Belfast

After long consideration of the relative risks during the Coronavirus pandemic, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I finally swallowed feelings of unease and flew to Belfast to see Youngest Son (YS) and his Northern Irish girlfriend in their new home.  We had a packed four full days there – so packed that I will use two blog posts to cover my thoughts on our trip.  Here is the first.

Travel to Belfast by car and ferry was going to take a day and the fastest route involved travelling through the Irish Republic.  We were concerned about possible quarantine restrictions being imposed there during our trip but the ferry direct to Belfast from Birkenhead took nine hours and we couldn’t face that.  So we plumped for a short flight from Bristol, our closest airport, and a payment to Solar Aid to offset the carbon emission and to help people in Africa.

The 'Beacon Of Hope', Belfast (Also Known As: 'Nuala With The Hula' and 'The Thing With The Ring'

The ‘Beacon Of Hope’, Belfast (Also Known As: ‘Nuala With The Hula’ and ‘The Thing With The Ring’)

We had a wonderful time in and around a surprisingly sunny Belfast.  Fundamentally, it was good to be able to see how YS now lives.  Also, having shared a number of misgivings about his move to Northern Ireland while he had been staying with us during the Covid-19 lockdown, the visit indicated our validation of his move.  Beyond that, we ate and drank well, got a good feel for Belfast, and managed a day on the north Antrim coast and a day in the Mourne Mountains.  I’ll write more on those two trips another time.

LSW had the wise suggestion of starting our stay with a bus tour of Belfast.  With our best face masks firmly fastened again, we rode around centre and immediate suburbs of Belfast.  Much of the journey was through and past places that we recalled vividly from news reports of sectarian strife in the latter part of the last century: the Europa Hotel, Shankhill Road, Falls Road, Crumlin Road Gaol.  The Peace Wall separating communities in the west of the city is now repurposed for genuine messages of peace but it was still shocking.  The murals and the flags in many of the streets indicated the recent rawness of The Troubles.  Coupled with the helpful bus tour commentary, we got a very good introduction to the city.

Two Of The Very Many Street Murals Reflecting The Troubles Of The Past

Two Of The Very Many Street Murals Reflecting The Troubles Of The Past

Early highlights of the tour were the famous Belfast shipyards and new Titanic Experience museum which we visited on the following day.  My expectations of the visit weren’t very high – I thought that the exhibition would major on the sinking and the romance of the likes of Winslet and de Caprio in the award winning film; I was wrong.

The Titanic Experience Building

The Titanic Experience Building

The material on the Titanic’s fatal maiden voyage and a cross-section of the people who travelled and survived was well presented.  The exhibition also provided a lot of fascinating context such as the history of Belfast and, especially, the way industry built up around linen manufacture and then shipbuilding.  The exhibits included interactive displays and a splendidly unexpected and well operated automated ride through part of the building.  This was laced with audio and video that allowed us to get a better feel for the working conditions in the dry docks and the scale of undertaking to build the Titanic.

Our fortune with the weather made wandering the streets of Belfast pleasant.  There are few pre-Victorian buildings and many central streets are a strange mix of run down warehouses and old office buildings, late-Victorian civic and religious buildings (such as the Customs House, City Hall, and St Annes Cathedral) and the usual modern mish-mash of shops and offices.

Albert Memorial Clock (Yes, It Really Is Leaning Over), St Annes Cathedral And Belfast City Hall

Albert Memorial Clock (Yes, It Really Is Leaning Over), St Annes Cathedral And Belfast City Hall

One of the most impressive buildings is Stormont which is now the home of Northern Ireland’s Parliamentary assembly.  It was built in the 1930s next to the late Victorian Stormont Castle and sits in wide open grass and wooded grounds.  It is surprisingly accessible and views of it and from it are impressive.

Stormont

Stormont

Apart from Stormont and the City Hall, the city did not appear elegant but there is huge potential and an emerging vibrancy.  We saw the rumbustiousness of that vibrancy on Saturday night in the bar-laden Cathedral Quarter (not much social distancing there!) and in the presence of new hip coffee shops, cafes and restaurants.  Of these we particularly liked Freight, Established, General Merchants and OX Cave (sister wine bar to OX restaurant which we look forward to trying next time we are in Belfast).  Our centrally located hotel, The Flint, was also cool and comfortable.  We felt safe from Covid-19 and everything else wherever we went and the people we met were very friendly.

Belfast 3-D Street Art

Belfast 3-D Street Art

Other highlights in the City were a mini picnic and coastal walk along the river Langan estuary to Helens Bay and visit to Belfast’s rather weary but endearing Botanic Gardens.  The Palm House there is a scaled down, but rather more beautiful, version of the Palm House in Kew Gardens.  LSW and I used to live in Kew and so it brought back some old memories.

