We recently lost Middle Son and his partner to London. They had been staying in our rental ‘tin house’ a couple of villages away from us while London stagnated and then started to bounce back from the Coronavirus lockdown. Now he is back enjoying a resurgent but safer (I hope) London. However, we have been compensated by a recent visit to Northern Ireland to see Youngest Son (YS) and his partner and then, over the last few days, a visit to us by Eldest Son (ES) and his partner on their way to a wedding.
These contacts with our sons are priceless. When I was working there didn’t seem much time for more than transactional exchanges with them. Of course, now it is they who are time-constrained by work. However, since retirement, I feel more relaxed and have more time to understand their lives and what makes them tick.
Plus, they live in wonderful places. We loved our trip to Edinburgh to see ES a couple of months ago Now, all things being well, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I are planning further trips there later in the year pre and post-grandfatherhood/grandmotherhood.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland has continued to surprise and our trip a couple of weekends ago to see YS there was lovely and, once again, enlightening. We were lucky that our trip coincided with the rarest of events in Northern Ireland – a warm and sunny period of weather! I’m joking, but certainly the weather was a treat and helped show off Belfast and surrounds in their best light.
YS was, as ever, keen to ensure we saw the best of County Down and County Antrim. He planned an itinerary for us of forest walks, waterfalls, mountain walks and coastal walks and drives. The trip was dotted with excellent breakfasts and dinners in cafes and restaurants run by young, creative entrepreneurs who have imported the best of big city cuisine to Belfast and the nearby towns. The high quality reminded us of or meals in Australia when we went there. Even in Ballymena which seemed relatively run down, there was a café, Middletown Coffee Co, selling some of the best breakfast fare I have had; the toastie was tremendous.
In a similar vein, Boundary Brewing, which we went to on our first night in Belfast, was just about the best pop up warehouse bar I had ever been to. A lot of Belfast is rather unreformed with architecture focused on function and security but pockets of Belfast are truly inspirational in the way they are taking off with creative businesses, eateries and drinking holes.
Of course, YS maintained his reputation for taking us off to see wonderful sunsets and sunrises. The sunrise we saw demanded a 4.00am departure but YS’s enthusiasm as he prepared everything the night before for coffee by a campfire as the sun came up, and his willingness to allow us all to snooze in the car as he hurtled to the 5.20am sunrise, was compelling. We made it to a deserted White Park Bay just as the sun peeked over the horizon and through the just-enough-cloud that YS had laid on for us.
I think we will all remember the moment for ever; or at least until the next sunrise YS takes us to.
Breakfast that day was also excellent; this time it was in Portstewart at Awaken. By the time we had driven the coast road back to YS’s home we were ready for a quiet pint in a local pub, a gentle stroll in a nearby park, a nap and a pause in eating before setting out to another well-appointed new restaurant, Yugo East. There we had a multi-course, fixed-price menu of considerable sophistication. I’m not sure why I didn’t expect this level of quality in Belfast but I am coming to do so.
Our forest walk was at Glenariff Forest Park which was delightful and which we will return to when there is more water to gush through the narrow ravines and over the numerous waterfalls.
We then walked up a mountain, created from a pre-historic volcanic plug, called Slemish. This dominates the landscape between Ballymena and the coast and provides great views. We didn’t need to rush in the warm weather, there were occasional cooling breezes, and the panorama from the top was a great reward for the scramble up and down.
Our final day was quieter since YS and his partner had to return to work. After another great breakfast at General Merchants in East Belfast, LSW and I simply boarded a public bus and travelled from the far west side of Belfast via the Falls Road and back again. The bold murals lining some of the route are a clear reminder of Belfast’s past. The burnt patches of land resulting from the Battle of the Boyne bonfire celebrations in mid-July are a reminder than there are still strong tensions below the surface of Northern Irish life.
We took in an architectural tour of the city centre and had a final fill up at Established Coffee before a last walk with YS down the Comber Greenway (the first of a large network of such cycle/walk ways being implemented across Northern Ireland) built on the route of the now defunct Belfast and County Down railway. YS then whisked us off to the airport and home.
Both trips we have made to YS’s new home in Northern Ireland have been great and we know there is lots more to see. We will be back again soon but armed with waterproof clothing since surely we can’t be as luck with the weather again?