Bye bye to the lovely, friendly, Cromore Halt Hotel as we drive off to hit Bushmill’s Whiskery at 10am. Its raining again, its always raining here but that does not seem to worry Irish folk as they are out and about in their motor vehicles, buses, coaches and bikes to have a look about and spend some ‘pounds’ for we are in Northern Ireland. Its different to the Republic of Ireland in its roads, which generally are straighter without twists, turns, somersaults, rock walls and hedges alongside, and therefore less interesting to us Daniel Riccardo’s. The architecture in housing is different, newer and clumped together in enclaves as though theres a defensive necessity but not in a village style. All are cream painted with maudlin grey slate roofs.
Bushmill’s Whiskey Factory, the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in Ireland going back over 400 years is a huge complex. In a fourty minute tour with guide Jerry a bald shaven 50ish man, tall not going to fat, loud voiced and strict, we learn about the ‘Mashing’, the ‘Grist’, ‘Wort’, the ‘Wash’, the ‘Still House’, ‘Ferints’ and evaporating spirits sent up to the angels. Jerry promises a free dram of Bushmills Red at the end PLUS a choice of Bushmill’s standard or 12 year old. Go fer da twelve year old he says with a twinkle. Fair to middlin’ tour in so far as interest goes and I enjoy both free whiskeys at 11am. Mind you, its 6.30pm in West Oz. Bushmill’s did nothing to swing me away from my favourite whiskey, Jamesons. With Glenmorangie a close second. Mind you, after the expense of this trip, I will be relying on others to provide the whiskey.
Bushmill’s was once owned by the Bushmill’s then others then Diaego the multi national and now as Jerry says, bi sim Mecico company. Never mind, Jamesons is owned by the French Company Pernod and the Chinese own half of Australia. The rest is owned by Gina Reinhart, Twiggy Forrest, Aboriginals (yay), Gas and Oil Exploration Companies and Canberra. Sue and I have a tenuous 1/52nd share of an apartment building. Or did when we left Australia.
We move on from Bushmills, I’m well under 0.5 though my bride is not so sure, and we head for the famous ‘Giants Causeway’ as unbeknown to us, so did a half squillion other people hoping to beat the crowds. We were all wrong. Accessed by a fairly narrow road with cars parked all about to avoid the parking fee at the top park, stupid us park in the top park and approach the grand looking information come everything, especially sales of memorabilia, building, framed in black hexagonal columns.
Its nearly 40 AUD for the two of us to get permission to walk down a steepish incline in the rain on a 1.2metre wide path with all earths people and races, some going down, some coming up puffing, to a corner way down there where I expect the Giant to have left his Causeway. But no, theres another rainy walk, away to the right where, in the distance close to Scotland, we see ant people crawling about. We move on and on avoiding the pacy buses that zoom past within a hairswidth of people, they the buses, tweeting their horns carrying people who paid extra for the privilege. I’m Mister Stingy. George and Amla would have come in a ten seater Sikorsky fitted with a movie channel and an artisan Nespresso Capsule coffee machine. With their nanny looking after the twins. We finally arrive at the Giants Causeway footprints and organ pipes and its fair crowded with people walking about on the lower accessible prints or octagon shaped pipes. Its raining and I’m a bit sooky as I’m wet, theres too many people I don’t know and some of them in heavy parkas, look as though they have just stepped momentarily out of a Balkans War.
People are walking and scrambling all over the lower basalt columns and I find that a bit strange and lacking respect. We take piccies, have a gawk and I’m thinking in between mood swings, why cannot we do this in Oz. We have fantastic shaped rocks, aboriginal ochre paintings, Gwoin Gwoin or Bradshaw paintings and etchings from antiquity. The Burrup peninsula’s amazing petroglyphs, over 50,000 of them pre dating much of Irelands history, have been dated to be a minimum 15,000 years BC, and what do we do. We build foul ammonia and gas plants nearby whose wastes polluted and eat away at the etchings. The aboriginal history or occupancy of Oz, was carried out without major disagreement, chopping off of appendages and mass slaughter. Just a tad of wife swapping, sharing of a kangaroo paddock, the occasional ‘pointing of the bone’, arguments over who purchased the cask and whose Centre link cheque paid for it. Nice one Des. We trudge back up the hill, round the corner and up the incline to money making central, the well designed heritage information building. George and Amla take off having an on-board Nespresso with cinnamon powder topping.
We motor on having left part of our bank balance at the Giants Causeway Heritage Centre towards Portbraddon which reputably, meaning I read it somewhere and therefore its accurate, has Irelands smallest church. I’m really not into churches these days, but the smallest. Got to have a squiz but we cannot find it. No signs, nothing, We go down into Portbraddon, one car width road, and at the end, theres the tiniest port, about seven well maintained houses and a sign saying, residents only. I miss it and drive in having to back out. We sulk a bit and have an avocado, red salmon on Ryvita biccy each in the small turn around and bugger off bay.
Then we are into Ballintoy and just beyond here is the ‘Carrick-a- Rede’ Rope Bridge spanning a chasm across to a tiny island where perches a solitary house. This bridge is not for the faint hearted, me, but Susan is game. Its still raining as we go down the hill with a gang of tour buses where a thirteen year old male speaks to us in his native tongue, Gaelic, and we enter a near full car park set in a quagmire. We do a loop as neither of us like quagmire, its raining, its crowded, its restricted access to the Rope Bridge, I have a fear of heights above two feet, thats 60cm, its crowded, did I mention that, I don’t like crowds, so we go back up the hill and drive on. That was all about me me me!!!. Selfish bugger. A bit further along the coast to the east, we find a parking area where scared people like me, park in safety on bitumen. And there in the near distance we can see the Rope Bridge with ants walking across it. The parking area paths are bitumised and the surrounds are grassed. Its nice and I chat to an American lady about how nice it is.
