victoria Street making my way to the hostel.

After a conversation with Llew, I joined up with my suite mates (Jaime from Malaysia and Jo and Lisa from New Zealand) for a drink at The Crown, a famed tavern that is run by the National Trust. There, over a half pint of Guinness, we got to know one another and talk about our travel adventures.

An hour later, I was cozily tucked away in my bunk getting ready to pull the curtain down on another memorable day in Northern Ireland.

To follow me on the next leg of my travels to theĀ Giant’s Causeway, please click on the link.

Bon Voyage!