Ireland - Belfast
Tuesday morning I was up and ready to move from Derry to Northern Ireland's capital city. Heading down the two flights of stairs from the Townhouse room, I slid the heavy roller bag over the carpeted steps and parked it in the parlor. I then headed down to get a banana for breakfast and some coffee. Back to the room to clean my teeth and finish packing the smaller bag, I descended and hung my key, went out the door with both bags, and rolled down the hill. Through the gate in the old city walls, taking the further road down so I had a bit more rolling to do to get to the bus centre, I bought a multi-use day ticket and waited for the bus.
We rolled away on schedule at 9am, and almost an hour later the driver pulled over at the Flyover and I collected my bags from underneath. I had about a mile to push/pull the bags up the hill to the center of Maghera. The new Church of St Lurach was across the street, locked, with ruins of the churchyard walls and the Cathedral of St Lurach in a field opposite.
A public utility worker was busy near the locked gate into the churchyard, and suggested (since he didn't have access to a key) that I try the business around the corner which shared the stone wall. Scotts, a lumber yard, proved to have a key, and the other gate was unlocked. And they said they'd watch my gear while I climbed the grass and markers as I explored around the old cathedral.
Once I had enough shots to feel accomplished, I returned and got into a conversation with two guys. Having put my camera down to removed my jacket (it had gotten warm), I neglected to take it with me as I headed to the bus stop at the cinema. Fortunately, the younger man came after me and handed me the Nikon.
After 75 minutes of waiting for the bus, I decided to return to the Flyover stop and continue to Belfast. From the EuropCentre station, Maps had me walking about double the steps, as I could have strolled through a shopping promenade.
My room at the Maldron was ready, so I dragged the bags to room 1110, unpacked a bit, and then checked to see if I could visit the second intermediate stop on my itinerary. I was in luck, and still using the same ticket, I was off to the Bridge Street stop where I took one bus to an intermediate stop, waited 30 minutes and then rode into the joint towns of Conner and Kells.
There is a new Church of Ireland church built on the site of the former St Saviour Cathedral, I wandered with the camera clicking through the churchyard and former monastery ground.
Two more bus rides, with a wait in Ballymena, got me back, passing the Cathedral of St Anne, the CoI cathedral in Belfast.
As I'd not eaten since the banana at breakfast, I set out roaming for an early dinner, avoiding restaurants in hotels, fast food establishments, and bars without kitchens. Winding up at Sweet Alton, just down the street from my hotel, I started with cream of courgette (zucchini) soup and the starters black pepper onion rings and garlic sauteed cubes. For a main, orzo with chorizo, scallops, prawns in basil olive oil, which arrived with the starters. "Cubes" turned out to be half-inch cubes of boiled potato, sauteed lightly with garlic spears. The onion rigs were greasy but tasty. The pasta needed something for texture - it was all too soft.
I returned to my room full. After unpacking (I was there for 3 nights), I backed up the photos, checked the watch for steps (14020) and set my alarm for the morning.
When I book lodgings, I typically do not include breakfast, as I'm not really ready to eat first thing in the morning. Wednesday I planned on a daytrip by bus to Downpatrick. Up at 8:15, out in 30 minutes and armed with a ticket within another quarter hour, I was ahead of my schedule and soon on #516 and after clearing the city limits, rolling through more verdant sumptuous landscape. (Pictures from the bus are iffy: motion, reflections, the surprise tree.)
The Cathedral of the Holy and Undivided Trinity is surrounded by hills, trees, fences, markers and I was hunting for my angles to truly represent the structure well. The roadway loops close around the building with a short wall topped by a mound of grass. At the top of that hillock is the rock covering the supposed burial place of St Patrick (with St Brigid and St Columb, during a 12th century re-internment.)
Once I'd exhausted my options (including using the smartphone camera, and waiting out the fuel oil delivery truck) I headed into Down Cathedral. The interior was different (my notes read "weird") with the organ situated on an arch between the vestibule and the nave. There are boxed pews, something I'd seen rarely in cathedrals (usually in New England Congregational churches.) The nave was almost square, instead of the long central aisle leading to the altar and quire. There is some splendid glass and interesting carvings.