Continuing on we enter Ballycastle population of 5,089 of whom 77.7% are Catholic and 20.5% Protto. This is a recipe for trouble and as recently as 2001, there was ‘Troubles’. Prior to that year, many bombings and shootings took place in town. The nearby Bonamargy Friary is more peaceable and where, in a locked vault, lies the body of Sorley Boy MacDonnell once upon a distant time, leader of the MacDonnell tribe. Also the body of Julia MacQuillan a self proclaimed Prophet and Recluse known as the ‘Black Nun’. She is buried under the flagstones at the entrance to the Friaries Chapel so that she could be trodden on for ever more. Ballycastle is a nice well laid out pleasant town and if you are a practising catholic, you could make a life here six days a week. On Sunday, don’t go to church as its possibly the least safest place in town.
Into Cushendun, the entry and exit roads more reminiscent of Ireland than Northern Ireland with twists and turns, hedgerows, random rock walls and tree branches growing over across the road so that occasionally we drive through lovely green leafy tunnels. Cushhendun is a small village punching above its weight with its population of 138, seems more, with many houses, a nice sheltered bay where yachts wallow, cruisers await owners and us peasants gawk. The River Dun enters the bay and with Scotlands ‘Mull of Kintyne’ only 15 miles away, seen on a clear day which means possibly twice a year, all adds to the ambience of this small town. Partly thanks to Paul McCartney.
We push on and skirt around the large town of Ballymena and onto a ‘back or lesser’ road B18 as its a nice, easy to travel, through smallish villages and besides, its where the best hardy farming class people live. Taking the backroad enables us to skirt around the west side of the 30k x 15k very large Lough Neagh which has to its east, Belfast. We do not feel the need to visit Belfast.
All to soon we are into Cookstown where our next o/niter is the Royal Hotel chosen off the web us bypassing Booking.com as its now frequently cheaper, to deal direct with the hotel. In this instance we were a bit bewildered because hotel rooms in Cookstown were ‘thru the roof’ costing us near 200AUD for one night. The Royal Hotel looked the goods on Google but as we soon discovered, their website had been photo shopped, enhanced, tinted and glorified in a small shop in Timbuktu by Yasmine and her part time boyfriend and drug dealer, Ngumba. They offered ‘free parking’, ha ha, its out on the street, ‘free wi-fi’ ha ha it only works if you sit next to the reception desk, or preferably on her lap and then only at 3am, ‘free brekky’ ha ha but OK if you like a greasy potato cake, tinned eggs (scrambled), a sausage made from scrapping’s off the abattoir floor and bacon taken off the oldest pig in Cookstown. And I’m yet to get to our room, grr grr.
On entry after parking the jalopy in an illegally sized car park where it requires much backwards and forwarding, say 20 minutes, just to get the vehicle in a relatively safe position next to the rubbish bins. The hotel lower floor is passable with a nice open reception area, a large bar through there where the Cookstown Hurling Club is having a reunion, and away to the left, a restaurant area. Hmm, nice we think. But then, after getting our room key from the statuesque ageing Lorraine, we go up stairs, oh, the lift is not working, sorry. The once light grey stair carpet badly stained and smelling of urine, we pass the upper floor lift doors where cobwebs are growing and enter room 6 via a door that somebody has tried to jemmy open at one time. It still needs repairs to the lock – grr grr. The very small room floor space is near fully occupied by a massive over king sized bed with a purple quilt having glass babbles, three double pillows across its width with a backing of purple cushioned wadding. Theres a desk of sorts but one cannot pass by if the other is sitting as theres no room.
Thankfully, theres no mirror on the ceiling, whips, handcuffs nor dispenser of sex aids. I suspect this room is utilised by Dolores when she is entertaining the Cookstown Hurling Club as they could all easily fit on the bed and have a few hurls whilst they are at it. I apologise to my bride for having brought her to such squalor and we agree to get on with it but to not let it happen again otherwise she will be off looking for George Clooney. We go for a walk down town, 300 metres, the streetscape all sad looking unloved 2/3 storey buildings built right to the pavement, no ambience, no trees, no flowers, all devoid of life. Turning into Cookstown main street, market stalls are being removed and its rather a wide thoroughfare and apparently, the longest widest main street in Northern Ireland if not Ireland. At 2.1 k’s long x 41.15 metres wide, it is a bit impressive but the shops lining each side, many with roller shutters pulled down, is sad looking and needing a boost with paint and good cheer. The shutters a hang over from the ‘Troubles’. There are large tubs of flowers, a few banners and away in the distance, a church steeple. Hmm thinks Des, how did I choose this town. Cookstown has a population of 10,646 so its fairly big but I do not know where they all are nor if they are alive or did they count the gravestones when they last did the census. We go back to the Royal, into the bar where the Cookstown Hurling Club are into the last chorus of the team song then they thankfully depart with Dolores who is at the giggling, shrieking pain in the arse stage. A slightly built middle aged small man sits at the next table and orders steak and chips. Just steak please, no vegies, He’s dapper, blue shirt, tie, grey hair, highly polished black leather shoes. He starts to tap his foot and then his fingers on the table whilst whistling. This is a bit disconcerting and perhaps he is the coach of the Hurling Club and has been left out of the celebrations. He continues his tapping, whistling until a huge steak arrives and a bowl of chips. Hmm. We go up to our room, I put a chair against the door, and we have a fine dins of avocado, red salmon and a few green leaves on seeded Ryvita biccies washed down with a cab sav, She, and near the last of the Glenmorangie, Me. Ooroo from Desmondo Clooney.