Palm House, Belfast Botanic Gardens

Palm House, Belfast Botanic Gardens

On our final evening in Belfast, we went to dinner at the house of YS’s girlfriend’s parents.  We had a lovely evening enjoying their hospitality and catching up with them for the first time since they visited Gloucestershire several years ago.  It was an excellent finale to an excellent few days in Belfast.

Sunset Across Langan River Estuary

Sunset Across Langan River Estuary

 

Back In The Shire

Those who follow this blog, or otherwise know me, will know that I am an urban man at heart.  For most of my adult life, the city – specifically London – has been the place to live and the country has been something to visit.  Now I’m retired to the country and visit the city.  I had a good dose of London life earlier this month but, for the last week or so, I’ve thrown myself into rural living back in Gloucestershire; it has been relatively various, worthy and entertaining.

The rainy weather hasn’t prevented me getting out for daily, lengthy walks.  LSW and some of her local friends have taken me on some routes I have not ventured on before and that has been enlightening.  I continue to get to know the area and to enjoy walking in it.  I’m comfortable that my steps target for the year is going to be met easily – one of the few 2019 resolutions that will be, I fear.

Local Beech Woods

A New Walk Through Beech Woods

Of course, Christmas is coming (putting my 2019 resolution target for alcohol free days in jeopardy).  I attended my first party of the season last week courtesy of the management of the Horsley Village Community Shop.  Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) works there very part time and so was invited gratis.  I paid an entrance fee to attend alongside her.  It was a very lively and pleasant celebration and a chance for me to get to know a few more local people.  The event packed out the village pub for the second time in a few days following the monthly village quiz a few days before.

The village shop, like the village pub, survives on the margins of commercial viability.  The shop is reliant on hardworking management and a squad of very part time volunteers like LSW.  I have been tempted to join this assorted band but have focused instead on helping with the Neighbourhood Plan and a small volunteer group looking to promote carbon neutrality in the village.

Delivery of Fresh Duchy Farm Vegetables To The Horsley Community Village Shop

Already, the Parish Council has supervised the planting of over 100 small trees this Autumn as part of a drive to increase carbon sequestration across the Parish.  More planting is planned and there are even grander plans in our nearby town of Nailsworth.  There, a symbolic start was made with the planting of a single holm oak and the distribution of around 100 smaller trees to those, including LSW and I, who turned up to watch.  We picked up a guilder rose tree and now need to complete the bargain by planting it.

Tree Planting In Nailsworth

Ceremonial Tree Planting In Nailsworth – The First Of Many!

One further bit of worthiness was a bit of renovation of the Horsley churchyard paths that I arrived just in time to make a minimal contribution to.  Village activities like these all help to make me feel part of the rural life here after decades of city living.

Gravel Laying In Horsley Churchyard

Gravel Laying In Horsley Churchyard (That’s My Spade Resting Lower Left)

The Neighbourhood Plan is now drafted and under review by Stroud District Council.  The hardcopy available in the village shop looks great and the pictures, especially, bring it to life.  It will be interesting to see what critique the Council provide – especially of the proposed ‘local green spaces’, one of which is adjacent to our land.

Comments and subsequent reworking of the Plan are not likely until next year and current attention is on consultation around the wider Gloucestershire County Local Plan.  I have some work to do in the New Year to help provide the village council with comments on this Plan from a carbon neutral and sustainability point of view.  I also need to analyse and present some recent village survey data on thermal efficiency.  Until all that is done, I don’t feel like tying myself down to a shift in the village shop.

Christmas preparations are underway in our house. Some of the Christmas lights are already up.  The Christmas tree is bought and will be erected and decorated next week.  That is all LSW’s province.

Christmas Lights In Our Kitchen/Diner Reception And Down The Stairs

My main Christmas task is to develop the annual family Christmas quiz.  This will follow Christmas dinner (with the 19 members of LSW’s family including me and our sons who will all be with us this year) and has become a bit of a tradition over the last decade or so.  I have also taken on making Christmas party hats from old newspapers and packaging these up with jokes from the Internet and a chocolate.  The first batch of ten hats is nearing completion – this is a small stab at recycling rather than buying lots of throwaway crackers.

First Batch Of Christmas Paper Hats

First Batch Of Christmas Paper Hats (Tasteful Financial Times Pink)

I’m back up to London next week to see the Moving to Mars exhibition at the Design Museum that Eldest Son is keen to see and for which he has bought tickets.  The visit gives LSW and I a chance to wish Eldest and Youngest Sons’ girlfriends happy Christmas personally.  From London I will then travel north to Nottingham to do the same with my Mum and Dad.  Then, it will be back to the shire once again for the Christmas Pub Quiz and the rest of the festive period.  All good!