Getting to know each other by getting to know Ireland – A weekend of Exploration on the Causeway Coast

Posted on May 8, 2017 @ 12:53 PM in Walking

The metaphor of the journey is often used to describe a person’s life. Never has it been more fitting than in capturing the experience of Dublin woman Mairead Donnelly. Since meeting her boyfriend Donal McAsey last year Mairead has literally been on a journey through Ireland. Early in their relationship the pair decided that they would use travel and discovering Ireland as a way of getting to know each other. Over the past eight months the couple has explored Dublin, Wicklow, Tipperary, Kilkenny, Wexford, Clare, Meath and Belfast. 

 Causeway Cliff Path Walk

From left - Donal, Mairead, Hope and Conor 

An avid walker Donal was keen to share his love of hiking with Mairead and as any Irish walker will tell you the key to enjoying it in this country is having the right gear. So in autumn last year determined to throw herself into the walking adventure Mairead took herself off to the wholly Irish owned store 53 Degrees North in Carrickmines.  

As luck would have it the visit coincided with a competition co-hosted by 53 Degrees North and WalkNI. The coveted prize a three night stay for four people in Atlantic Way Portrush, a popular self-catering accommodation and a guided cliff walk along the world renowned Causeway Coast Way with Belfast based company Away a Wee Walk. Without thinking too much about it – Mairead completed the entry card and was delighted when she received news that she had won the competition.

“I was thrilled to win the prize. It has been awhile since I was up North and I knew instantly who I would bringing with me – Donal of course and my friend of 22 years Hope and her husband Conor.”

Mairead and her boyfriend Donal travelled North on Friday morning. “We would love to have driven the entire coast from Dundalk but it would have taken too long, so instead we opted to drive to Belfast and from there we followed the Causeway Coastal Route from Carrickfergus, through to Cushendall and on to Ballycastle via Torr Head.”

Stopping off en-route at Carrickfergus Castle to have a look Donal described the experience:  "The castle was beautiful and oozing with history, I was told by an employee in the castle that he was giving a demo on the different suits of armour and weapons used back then, I was excited when he chose me amongst other adults and children that I was able to try out the plate suit of armour. This gave me an insight of what it felt like on, but I couldn't imagine going into battle with something as heavy"

The intrepid pair later stopped off and took a courageous and breath defying walk across at the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge before arriving in Portrush in the late afternoon.

“Una had texted me a code for the key safe and we were able to let ourselves in. The house is beautiful, very cosy, everything you could need including a stocked fridge and we immediately felt at home. We were greeted by a welcome note and four chocolates on the table, and a chocolate by our bed side. It was such a lovely gesture”.

 Atlantic Way Portrush

A keen walker herself Una Lynch owner of Atlantic Way Portrush added “It has been great to meet Mairead and her boyfriend Donal. I was delighted to sponsor the competition. Atlantic Way Portrush is a new venture for me and I have tried to create a little ‘home form home’ for visitors. Over the past year the house has provided a second home for visitors from all over Europe, USA, Australia and China. But it is always lovely to have Irish guests. Those who are visiting the North Coast for the first time are often surprised by how beautiful it is. The Giant’s Causeway is usually the reason for visiting but the spectacular coastline, beaches and restaurants are some of the reasons for returning.”

 

Hope Hand a doctor in Dublin’s Mater hospital travelled up after work with her husband Conor Hand on Friday evening. “I was delighted when Mairead invited us to join her for the weekend. It is great to get out of the city and into the countryside – breathing in the Atlantic air is such a tonic.”

On Saturday morning Mairead and her friends met with Eimear Flanagan of ‘Away a Wee Walk’ for a guided walk from Dunseverick Castle to the Giant’s Causeway.

