Tour Lough Neagh this summer

If you’re starting to plan your summer holidays, now you can tour Lough Neagh at your leisure with a range of guided tours!

Steeped in history, heritage, folklore, fauna and culture, Lough Neagh provides the backdrop for this unique range of one day tours which depart from Belfast.

  • Lough Neagh Crosskeys Flyer Tour, Co Antrim

Visitors will be transported from Belfast aboard the ‘Crosskeys Flyer’ to enjoy a traditional evening of music and craic in Ireland’s oldest thatched pub and where they can purchase one of the best tasting pints of Guinness in the north. The stone built cottage was once a coaching stop on the route between Belfast and Derry~Londonderry and dates back to 1654.

  • Lough Neagh Shane’s Castle Tour, Co Antrim

More recently acclaimed as a location for Game of Thrones filming, visit the ancient ruins of Shane’s Castle and hear the stories of the family Banshee. Inspect the mysterious black face on the rock which must remain in place to protect the continuation of the O’Neill dynasty. And enjoy indulgent afternoon tea in the old railway café!

  • Lough Neagh Craic ‘n Food & Drink Tour, Co Antrim and Co Londonderry

A sampling of Lough Neagh Eel accompanied by stories from an eel fisherman whose family have been fishing on the Lough since the Flight of the Earls in 1607 starts the tour which ends with toe tapping traditional Irish music in Ireland’s oldest thatched pub – The Crosskeys Inn. There is a visit to Northern Ireland’s only buffalo farm at Ballyriff and a stop off at a pub made famous by much loved local poet, Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney on the Lough Neagh Craic ‘n Food & Drink Tour.

  •  Lough Neagh Wilderness Tour, Co Armagh

For those who wonder what rural life was like before technology took over, this one day tour transports visitors into the wilderness to provide an insight into how the ancestors of Lough Neagh lived and survived! The ultimate adventurer’s day out, Lough Neagh Wilderness Tour offers visitors an opportunity to build a shelter and a chance to canoe on Lough Neagh with only the resident swans for company.

  • Lough Neagh Rams Island Tour, Co Antrim

A short boat journey to Ram’s Island where visitors can explore a round tower from the remains of a 1,000 year old Celtic monastic settlement and the ruins of the O’Neill family’s 19thcentury summer house on this unique Lough Neagh Rams Island Tour.

  •  Lough Neagh Heartland Food & Drink Tour, Co Armagh and Co Tyrone

Foodies will enjoy the first stop on the Lough Neagh Heartland Food & Drink Tour, at award winning Harnett’s Oils. The cold-pressed rapeseed and hemp oils are made from crops grown on the family run farm. At the next stop visitors can sample Long Meadow Cider and take in a tour of the orchard.  At Crannagael House, a grade two listed Georgian house, a delicious buffet showcasing the produce on the tour will be provided. The last stop is at a real gem of a pub in Moy which has been in the Tomney family for 300 years.

To book a place, log on to www.loughneaghtours.com

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Timescape Belfast- can you escape?

Locked in a room and having to figure out how to escape in just one hour? Now, does that sound exciting or slightly terrifying?!

Well, that’s what we experienced at Timescape Belfast, a new escape room where the aim of the game is to work out how to ‘get out’ before it’s too late.

Escape rooms have become huge in recent years, with players using different rhymes, puzzles and codes to work out the next move. Think a mix of ‘Crystal Maze’ and ‘The Krypton Factor.’ It requires skill, logical thinking and most importantly, team work!

The theme of this Escape Room is Titanic- the Final Hour. Can you escape before the ship sinks? It may seem somewhat of a strange theme but it isn’t crass or insensitive. It could be the inside of any ship.

I went on a Thursday night with 2 other complete novices (teams are anything between 2 and 6 people) and we were locked in the room with one clue to help us on our way.

To be honest, for about 10 minutes we didn’t know where to begin! We just kept looking around us for inspiration.

But soon, we got the hang of it and we were cracking the codes together and apart. When we were stuck, we were able to avail of some clues which popped up on the screen, but players are asked beforehand if they would like them or not in times of need.

The time starting ticking away and when it got to 50 minutes I started to panic. Can we do this?! Or are we going to fail miserably?

Thankfully, we did it! With just 4 minutes to go…..phew!

It was such good fun and really got me interested in escape rooms. It’s great craic and perfect for team building. The high score to beat when we were there was just over 30 minutes….can you do it?

Harry’s Cushendall

I live in Cushendun at the weekends and always enjoy checking out the local food and drink offering in the Glens.

Last weekend we were invited to try Harry’s restaurant situated in Mill Street in the heart of Cushendall.

