Scotland, Europe, the world

Belfast la a hot ticket for the low-cost amines

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You’re as close to Scotland as you are to the big city

Rebels with a Causewa

Look beyond your prejudices and Northern Ireland is one of the most beautiful corners of Europe. Words: Mark Robertson

0 be honest. I was scared. Not of the flight

over, no (a swift 45 minutes), not even of

Big Fred. the huge and hugely friendly car hire firm representative. whose swift directions to the main road sounded completely unintelligible through his thick Belfast brogue but made perfect sense out on the highway. No, it was the second time I saw a street with Union Jacks and Ulster flags hanging from the lampposts.

What do we in the rest of the British Isles really know of Northern Ireland? The enduring images from TV from the last twenty years aren’t of the rich greenery, a predominantly village culture or the populace busying themselves with their daily business. Instead. it‘s armoured police vans patrolling the streets of Belfast, bombs and balaclavaed men hurling bricks and petrol bombs at army barricades. In short, terror. So the first time I was confronted with a giant mural on the gable-end of a house paying tribute to the struggle of the UVF. I was openly shocked.

What people like me tend to forget is that the people of Northern Ireland have lived with the ‘troubles’ for decades. Despite Stormont. peace deals and attempts at decommissioning. the paraphernalia of political and civil upheaval has become part of the everyday features of the place. Whatever side you are on, it is there. In time they should become relics of a different age. It was only when I could overcome my prejudices that I

114 THE LIST 6—20 Sept 2001

could appreciate the country for what it is: one of

the most beautiful places in Europe.

Geographically. Northern Ireland is like a sensibly laid out Scotland. It looks much the same: a lush. often hilly. green landscape with pockets of heavy industrialisation plonkcd in at various intervals. It is. however. very compact. allowing the opportunity to drive around the entire province in a couple of days.

The north east coast was our destination and after a 90-minute drive through Ballymena we

Geographically, Northern Ireland is like a sensibly

laid out Scotland

arrive in the village of Bushtnills. A familiar name to those with a nose for a good snifter as it is the home of Ireland’s most celebrated whiskey. A tour of the distillery is an essential part of visiting this area. whether a fan of the drink or not. They may not have invented the stuff. but they pride themselves on just how tnuch more sophisticated their methods really are.

The objective of our whole weekend was simple: to see something which as a child had been pointed out to me on clear days from the south west coast of Ayrshire: the Giant‘s Causeway. The name itself conjures tip such

evocative images that the reality is a surprise. The Giants Causeway. like so much of Northern Ireland is smaller than you might expect. but a mere couple of hundred yards of coastline.

That isn’t to say it's not a spectacle. It definitely makes you wonder as to its origins -e is it the path which the giant l’inn .\lc(‘ool built to visit his lady love on the island of Staffa'.’ The huge hexagonal rocks jutting out of the sea look like some prehistoric Lego set. Standing there gives a feeling of finding something truly unique to this country. Dunluee (‘astle and the (‘an‘ick-a-Rede Rope Bridge follow this coastal line and the unspoilt sands of Whitcpark Bay remind you how much closer you are to the wilds of the Scottish countryside than the nearest big city.

A car is pretty essential. especially as you can take the eastern coastal route down to Belfast. A gentle two-hours drive takes you through the raggedy countryside where the roller-coaster country roads add a daredevil element to the awesome views out to sea.

On our return to the gentle bustle of Sunday afternoon city centre Belfast. it only highlighted how scant our weekend trip had been. how much more time we could have spent here a prime indicator of the quality of any traveller's destination. Best come back then. and this time leave the preconceptions at home.