That time we put on the clothes of the woman who was killed by a ghost, drank enough tequila to crash a wedding and explored Game of Thrones-esque landscapes.
Where? Northern Ireland
When? December 2015
With whom? Meghan (sister)
Between Christmas and New Year we went to Northern Ireland to see our brother play professional Ice Hockey: Braehead Clan vs. Belfast Giants. The Giants have a big budget so the atmosphere is great at their home games and the teams are pretty evenly matched so it’s usually a fantastic game. We took a few days to explore this part of the UK as well.
Our first night, we stayed in Ballygally Castle hotel. I’m not normally a hotel traveller but in this instance we were intrigued by the claim that it was haunted. Apparently, Lady Shaw fell or was pushed to her death from the tower and has been haunting the building for over 400 years. I am a mathematician so superstitions like ghosts have no affect on me whatsoever, but it was fun when Meghan put on the cloak worn by Lady Shaw when she died and then was worried that she would be killed in the night. I refused to don the cloak as it was much more entertaining this way.
The castle has preserved the haunted rooms as a tourist attraction and has its hotel rooms on the other side of the building. We went for a walk along the coast, but as we were far enough out of the city and away from light pollution, we couldn’t see very far so we were only out for about an hour. When we came back to the hotel we saw a wedding party going on! The atmosphere was buzzing so we stayed to have a drink.
It was then that Meghan confessed that crashing a wedding is something that she’d always wanted to do, and described it as something that was on her bucket list. It was something that I had done a few times when on travels (read about the one in Turkmenistan here) so I had no qualms of joining the party, but Meghan has always been more introverted than me. I thought I’d get a few tequilas down her and that might make her a little more confident. With each tequila we edged closer to the party. We table hopped until we were amidst the wedding guests and goings on. There was music but no dancing, and Meghan and I wanted to dance! It was possibly the tequila talking.
Meghan eventually plucked up the courage to allow me to ask the bride whether we could dance to the DJ she’d hired. She was so lovely and told us that yes, we should dance because it might encourage her guests to get up and shake their thangs. We did, and it did. We were such trendsetters that shortly after our entrance, most people were on their feet. We had so much fun with the guests to the extent that the beautiful bride invited us to her after party for further drinking and singing.
After a few hours of sleep, Meghan was relieved that the ghost hadn’t got her, and we set out to hit the rope bridge for 9am. It’s exactly what it says on the tin: a bridge made of rope, joining the mainland with a small rock formation in the Irish Sea. Everybody I have met who has been tells me how rammed it is with people, however, when we were there, it was dead. We thought momentarily that we had come to the wrong place, as there were no other humans. We crossed the bridge a number of times and watched the cascading waves violently crash against the rocks. It was ironically quite soothing. We jumped in time in an attempt to sway the bridge as much as possible whilst we were on it to get more of an adrenaline rush, but alas, we got told off by the guy checking tickets. Oops.
Next stop was the Giant’s Causeway. Legend has it that Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (pronounced Finn MacCool. I know, go figure.) built the causeway as a road to Scotland to fight the Scottish giant, Benandonner. Upon sighting Finn, Ben was so frightened by the size of him that he ran back to Scotland breaking up the path as he did so that Finn could not follow. Now if you ask the Scots about the selfsame event, they tell a rather different story.
The car park had hexagonal tessellating tiles, which tickled me. There is a showroom, where you can read all about the molten rock that formed the basalt columns which make up the causeway, then there is a short walk down to the causeway itself with a bus option. I love seeing how things in nature can fit so perfectly together. The basalt columns had formed hexagons and tessellated just as the artificial car park tiles did. I was fascinated by the formation to the extent that I didn’t care too much that I was being drenched by the waves that came crashing down over the rock columns, soaking most tourists. We climbed up the slippery columns that others dismissed with one look because we can be stupid like that. Fortunately, neither of us slipped or got hurt.
We had one more place to go before the game, and that was where Game of Thrones filmed the King’s Road. I don’t watch it, at the time, Meghan hadn’t watched it either, but we google imaged it and we were so impressed that we put it on our itinerary. The trees were concave against the road, almost as if they were reaching for each other over the cars. The straight length was impressive and you could understand why it would be the perfect place to film. We ran the length of it, dodging cars with drivers who weren’t looking at the road, too distracted and mesmerised by the way that the trees had grown.
We drove back to Belfast, (we had flown in here) to grab some food before the big game. We went to the Crown Liquor Saloon; a pub that had retained its booths from the 19th century where people would meet to have private conversations. They do an excellent stew.
It was walking distance from the rink so we ambled along in time for face off. It was a brilliant game. If you are in Belfast when the Giants are playing then I wholeheartedly recommend going to watch them. The cacophony of sounds from the big screens, buzzers, fans with drums and vuvuzelas all played a part in the terrific atmosphere. Our brother’s team lost but it was a good game and they held their own throughout.
Info: Ryanair have stopped their flightpath from Gatwick to Belfast, so Easyjet have the monopoly and have as a result whacked their prices up, which is a real shame. Our itinerary was perfect for the time that we had but there is loads more to do and see in Northern Ireland, so if you have more time then take it. We hired a car to get us around but that was mostly because we had limited time. It is completely doable by public transport using trains and buses. To check the hockey schedule and buy tickets go to this website.
Product of the week: It was cold in Northern Ireland. It was grey, raining most of the time, and bloody cold. Positioned in the Atlantic, I’m not convinced the wind isn’t a permanent feature. I used a North Face windproof and waterproof jacket. Having the windproof protection makes such a difference to your body temperature. It’s easily packed and small, so I take it most places with me.
Tip of the week: Don’t be shy about asking for something that you want (for example, joining the wedding festivities). The worst that can happen is you get a no, and you never see those people again. The best that can happen is you end up crashing a wedding and getting invited to the afterparty. Don’t ask, don’t get. If you, like Meghan, need a bit of tequila to get you there then do it!