Leaving the cathedral, I began down the hill into town, stopping at the city musuem which featured the story of the museum structure's multiple uses as garrison, prisoner of war, refugee camp.
Dropping to the St Patrick Experience, I bypassed the £5 fee for a brief video and wandered the shop. I also checked out the local Roman Catholic Church of St Patrick in town.
Having heard that the first church St Patrick had been given was in the nearby Saul, I set out. When I'd discussed it with museum staff, she'd said they drove to the site and walked the pilgrimage back to the cathedral. Well, about 2 miles of the 2.5 mile hike is uphill. Stopping at a SPAR for a sandwich and water, I continued to the church.
Not much there, and I decided I'd not find the climb to the largest statue of St Patrick, which was "nearby". A local woman was walking by as I decided to seek Maps for a return to Belfast, and she advised I had to walk back to Downpatrick. Fortunately, Eileen was walking the same way after visiting a friend (her husband had dropped her off) so I had a companion to speak with on the return. Plus downhill with cmpanionship seemed to go much faster.
Catching the return bus at 4, I thought to stop at St Anne's on the way, but it closed at 4. Back at the room I finished the first Scottish blog, and then set out looking for an optician's store, as the screw on my readers was coming loose. At the buscentre I checked to see if I could get my ticket for the next day, but was told it had to be a same day purchase. So then I set out to find dinner. Selecting the pub The Rusty Saddle, I ordered a Redbreast whiskey and a Guinness while I perused the menu. Chilli (sic) nachos, an Irish steak and Guinness pie and a small salad got ordered. Once again, the salsa for the nachos tasted like spaghetti sauce, something I'd encountered in 2019 in Britain. The pie was delicious and hot, with the steak very tender, but there was too much mashed potato which was runny.
Back at the room for the usual nightly routine, the step count was an impressive 16,507.
Another day trip planned, with a multi-stop bus ticket. Because I wanted to leave on the 9am bus, the ticket seller strove to find me a discount, but still had to sell me a full fare multi at £17. Off south to Dromore on the #238, we left 10 minutes late (which was half the margin for the discount fare.) I was dropped at the town center, and had about a block to walk to get to the church.
The Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer is a small stone building on a corner, with a low wall separating the grounds (a good size cemetery fills a large corner plot) from the t-intersection of the road. After walking around the cemetery to get angles and not finding an open door, I approached a woman who was wiping down and cleaning a gravemarker. She directed me across the street to an alley where the church offices were.
As I walked along the side of the building, a gentleman with a wheelbarrow spotted me and asked after my need. Explaining my desire to view the interior of the cathedral, it turned out he was a warden and had a key, and was pleased to allow me access. We crossed, he opened the door and returned to his tasks, asking me to pull the door closed behind me when I departed. Again, a strange layout. Parallel peaked roofs made for a near square footprint. The altar and quire were under one vault, near the entry I'd used. Pews were laid out with some perpendicular. Lots of interesting glass, and an intriguing throne. There were two sets of organ pipes - traditional circular tubes at the altar, with square tubes in the other sides' loft.
Leaving, I had time before my next leg north, I sought out the Church of St Columb, the Catholic parish church which sat on a rise and had a nice view over town, including the Wesleyan/Methodist church.
Back to the square, the #538 rolled in about 5 minutes late and took me a half hour north to Lisburn. An accident in the rotary just south of town resulted in a diversion (which I watched on my phone and Google Maps,) but I still departed at the buscentre. I'd arranged a guide, so I followed instructions to find Ken Gibson waiting for me outside the Christ Church Cathedral.
Ken greeted me as I entered the gate, and we spent about an hour in the church, speaking of the cathedral, my journey, Ireland. The church is quite bright, has many elements of interest: William Wallace window, memorials to French Huguenots who exiled and worshiped there, and the sailors who died in Belfast harbor during an attack by the American colonies' ship during the War for Independence. The bishop's throne, while impressive carvings, is placed awkwardly in the back corner, and the present bishop doesn't sit there.
