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( Charity Number SC 027207 )

From 2nd to 6th June 2016, a number of our members headed to Northern Ireland and Donegal on our Spring Tour. A short report on the trip is given below.

Spring Tour to Northern Ireland and Donegal, 2 to 6 June 2016

The group all met up successfully after arriving on different flights from UK airports other than Gatwick to Belfast where we met our Brightwater specialist guide and award winning garden designer Trevor Edwards, together with Noel our excellent driver from McCaffey's coach company. We set off at about 1:00AM for a brief orientation visit of Belfast over the Victoria bridge seeing the High Court, Europa Hotel, St George's Market and University centre including Queen's designed by Charles Lanyon then Donegal square en route to the Titanic Quarter where we spend an enjoyable four hours in sunshine, arriving at midday. The Titanic Experience is a monument to Belfast's maritime legacy, situated where the ship yards of Harland and Woolf built the 3 great White Star liners, remembered by 2 giant yellow cranes, Samson and Goliath. We did a self-guided tour there of the interpretive and interactive galleries exploring stories of the Titanic, the city and people who made her, and a tremendous immersive theatre of underwater exploration. It is situated in a large urban waterfront regeneration area, This included time to enjoy the recently restored steam ship Nomadic which carried passengers to the Titanic at Southampton/Liverpool docks, built in 1911, the only surviving white star vessel, with immaculate plaster work in the public areas. We then drove to the hotel, the Dunadry situated in a rural setting off the A6 Antrim road NE of Belfast - a converted linen mill, our home for 2 nights. We enjoyed welcome drinks to meet the group in the beautiful garden and enjoyed a buffet supper.

The next day we enjoyed the drive via Lisburn, Ballylarinch, and Downpatrick to Castle Ward National trust 18C mansion with a classic façade facing the garden and Gothic façade the Strangford Lough. The mainly Victorian gardens include a walled terraced area, with exotic plants, and rock garden behind Irish Yews. The colourful rhodendrons were specular in the sun, Some members in 2 smaller groups went on a RIB boat trip on the largest sea lough in the UK, enjoying the seals, tidal turbine and lighthouse as described by our knowledgeable boat captain as we motored round, We reassembled to take the ferry across the narrows to Portaferry town with its white cottages and salt quays, hence on to Mount Stewart, recently restored to its early 19C, elegance, driving up the east coast of Strangford lough via Killibright Castle, Kircubbin and Rosemont estate. Mount Stewart is the neoclassical home opened in 1839 for the Marquis of Londonderry with one of the top world class gardens, beautifully landscaped. It has Spanish, Italian, and sunken gardens among others and a delightful lakeside 4Km walk through woodland. There was a good shop and café for our enjoyment before returning to our hotel via Newtonards and Dundonali for dinner.

Next we drove to the wild and scenic Antrim coast, an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (since 1980) and in the Guardian's top 5 European road trips, via Larne and the North East coast road stopping at Cushenden, a village in the care of the National Trust designed by William Ellis in 1912 of white and black cottages of Cornish appearance, with mansard roof. The undulating beech tree landscape became moorland as we travelled near the coast with steep cliffs and views of Rathlin island. This brought us to the oldest working distillery in Ireland from 1608 - Bushmills now owned by Case Cuervo (tequila) where we were given a conducted tour. It is a grain whisky (single malt) matured in American oak bourbon, or sherry casks, then left in madeira drums.

We continued to the Giants Causeway, an area if interlocking basalt columns. It is the first World Heritage Site in Ireland, and is associated with stories of the Giant Finn McCool. We walked (or bus) from the award winning visitors' centre to the causeway looking at the rock formations including the Giants and camel boot, and wishing chair then some members walked part of the shepherds stairs for stunning views then along the high path back to the centre.

We then continued on our journey to N.Ireland's second city Londonderry crossing the Foyle river on the upper level of the Craigavoon Bridge, learning about the history, including the 1613 charter from James 11, to the Ramada Da Vinci Hotel where we spent two nights. Some of us enjoyed a city wall tour with Trevor, these are 17 C, consisting of 2 storey complete ramparts of 1.5 Kms surrounding the historical city with defensive bastions displaying various guns and 4 original entry gates, and is one of the best walled cities in Europe.

The penultimate day we set off on a stunning drive north west to Glenveagh National Park, 170 sq Kms, on the hillsides of the Derryveagh mountains near the shore of Lough Veagh. It has been a park since 1975, previously a deer forest, where plant and animal communities are preserved in their natural habitats of moorland and woods of birch, gorse, willow, oak and mountain ash. Sadly the park, castle and visitors centre were 4 km from our coach park resulting in a slow queue for the bus and a rushed visit. Trevor took us round the pleasure and walled gardens. Some members took the opportunity to visit the castellated Victorian pile of a castle, but we could not do both. We returned to Letterkenny and then southwest to Donegal having a petrol station snack en route.

Donegal was established by the Vikings, later the O'Donnell clan, then Sir Basil Brooke after the flight of the Earls which we learned about during our conducted tour of the castle with its 15C tower, 17C house and 19C additions, the grand fireplace being of particular interest. It is maintained by Heritage Ireland,(Office of Public Works). There was some free time to explore the town and harbour before returning to Derry for our goodbye dinner in the hotel.

Malin head was visited on a lovely (hot 24*C) sunny day, a wonderful drive on high narrow roads expertly negioated by Noel, a chance to celebrate Trevor's birthday and to meet his wife who has a holiday cottage in the area. This is the most northerly part of Ireland on the Inishowen Peninsula from which weather reports have been sent since 1870. The 19C signal station is still there from which is a spectacular view of the coast. Banba's Crown and lighthouse. Episode 8 of Star Wars has been filmed here. We returned to Belfast on the main A6 after seeing Tredodreager Bay and Lough Foyle via Derry enjoying the wonderful countryside with wild orchids and cotton plants. Sheep and fish (mussel) farming are important here. We stopped at the Ponderosa, Ireland's highest bar for our only group lunch and continued on to Patterson's Spade Mill under the care of the National Trust since 1992 where we enjoyed our last group visit. This was sadly a rushed affair with late afternoon flights from Belfast. It is the last water driven spade mill still working in the UK, with a peak production of handcrafted tools in the 30s and 40s, an important part of Irish industrial heritage. We watched a demonstration of spade production as it had been done from 1919 until 1990 when the mill closed.

We then went to the 2 Belfast airports, Rusty having thanked our excellent guide and driver en route not forgetting Ellen at Brightwater holidays who designed our tour, and said goodbye to our newly found friends having enjoyed some good times together in lovely sunshine,

Gillian Davies, NTS Rep.

For more details on LMC activities, please contact Bill Kemp ( Visit Co-ordinator ) either :-
by telephone - 020 8642 1491 or
by e-mail - billkemp48@hotmail.com.

The National Trust for Scotland - London Members' Centre is a registered Scottish charity number SC027207.

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