This weekend is ‘European Heritage Open Days’ where over 300 properties and attractions right across Northern Ireland will open their doors to the public, many for free.
It’s such a great opportunity to explore hidden gems, especially those which are not usually accessible to the public and I always look forward to this weekend each year to try out new places.
I now live in the Glens of Antrim so I was delighted when Discover NI got in contact asking if I would like to explore some of the highlights along the Causeway Coastal Route, making my way along the famous road to experience dramatic landscapes, quaint villages and vibrant hidden heritage.
Here’s how I spent my 24 hours along the Causeway Coastal Route
Tuesday 4th September- Dobbins Inn
I started my tour 11 miles from Belfast in Carrickfergus, where I spent the evening at the Dobbins Inn. The Inn is situated in the heart of Carrick and has a unique legacy spanning over 800 years. Built in the early 13th Century, the Inn is a listed building with period features including a 16th Century Priest Hole and Elizabethan Fireplace, as well as a resident ghost Maud! (Thankfully I didn’t experience anything ‘spooky’ but, I’m told, she’s well-known to stroke the faces of guests in their sleep!) The owners of the Dobbins Inn are currently exploring the history of the building and are stripping back much of the plaster to see what original stone and brick work lies underneath. Carrickfergus Castle is right across the street so the hotel is a great place for exploring and starting your tour along the Coast.
Wednesday 5th September AM- Whitehead
Once I’d checked out, I made the short distance to the small town of Whitehead, which is known as the “town with no streets” (given that no road there has the suffix street!) The classic Victorian architecture is evident and it’s full of pretty cafes and shops. Of course, I had to go to the Marina to see the famous colourful houses while I was there too! As part of the European Heritage Open Days, Whitehead Art Gallery will be open so visitors can explore the Gallery and go on tours of the Edwardian House.
After my walk around Whitehead, it was time to head to Islandmagee to visit the world-famous attraction, The Gobbins. The Gobbins is an old Victorian walkway, with the path first opening in 1902. It was abandoned in the 1960s before being relaunched in 2015 and is now enjoyed by thousands of visitors from across the world each year. And I can see why! You’re walking right on the edge of cliffs along a narrow path and into caves below sea level. The views of the coastline and native sea birds are just spectacular. The tour takes about 2.5 hours and explores the history of the area and the path, tales of local smugglers, as well as hearing about the flora and fauna. I can’t recommend it enough.(The Gobbins isn’t a part of European Heritage Open Days but there are some tickets available for this weekend so make it a part of your plans, if you can!)
PM- Glenarm Castle
After my 2.5 tour I jumped back in the car and travelled the furthest distance of the day (about 20 miles) to Glenarm Castle. The Castle is the home of Viscount and Viscountess Dunluce, and is well-known for the Walled Garden, charming Tea Rooms and being home of Glenarm beef and lamb. I met with the Estate Manager Adrian who showed me around the beautiful, colourful gardens before we went to the Tea Rooms for lunch. Of course I had to try the Shorthorn Beef farmed in the estate (I couldn’t resist!) and went for the Shorthorn beef burger with cheese, bacon, crispy onions and tomato and chilli jam. Glenarm is such a lovely venue so stop for lunch on your tour this weekend! (If you’re heading to Glenarm, you can visit the restored Gatelodge, built in 1825, as part of European Heritage Open Days.)
After lunch it was just a short drive to the village of Carnlough, recently increasing in popularity due to it being a film location in Game of Thrones (where Arya Stark jumped into the water after her fight with The Waif.) I had a quick look around the village and the harbour before I meet with local guide Mary Watson at the Heritage Hub. The recently opened Hub exhibition reflects on how Carnlough and the Glens have been shaped by industry, trade and engineering. Mary is full of knowledge about the local area and, as someone who has recently moved to the Glens, I’d love to get back down and explore the Hub in more detail. The Heritage Hub will be open this Saturday and Sunday as part of European Heritage Open Days.
After hearing about the history of the Glens, I headed back down the Coast Road to the village of Ballygally where my last stop of the day was dinner at Ballygally Castle. The Hotel is a unique 17th Century Castle which overlooks Ballygally Bay and is reportedly haunted by a friendly ghost, Lady Isabella (my second haunted hotel in just 24 hours!). Brave guests can even visit the “ghost room” in the tower! I headed up to the haunted room and again, thankfully, didn’t experience anything spooky! It’s such an eerie room though, so I only took a few quick snaps before heading back downstairs! For dinner I availed of the set menu, which is 2 courses and a glass of wine (I had a soft drink as I was driving) for £20. For mains I had the Chicken Fillet, stuffed and wrapped with Northern Irish Dry Cure Bacon with Gracehill Black Pudding and champ croquettes, followed by Clandeboye Yoghurt and Honey cheesecake for dessert. As expected the meal was delicious (I’ve eaten in here numerous times and can’t fault it), and I finished the evening with a stroll around the Hotel’s Walled Garden.
I had a brilliant time exploring the Causeway Coastal Route and it was great to hear more about the history and culture of the coastal villages and attractions. Thank you to Discover NI for the fab itinerary. Check out https://discovernorthernireland.com/globalassets/events/ehod-2018/ehod-booklet-2018-.pdf to see all that you can explore this weekend in Mid and East Antrim and the Causeway Coast and Glens. Some real gems to be discovered!
Disclaimer: My overnight stay, tickets to The Gobbins, lunch and dinner were complimentary. All other extras, including travel and refreshments were at my own expense.