Given the jam-packed schedule, we knew our Tuesday in Northern Ireland was going to be a long day but, whilst it turned out to be very busy, it was one of the most enjoyable outings I believe I have ever been on.
Frances from Glenara Elite picked us up in her Luxury coach from Roe Park Resort Hotel at 9.30am. Alongside her was Mark Rodgers of Dalriada Kingdom tours – easily the most knowledgable tour guide I’ve ever met. On the journey to our first stop, Mark sat with us and explained much of the history about the local area – a great preface to the rest of the day.
Mussenden Temple and Downhill House
This was our first stop and, as we walked through the orchard and former servants quarters connected to Downhill House, we got a taste of what was to come. The ruins of the big house gave a sense of how majestic and imposing this building must have been before it was burnt down in 1851. Despite having been rebuilt in the 1870’s, it fell into disrepair during World War II.
Originally built for Frederick Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol at Downhill, Northern Ireland, there were signs throughout the structure informing you of what particular areas would have been such as the library, the great hall and the courtyards. Mussenden Temple is located on the very edge of the cliffs near Castlerock. If you look out of the window directly opposite the main entrance, you can see the Atlantic Ocean below.
The temple was built in 1785 for the Bishop’s niece, Frideswide, in the design of a library. The Bishop appeared to have been extremely fond of his niece and, in folklore befitting Game of Thrones, some say they were far too close…!
Speaking of Game of Thrones, the temple overlooks the beach on which Melisandre first committed a number of “traitors” to her Gods with her version of a barbecue. Thankfully, we didn’t see any ritual sacrifice when we were there. Apparently they save that for Wednesdays.
Portstewart Strand & Harry’s Shack
The next stop was the beaches of Portstewart Strand. The weather at that point was blustery and overcast but it didn’t matter – it was a stunning stretch of coastline and you could see Mussenden Temple in the distance.
This was where Jaime Lannister landed with Bronn on the shores of Dorne on their mission to rescue Myrcella. Nearby was Harry’s Shack, a cafe made famous by food critic Jay Rayner. Frances picked us up a coffee and slice of millionaires shortbread whilst we took a needed pitstop. Driving to the next location meant we could enjoy the coffee and cake – albeit on a rather bumpy ride – whilst looking at the stunning coastline.
This was where Ross, Grace and I were in our element! If you didn’t know already, Ross and I met at my local drama group so dressing up is very much us! Bertha at Causeway Historical Costumes is the lady responsible for this grand idea. You select an exquisitely made period costume of your choice, she then dresses you and teaches you the mannerisms that suit your outfit. Grace and I chose royal colours and, of course, Ross chose to dress up as Jon Snow, complete with permanent sulky expression!
Dressed in our finery, we took a stroll to the castle and toured it in our outfits. We took lots and lots of photos – and, from the attention we were getting, I believe we will make an appearance in the holiday snaps of many other people too! Click on the photos in the gallery below for a larger image of us in our costumes:
It’s a wonderful idea – you really get a sense of what it must have been like to live in those days. Mark was, once again, the perfect guide and told us many of the wonderful, rich stories behind the castle.
Causeway Historical Costumes offers an absolute bargain at £10 per outfit to wear on your tour of Dunluce, so I would very much recommend getting there whilst you can. There are talks afoot of incorporating this idea into the new visitors’ centre. I have a feeling that, before long, this will get booked out in record time.
The Causeway Hotel
Because we spent far longer at Dunluce than we had anticipated (it was scheduled for 30 minutes but ended up being two hours!) we were playing catchup but, thanks to Frances’ excellent organisation skills, our lunch was moved from 1.30pm to 2.30pm. We arranged to meet our tour guide from the National Trust for the Giants Causeway at 3pm, however, service took far longer than expected and we had only just received our food by the time 3pm came.
Ross, Grace and I selected from a varied menu. I chose seafood chowder, Ross selected beef lasagne and Grace opted for the burger which, in her words was ‘rather bland’ and ‘needed more seasoning’ (that girl watches a lot of Masterchef!). I enjoyed my meal, as did Ross.
Due to further delays, and the fact that Caroline, our tour guide at Carrick-a-Rede, had commitments, once again our plans changed and we set off for the rope bridge, rearranging our trip to the Causeway for later.
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
This was the element of the tour that we were all a little apprehensive about but were all determined to do! At this point, two lovely American ladies – Trish and her daughter, Sammy, joined us. Trish had brought Sammy to Ireland as a reward for graduating and they were great company.
Caroline was another very knowledgeable guide. She was very explanatory about the location and showed us various points of interest along the way – including the crocodile’s nose and body! (Not a real crocodile, I probably should specify… see the photo below and see if you can spot what I mean).
