Sunday, July 17, 2011

Blame it on the Rain

Street view of St George's Market
Weather-wise, it was a rather wet weekend in NI. For the most part, it rained the entire time but we were lucky enough on Saturday that it was sunny and the precipitation was more of a mist.

We made our way into Belfast Saturday morning and headed to St George's Market- rated as one of the top 5 UK markets. I pinned over the local Lamb, potatoes and some of the freshest looking fish I have ever seen. Considering we still had a full day ahead of ourselves and no fridge in the car, we passed on the fantastic looking, but quickly perishable fare.

Photo credit: Elliot
We did pick up some fresh vegetables, herbs, hard cheese and some delicious tayberries. A cross between a raspberry and a black berry, they are deeper in flavour and complexity to a raspberry much like a comparison between a Merlot and a Cabernet Sauvignon. We also picked up some "muffins" that were really cupcakes. After a quick browsing trip in Victoria Square and a speedy ( as much as one can expect, anyways) into Ikea, We returned to the car, opened the trunk boot, and it smelled incredible.

Who knew worms could travel so fast?
We headed out towards Bangor, where we visited the fair at the marina and looked into the local tourism office for information on deep sea fishing for Elliot. Gavin chose to ride a mini roller coaster and Kyra rode with him. The smile on Gavin's face could not have been any bigger. His eyes were wide and I would swear I could count the teeth in his grin if they weren't whipping by so fast. Kyra was the same way on the swing ride. Arms outstretched like a bird, she was experiencing the feeling only dreamed of before. This is the year she has mastered the swing at the park, honed the skill of pumping, and competes with friends to reach the highest height. With little more effort than handing over a few tokens, she was in pure bliss.

A short drive away, and many tears from the tired almost-four year old who didn't want to leave, was Crawfordsburn County Park. What is usually a very busy park of beaches, nature trails and an excellent visitors centre was almost deserted, probably because of the sun showers. Under the cover of the trees, we were fine and rambled beside a flowing creek and headed deep into the woods. Of course it smelled fresh, any woodland area would, but there was a disconnect in my mind. It smelled more like a garden centre to me than a forest. Not an evergreen tree to be seen, the aromatics that they lend to the forests we are used to back home were absent. Interesting, to me anyways, that that particular sense would pick up on the subtle environmental change.

The rambling about our rambling, is really only so that I can share more pictures. We enjoyed touching waxy leaves and examining roots in the hillside. We stayed off the path to cross the creek and watch the water rush by around us. Brightly coloured flowers were contrasted by dry, dark pine cones that had grown only inches away. Shamrocks grew, as they should in Ireland, at the bases of trees and the trail ended at a stone wall and series of steps that led us to a waterfall. What is so remarkable is that back on the other side of the glen, about 10 minutes past where we had initially begun our walk, the landscape opens to a magnificent lawn and drops down to a sandy beach. This is one of the places where Chris, on a house hunting trip weeks before we arrived, had seen seals playing in the water not far from shore. We weren't lucky enough to see any yesterday but the views were enchanting just the same.

Our plan was to head back towards Casement Park in order to watch a Gaelic Football qualifier. Late arriving to the area, we saw the sea of parked cars whose passengers were trekking quite a ways to get to the field. Knowing we would miss much of the game merely walking to the field, we decided to go home and watch the game on TV instead.

Cuddling up on the couch, and watching the very entertaining game was the perfect way to end a day.

Showers, and not the warm, wake you in a good way kind, we what we rose to this morning. We were to head south today and a few places we wanted to stop were outdoor activities. Today was cold, wet and damp. Definitely the wettest day since we have been here, it didn't let up. We headed toward the aquarium at the mouth of Strangford Lough. Exploris is Northern Ireland's only aquarium but also acts as a seal rescue centre for orphaned seal pups. Gavin had fallen asleep on the scenic and winding drive around the lough and was particularly clingy and sensitive for the first 30-45 minutes we were at the aquarium. He freaked out when cod fish swam  quickly towards him much the same way he does with dogs that get too close to him. His curiosity finally got the better of him in the middle of the presentation at the touch tanks that enabled us to learn about and touch dogfish sharks, rays, sea urchins, starfish, scallops and even a shark egg. After then, he happily explored all the exhibits making his own fish faces and excitedly pointing out details to the rest of us. We were able to see jellyfish, the same as the ones we had spotted on the beach near Galway, moving through water rather than in the sand. It answered the curiosities that we had had at the time about how long their tentacles were and why they had purple rings inside. We observed back-lit shark eggs just like the ones we had handled that you could see the actual baby shark swimming inside. And we also go to see six rescued seals all between one and four weeks old. They had been rescued from all parts of NI and all named after tropical islands. In two to three months, after they learn to swim and when ready, they will be released back into the wild.

A short ferry ride from Portaferry to Strangford brought us to Castle Ward, an 18th century home that is classically designed on one side and Gothic on the side over looking the lough.The property is 820 acres and not ideally explored on a damp rainy day. there are walking trails, bike trails (and rentals) and you can even explore by horseback if you have a horse and a permit.

The house was magnificently displayed. Self guided tour sheets were given to each of us when we entered the home. The little ones got a scavenger hunt to keep their interest. There were pictures of feet from each room. Statues, table legs, silhouettes, urns and taxidermy squirrels were among some of the feet they had to identify from the close up photograph.

We explored each room in the home open to the public. The dining room had a secret door in the wall and fancy wooden baskets to carry stacks of twenty or so plates. The family business was taxidermy. We were greeted by a bear when we entered the home and series of boxing tail-less squirrels in gloves and shorts showed the family's sense of humour. Boxes of shirt collars, boot hooks and fancy ropes hanging in each room to ring for servants dated the lives lived in the property. It was fun to explore the cellar level that housed the bells for those rope pulls, the wine cellar and kitchen- lined on almost every wall with copper cookware that would have been polished each and every night.

It would have been impossible to enjoy the house as we did had it been a busy day, but the rain kept most people away from the grounds that would take days to take it all in. Elliot spotted archery targets and we poked around the gardens before we headed to the barn that had lots of farm themed activities for the kids: dress up, pedal tractors, books and toys.

Looking at my list of other outdoor activities in the area, we realistically would never have hit any of them anyways, the grounds of Castle Ward were full of things to discover.


  1. It looks so beautiful and Green in Ireland . .
    we could do with some rain as it is very hot and dry here in Ontario. Love your photos and especially the one taken by Elliot.

  2. Let's see if it's 3'rd times a charm when it comes to google commenting. : )

    It looks like you are truly soaking up all the great adventures - what a great series of shots (although you know Elliot takes the prize this round - just look at the yummy subject!)
    Those are some contagious smiles. There was an equally big smile this side of mail delivery too - J was so excited to receive K's sweet card. Keep enjoying (and feel free to blow a round of rain in this direction).