One of the nice things about Scotland is that it's possible to drive coast to coast in less than three hours - pretty impressive for we Canadians whose similar drive takes about seven days! With time growing short, on this locum here in Scotland, there were a few more places to explore. An overnight in Belfast, Northern Ireland, would fit the bill.
To get to the Stena ferry terminal (at Cairnryan) for Belfast, the route follows the coastal highway through South Ayrshire...permitting a view of the island of Ailsa Craig. It is pure magic - rising dramatically out of the sea. Many years ago when the legendary Wardair flights (featuring branded Royal Doulton china) flew into Prestwick Airport, we would see the island from the air...stunning. Sitting about 10 miles off the mainland, in the outer Firth of Clyde, it calls out...with a "siren" call.
Ian and Douglas, have sea kayaked out to Ailsa Craig a number of times, and detailed this incredible paddle AND hill walk in their postings. It must be a truly amazing paddle. Hopefully, when we return next, there will be a "window" of opportunity. Unlike the legendary Greek king Odysseus (and hero of Homer's epic poem), there was no need to be tied to a mast in order to resist the call of this special place. We'd be back, and besides, we had a ferry to catch...the Stena Superfast Vlll
Urban adventures are definitely fun...but in small doses. We realised quickly, however, a single overnight in Belfast was just going to scratch the surface, leaving no time at all for exploring the lovely countryside and coast of Northern Ireland.
So, here's just a few pics from a late afternoon and morning "walkabout".
There are, indeed, some rather interesting Irish pubs...
...and an ever-present blend of the old and the new.
Many will remember the the very difficult years of the "Troubles", during which over 3,500 people were killed between the late sixties, and the Belfast "Good Friday" Agreement of 1998.
Now, brightly coloured food vans and The Big Fish, a 32 foot ceramic mosaic sculpture of a salmon, reflect a hopeful and progressive future.
The Sunday afternoon indoor market was simply amazing, as was the music!
The frequent graffiti, not so much.
The Belfast waterfront is stunning, with many walking opportunities along the River Lagan.
Colourful boats and barges make the camera smile.
The tall ship Belem, a three-masted Barque, built in 1896 was moored at the Odyssey Quayside. Truly awe-inspiring. Now a sail training ship, registered in Nantes, France, she carries a maximum of 48 trainees who learn to manage the 22 sails.
The Belem is the oldest three-masted sailing ship in Europe - pure elegance.
Belfast, of course, has "titanic" history...as the birthplace of the RMS Titanic, the White Star Line, Olympic-class ocean liner that sank after hitting an iceberg on the 14th of April. 1912.
There's a very tiny personal connection. When I was eight years old and on a return visit to the UK, my mum and I sailed on the Cunard liner, Carinthia, from Liverpool to Montreal. I still remember seeing the massive icebergs, in the waters off Newfoundland.
"Titanic Belfast" is a world class exhibition of everything to do with the Titanic and the city of Belfast during the early years of the 20th century. We spent over three hours there...and could have spent much longer.
The SS Nomadic is in dry dock right next door. She is the tiny sister to the Titanic and built as a tender to both the Titanic and the RMS Olympic. It is the one remaining White Star Liner left in the world.
Standing on the very ground on which the Titanic was built, gives one a connection to a tragic, but compelling piece of maritime history.
It also makes the lives of those who were aboard ship that fateful night very real, and the acts of heroism very tangible.
I think they would like to know that.