This weekend I took a trip to Northern Ireland with a couple of the other guys on my internship scheme. The Belfast roadtrip involved some very historical sites, a few Game of Thrones stops, and plenty of natural coastal beauty.
Overall the trip cost us less than €50 per person for the car and hostel night. Food and booze is another matter, but if you’ve traveled at all you should be able to budget for those. The car was through Europcar, booked about 12 days in advance, and the hostel was Vagabonds booked through Hostelworld.com.
Picking up the car from Dublin city we hit the road about 11 on Saturday morning and drove directly to the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre, the gateway to the Newgrange and Knowth ancient sites. Despite plenty of warnings, (normally the wait time is pretty long) we were lucky to be able to immediately join the Knowthe followed shortly by Newgrange. Tours include transport to the site, and are necessary to gain access to the megaliths, there’s no sneaking in or queue jumping possible.
Knowth has one megalith, surrounded by several satellite tombs, it has clearly been reconstructed in parts, but a lot of the original pieces are still in place. It is an impressive site, especially when you understand that these monuments were built over 5000 years ago, 500 years before the first Pyramid in Egypt. The tour guide was knowledgeable and interesting, showing us the various stages in development that had happened in and around the hill. There is also an opportunity to go inside, to a newly built display room, showing some of the more recent (but still 100s of years old) developments and the entrance to the original passageway to the central chamber that held the remains that led archaeologists to believe it to be a tomb.
Newgrange is a larger and more visually impressive site, with the quartz wall rebuilt along the front side. The carved rocks on display are the originals, and in the correct position, and are the reason for the wooden steps that lead to the internal passage. While this somewhat spoils the frontage, it protects these carvings, with the Tri-Spiral, a symbol only seen at this site. The tour guide here provides an excellent base of knowledge about the site, including the uncertainties involved with piecing together the evidence, and the variety of theories about the area. You are lead into the megalith to the very centre, a chamber which contains three large dish shaped pieces that are said to have been the first stones laid (they are too large to fit through the passageway). There is some wonderful original carving, as well as some less historic carved graffiti from the 1800’s. Using the lights it’s possible to give you an idea of what the room is like on the morning of the shortest days of the year. On these days the sunlight comes through the ‘roof box’, a window above the door, right into the chamber. This is only for 20 minutes maximum, and is said to be of ancient sacred significance. You can enter a lottery to be allowed to be in the room on one of these day on the heritage ireland website. I hope the weather is good for the winners.
Our next intended stop was the Tollymore Forest Park, a site for some Game of Thrones filming, we took some interesting wrong turns along the way, and ended up driving through the mountains of Mourne. This was an excellent accident, and the gloomy weather made us feel as though we were driving through the wild North of Game of Thrones/Misty mountains of Lord of the Rings. Some spectacular views later we found the park, but not the filming location, after a quick drive by we moved on.
Castle ward and Audleys tower, overlooking Strangford Lough was the next stop, taking in a few more filming locations and appreciating a walk along the lake edge. The castle itself is not too impressive, but head to the waters edge and take a stroll, it’s impossible not to be impressed. Great views of the lake, with some wonderfully picturesque old buildings make for excellent photos, and Audleys Tower is a nice little site, perched atop a hill overlooking the lough.
The last stop was Belfast, with no google maps thanks to flat batteries we found our hostel eventually. Vagabonds is great small hostel, welcoming and fun, even if we were the only people drinking around the table at first. The staff were good fun, and took us, and all the other guests who wanted to, to the local drinking establishment, a bar/club/off license, known as Laverys‘. Playing a nice mix of indie and rock downstairs and funky house and pop in the upstairs loft club. It was a good way to experience Belfast in a night.