Leaving, I walked up the hill to the bus stop. In retrospect, I should have walked down to the linen museum, as it is the best on the linen industry. Once the bus arrived, I researched on Google Maps, and found I could make a change and get to the Roman Catholic cathedral in Belfast on my way back to city center.
The Cathedral of St Peter's is impressive, with an intense amount of stenciling on the walls, columns and vault, and the organ pipes in the rear loft.
After about an hour, I decided to walk back into town, zigging and zagging through residential neighborhoods and diverting to an optician to fix my readers and then to check the laundry shop. I wanted to drop my dirty clothes off for wash-dry-fold, but they wouldn't be able to do that the next day. However, my sports jacket needed cleaning, and I left it over night.
As I headed back towards the Maldron, I stopped for dinner at The Teal Monkey, mainly because I was intrigued by the name. Aiming for a healthy meal, I had a chicken Caesar with smoked pancetta and tempura cauliflower buffalo wings with a Guinness.
Two local women sitting a table away joined me in conversation, and we walked to The Crown Liquor Saloon, a classic bar with snugs for a few drinks. We had pushed in on a small group who eventually left, and we were then joined by some young men who kept me company with a "blackbush" (Bushmills Black Label) once the ladies left. Feeling no pain, I headed home to backup photos and see that I had 12,099 steps.
A late start, I'd booked a walking tour "A history of terror" starting at 10:30. Finding drizzle on the street when I left just after 9, I returned to my room for my "Tilley het". Locating the start point, I had an hour, so I just wandered about looking in windows and at building fronts. The guide was Paul, we were a group of about 18, and he fortunately had a radio microphone and personal earphone sets for each of us. His focus was on the Troubles in Belfast, which meant a focus on events from 1971/72 through 1995. He stopped mainly at sites of bombings and barricades, not mentioning the graffitti art much. Cobblestone and concrete sidewalks were hard on the feet.
Parting at the end point near the bridge and river, I headed over to the Cathedral of St Anne's and paid my £2 entry fee.
The information flyer was another pound. The building is huge, a stone and marble monument. Side windows feature the prophets and other Old Testament figures, with modern glass in the windows of the ambulatory. There are two cathedra, for the bishops of the dioceses of Dromore and Down. While not a warm space, I admired the modern blond wood used in the quire and sanctuary, as well as the baptismal font. The sleek needle-like spire observed from the outside continues to point above the main altar.
As it was approaching 4pm and my jacket would be ready, I began walking in that direction. I hoped to find the market I'd visited on my initial visit open, but apparently it is opened only on weekends.
Once back in the hotel, I put in 90 minutes on the next blog. With an evening appointment back where I'd toured, I headed out, looking for some bar food, as my next event was with the Belfast Artisan Gin School at the Thirsty Goat. Climbing the stairs just before 7, I found out that they'd adjusted the time and had been underway for an hour! I quickly caught up to the couple from the Pacific Northwest, and began sniffing about 45+ botanicals (aromatics, spices, berries).
Selecting before looking at the labels, the amount to add was indicated on the label, and I soon had a bowl about half full. Mixed together, I poured the dry material into a small mini-still which already had grain alcohol. While the gin distilled, we sat and talked while consuming a gin and tonic. Once the heating process completed, we added water to bring the beverage to 44% ABV and poured it into a bottle, and then corked and labelled it. Leaving with instructions to wait a week, I had yet another heavy glass bottle to fit into my luggage.
Belfast restaurants close earlier that I'm used to. At 9pm, I was left with mainly fast food, so I went into Pizza on the Square for a sitdown double pepperoni pizza and a Peroni (draft.) Back at the room, I packed up my gear, with the big roller done and just the small guy needing toiletries before the trip to the bus centre in the morning. The watch surprised me with 17,139 steps!