Driven by passion for walking and sharing the beauty of nature with visitors Eimear explained:  “We are so lucky to live in a country with such magnificent scenery. The cliff walk from Dunseverick to the Causeway rivals any walk in the world for beauty. The National Trust has done some great work conserving the path condition and making it accessible and I love sharing the experience with visitors like Mairead and her friends, it is such a privilege. Observing the awe with which people react to the scenery is so rewarding. We were blessed with fantastic weather and magnificent views of Rathlin and Scotland. The highlight for me was hearing Donal say that if he had 'come to the Causeway and only learned about the cliff path afterwards, he would have been so annoyed'.  The Victorians were more familiar with the path than we are today, that is changing though.  Without a doubt the Causeway stones are a significant feature of the coast, but they are certainly not the entire event.”

 

 

Walking is only part of the odyssey that Mairead and Donal have embarked on. Mairead explained “Coming to Portrush has also given us the opportunity to visit the Bushmills distillery and sample the world famous whiskey. In addition to the walking this past year we have also been visiting other Irish breweries and distilleries. James Gate, Teelings, the Whiskey museum and Smithwicks.”

On Sunday morning Mairead and her friends took the ferry from Ballycastle to Rathlin Island, Conor explained "we agreed we would walk around the Island instead of taking the bus, it was a beautiful walk up towards the lighthouse and I was amazed that we could view Scotland from there it was beautiful, I could of walked for miles.”

Maximising every minute of the trip the group returned to Portrush from Ballycastle via the 200 year old "Dark Hedges" made famous by the Game of Thrones.  Mairead explained "We wanted to visit as many places as we could during our stay, we are early risers and love to learn about each county we have been to and this was a great opportunity to do the same while being up North,”

On Monday morning everyone was up early. Inspired by Mairead and Donal’s experience Hope and Conor headed home along the scenic Causeway Coastal Route.  Mairead and Donal took time to explore the ruins of the 16th Century Dunluce Castle on the fringes of Portrush, "It's history was explained well by an Audio we had seen in the discovery room, we then made our way around the castle and got spectacular views out across the Coastline."

Poignantly yet fittingly the couples final stop was to pay their respects at the Dunlop Memorial in Ballymoney" Donal explained "Joey Dunlop was described as "King of the Roads, himself and his brother Robert were legends and tragically lost their lives doing what they did best, motorcycle racing, the memorial was set up in Ballymoney in 2010 and I wanted to go see it personally myself so we stopped by.”

Reflecting on their trip Mairead said "We were sad to leave, we really enjoyed our stay and plan to come back one day soon again, Una and Eimear had really made it special for all four of us, we have learned so much and love it up North.”

Looking to the future Donal said "We have plans to travel around Ireland within the next coming weeks months and years, we want to head down south, possibly around Co. Cork, Kinsale etc. eventually when we have our own country travelled we will be travelling abroad for new walks and adventures. Mairead added "I will be putting our first scrap book together of all the places we visit so we can look back on it in years to come." I'm very blessed I have someone to venture from place to place with creating great memories and learn new things. Anyone who feels that this country is short of places to see and things to do, I'd love to show them differently.”

Giants Causeway

Atlantic Way Portrush accommodates four people and can be booked via AirBnB, TripAdvisor and Booking.com.  For more information contact Una Lynch + 44 7825509441 AtlanticWayPortrush@gmail.com

Guided walks with Away a Wee Walk can booked online or contact Eimear Flanagan for more information +44 78 3770 3643 eimear@awayaweewalk.com

Article by Una Lynch 

Sarah Nelson
Sarah Nelson  Marketing Officer

Sarah joined the marketing team of Outdoor Recreation NI in 2011. A firm believer in giving anything a go at least once (unless it involves jumping out of a plane at 6,000ft!) she is always looking for new adventures in the outdoors and can often be found wandering the Mournes or Glens of Antrim attempting not to get lost!

Post a Comment

Name *

Email Address * (will not be published)

Comment *

Northern Ireland's Outdoor Adventure Blog outdoorni.com walkni.com cycleni.com canoeni.com