Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sand on my Feet

This is the weekend we have all been waiting for. This is the one choice destination that has been front of everyone’s mind since we started looking into the area- The Giant’s Causeway. Along the north coast, the Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site made up of hexagonal shaped columns that form the stepping stones on the shoreline tourist attraction. The kids all absolutely loved Peggy’s Cove on our trip to Halifax last year and this would be the ultimate in what they call “rock climbing”, hopping from rock to rock to rock, preferably with a body of water close by. We had looked into the area and knew there was way more that we wanted to cover than would be possible in a day trip. Our original thought was to go the first weekend in August, however, rooms seemed hard to find so when we found a B&B that had a family room to sleep five that had availability this weekend we were more than happy to change the dates we had in mind (besides, this was the weekend we had penciled in a trip to London should a good deal come up on a flight- can’t say I disappointed that one never came to be).
We got on the road early, and partially because of the weather forecast, we decided to do the loop in the opposite direction that most traffic would flow. We drove first to Limavady. I was drawn to the town by mention of the Limavady Workhouse on a tourism website. It is described as one of the best preserved buildings of its type in Ireland. The blind fiddler, Jimmy McCurry, who wrote the melody for Danny Boy is said to have died. It all sounds very interesting to me, and aside from a small 19th Century section at the Ulster Museum the day before, we hadn’t really heard that much about life around the time of the Famine that claimed a million lives and influenced the emigration of about the same number.  We drove up to the site and it was not exactly as we were expecting. The Workhouse had been converted into a hospital in the mid 1930’s and has since become and outpatient clinic. Closed on the weekends, the property was being used today for a family fun fair. The lawns that had once separated young inmate boys from girls were today spotted with bouncy castles and other amusing games.  We took a quick peek inside and what is now a cafeteria had art work and words painted on the walls that reflected what went on within the original building. We were asked to leave, because the group had really only rented the lawns for public use. There is so much to be learned from the property. While not a happy history, so many have ancestors that may have lived in these workhouses before the emigrated to North America. It would have been nice to have had a tour and heard more about this part of Ireland’s history.
Now joining up with the scenic Causeway Coastal route, we stopped at Downhill Demesne. The views approaching the property are spectacular. We came around the bend and while Chris said “Oh, look at that” I agreed to the waterfall on our right while he meant the temple perched at the edge of the cliff, high and straight ahead. With the white sand beach below us and to the left, we were surrounded by postcard images.
We borrowed a tracker pack for Kyra and Gavin to share. The backpack included binoculars, compass, maps, bug identification cards and bug jars. Most items were used (and some fought over). The grounds include the Demesne (fancy word for estate), Mussenden Temple (cliff-top library), and Mausoleum, Dovecot (a stone dove condo that housed one hundred pairs or birds) gardens and Belvedere (fancy word for any architecture that incorporates the view, not the eighties sitcom).
We wandered around the grounds enjoying the view from every point of the cliff. We filled up the bug jar to take a closer look at a red a black butterfly and used the compass to confirm that the windows in the temple looked directly north east and west. Our imaginations helped us explore the 18th century manor that now lies in ruins. I was impressed that the older two kids are now able to notice where fireplaces and stables would have been as well as clues to a staircase that would have led to another level above us.
After having looked down from the temple at the beaches below we decided to stop down by the water. We drove down and parked directly on the sand only 30 or so meters from the water. We looked for seashells and dipped our toes in the water. The kids found that if you stood still on the wet sand you would slowly sink down into it. Kyra was not patient enough and wiggled her toes too much to sink neither Gavin and Elliot had a problem sinking in ankle deep.
As we were driving down the road, we spotted Hezlett House.  Built in 1691, the house is one of the oldest thatched cottages left standing in Northern Ireland.  The building was not as large or overtly stunning as some of the castles and breathtaking views that we’d seen earlier in the day but the National Trust property was very well laid out.  The house was furnished as it would have appeared in the early 1800s.  The property had red ribbons tied around tools and other items and they encouraged the children to lift touch and guess what they were used for.  Gavin seemed to enjoy turning the tables on Chris by asking him to identify objects and heaped praise as he correctly identified a saddle, bed and was proud when he stumbled on the water bottle and encouraged him to ask the guide.
Not so much feeling like we really needed to go to another beach today but interested to see what a beach protected under the National Trust had to offer, we drove down onto Portstewart Strand. OMG. I can’t even begin to tell how stunning this stretch of sand dunes are. We ventured away from the water following the sand covered pathways between tall lush grasses. The golf course we passed on the way to the shoreline was something that would make those without any interest in the game want to take the walk. The path that we took brought us into a clearing, still heavy with tall grasses, but there was one steep, sand covered incline that a grown man, obviously in training, would sprint up the incline to a marked point partly up the hill, run back down and rest, before sprinting up once again. It was a great spot to burn off some energy and while the Chris, Elliot and Kyra tried to conquer that incline, I headed up to the top of the hill opposite to try and capture the fun they were having in a picture. When I got to the top, I knew they would be just as excited as I was to se that the next clearing had not one but three of these steep inclines. Shoes removed we all enjoyed the sand in our toes. Gavin took a few tumbles (the first one startled him but I am convinced he thouroughly enjoyed each tumble after that) and Kyra and Elliot raced each other to the top and then back to the bottom again. This was certainly an unexpected highlight of our day. Gavin even had sand in his belly button by the time we left.
Kids are happily sleeping now. Our family room here at the B&B has bunk beds. One of the twin beds will go unused tonight since Kyra and Gavin have decided they will share the juvenile thrill of sleeping on the top bunk.  Only a few minutes from the Causeway itself, I can’t think of a better way to start our day. If only I could get up the nerve to cross that suspension bridge tomorrow. We’ll cross that bridge... well maybe not.

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