Arriving at the bridge, there was a bit of a queue as each side had to give way to the other and take it in turns. As we walked down the steps towards the bridge, I was close to backing out – but everyone has to do something to scare them a little – right?! Grace was behind me and Ross was then behind her. As I crossed, I refused to look anywhere but ahead, all the while telling a rather scared Grace that it was going to be alright. Once we were across, we were all very pleased with ourselves and made our way to the hilltop to take in the views – with a still trembling Grace!
The way back over was a little less scary. In fact, I found the walk up the steps after the bridge to be worse! Parts of the area in and around Carrick-a-Rede are Game of Thrones locations also.
Just along from Carrick-a-Rede is Ballintoy Harbour – also know as Lordsport on the Iron Islands. It’s a stunning area where we took a pitstop and Frances kindly bought us all a honeycomb ice cream. At this point the sun was high in the sky and the weather was warm and sunny. The area is beautiful and we were pleased to take a breather from all the walking which we had just done.
The Dark Hedges
The Dark Hedges are better known as the Kingsroad on Game of Thrones and is the route that Arya Stark when, dressed as a boy, she made her escape from Kings Landing. I have to say that it looked a little different with all the people and cars frequenting it during our visit there but it is quite breathtakingly beautiful.
The Giants Causeway
We had originally said our farewells to Mark at Dunluce Castle but, because the National Trust guides finished at 5pm and we didn’t get back to the Giants Causeway until around 6pm, Mark returned to be our guide – and we were so very pleased he did. He had explained to us earlier in the day that this was his favourite place to give tours and, throughout our time at the Causeway, it was easy to see why. Mark has such passion and love for this location and is so knowledgeable about every inch of that route.
At the beginning of this part of the tour, Mark told Grace about the Causeway Fairies who, if they liked you, would place tiny little pegs on your clothing. It wasn’t long before we found a tiny little peg on her jacket, followed by another later in the tour. She was totally thrilled.
There was plenty to see on our walk down to the Causeway – flora and fauna familiar to the area and even an old man’s face in the rocks.
We were in awe of the imposing, rugged coastline of this famous landmark. Apparently it had been one of their busiest days due to the weather and thousands of people had covered the rocks during the day but, by the time we got there, only a few people remained. Ross, Grace and I took the opportunity to make a wish, each at different wishing areas that Mark pointed out. Whilst we all made a wish in different places, I believe that we all wished for the same thing…something that has eluded us for a while now. Let’s hope the luck of the Irish is with us now…!
Making our way back up the hilly pathway to our tour bus, Ross and I listened to Mark relay the tale of Finn McCool and the Scottish Giant Bennadonner and how the Giants Causeway and Fingals Cave came to be. I defy you not to be fascinated by this!
Frances then took us back to the Roe Park Resort, very tired but extremely happy after a long day of walking and driving. We were supposed to have been dropped back at around 5pm but we eventually arrived back at 9.30pm. Incredible value for money if you ask me!
The tour is ably arranged by Frances Galbraith, the lady behind Glenara Elite Tours. Not only does she set up the day but tailors it as you go, rearranging timings and tours where necessary and asking what we would prefer to see. She quietly works away in the background to ensure her guests see as much as possible without compromising on the time spent at each location. One word of advice – don’t sit at the back of the bus if you get easily car sick! The roads are very bumpy and sitting over the rear wheel is not a good idea.
Frances doesn’t pretend to know the history behind the Causeway Coast and Glens so she commissions Mark to guide the tours whilst she does the driving and arranging. This is a really well-organised set up. The great thing about Mark was that he struck the right balance of knowing when to talk to us, and when to leave us to our own devices. The depth of his knowledge of the area is remarkable and each time we asked him a question, he knew the answer.
On our return home, Ross remembered one of the things that Mark had said to us – céad míle fáilte (a hundred thousand welcomes)- and, as his and Grace’s memento of our trip for me, they found me a stone bearing this phrase.
We had a truly wonderful time with Mark, Frances and the two ladies who joined our tour. We highly recommend both Glenara Elite and Dalriada Kingdom so if you ever make the journey to the Causeway Coast you should definitely look them up – you won’t regret it!
If you would like to see details of where we stayed then take a look at our review of the Roe Park Resort Hotel
For details of other excursions in Northern Ireland, take a look at our review of the Bushmills Distillery Tour
Disclosure: We were provided with this tour by the kind people at Glenara Elite and Dalriada Kingdom Tours in conjunction with Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council. Please note that all words, images and opinions have been formed by the owner of this blog and have not been influenced in any way. Please do not reproduce any of the content or images on this post without prior agreement from Victoria Visits.