I had eaten in Harry’s before (last year), but was keen to try it out again as it was recently taken over by the restaurant’s chef Alistair McGregor.

Husband and wife team Alistair and Liane have been in charge for 10 months now, with a revamped menu and a new look and feel for the place.

We went for the lunch menu which is served from 12-5pm and offers a range of starters, main courses, burgers, salads and sandwiches.

The starters (priced from £4.75 to £6.50) include the Chef’s Soup of the Day, Duck spring rolls, and Hot and Spicy chicken wings.

As a cheese lover, it was the Crispy breaded brie which caught my eye, and my dish came served with a light salad and sweet and sour sauce. The warm brie oozed out once cut open – just how I like it.

The competition for the best Seafood Chowder is fierce in the Causeway Coast and Glens so Barry had to go for the Chowder served with wheaten bread. He said the Chowder, which uses local seafood, was delicious with large chunks of fish.

For mains I decided to go for a dish on the ‘Daily Specials’ board. It was the start of December and I was yet to have my first Turkey and Ham of the season.

In hindsight I didn’t need a starter as well as the Christmas dinner because gosh, was it huge! Talk about good big country portions! I couldn’t finish it, I’m ashamed to say!

Barry went for a much more sensible lunchtime offering- the colourful Harry’s open prawn salad.

Other mains include Beer battered scampi, 8oz rump steak, creamy chicken carbonara and Harry’s veggie burger with chilli jam.

We really enjoyed our lunch and the comfortable, homely setting of Harry’s. If you’re visiting the Glens over the festive period and fancy a good feed, then try out their Christmas dinner!

Crispy Breaded Brie

Seafood Chowder

Harry’s Open Prawn Salad

Turkey and Ham Christmas Dinner

Translink Tasty Travel Tours

Translink has a range of day tours from Belfast including shopping at Kildare Village or Tayto Park fairground in County Meath. But they will soon be starting food and drink tours due to their rising popularity in Northern Ireland.

I was very lucky to get the chance to be on one of the pilot tours, named Tasty Travel Tours, to see what’s on offer!

We met at Europa Bus Station before boarding the bus to go to our first stop, Indie Fude in Comber.

Indie Fude is an independent supplier of produce from around the island of Ireland, from cheeses and meats, to oils and chocolate. Some of the local producers include Balinteer Farm, Love Olive, Burren Balsamics, North Coast Smokehouse and Suki Tea (amongst many, many more).

At Indie Fude we were treated to a cheese tasting in the store’s dedicated “Cheese Room” before exploring the shop where I picked up some local favorites – Abernethy Butter, Broighter Gold Rapeseed oil, Corndale Farm chorizo and Eastcoast Seafood smoked chilli cheese.

We then headed to the home of the award -winning ShortCross Gin at Rademon Estate in County Down. I was really excited to tour the distillery as it’s one of my favourite gins, but first we were served lunch by The Edible Flower.

Having run a successful supper club in their East London home, Erin & Jo founded The Edible Flower in 2016 back in Northern Ireland. The Edible Flower is a fork to fork supper club and catering company so the food was delicious, as you can imagine.

We then did a tour of the distillery, which was fascinating, before learning how to serve the best G&T with a gin masterclass!

This 6-hour long tour was a great insight into local food and drink and I think the concept is a great move for Translink! I’ll let you know when they are up and running!

Check out all my videos from the day.

Indie Food

Lunch by The Edible Flower

Shortcross gin

Touring the distillery

Indie Food purchases

Bonamargy Friary, Ballycastle

On our trips to Ballycastle we often pass ruins of an old Francisan friary.

At the end of September we decided to explore them a little more, as you are able to walk in and around them which I thought would be fascinating.

Bonamargy Friary was built around 1500, but many of the features are well preserved, including the cloister, gatehouse, altar and church.

The remains of Sorely Boy MacDonnell, a Scots-Irish chieftain, are said to reside there.

The friary is also supposed to be haunted by the “Black Nun” Julia McQuillen, who lived there alone in the 17th Century after it was no longer in use.

Some say she fell to her death while others say she was pushed and that’s why her ghost still haunts the grounds. (Thankfully we didn’t experience anything sinister!)

It was a really interesting place, full of  history. Have a look at some of my pictures:

Tomb from 1630

Brunch at The Gallery

The Gallery cafe and bar opened its doors on the Dublin Road in Belfast a few months ago.

Since then, I have seen many pictures of its stylish interior, elegant crystal chandeliers and most importantly, mouth-watering food!

I was invited down to try out the new breakfast menu which is served from 8am. My mum and I went at 11am on a Wednesday morning and were shown a seat beside the window.

The place was relatively busy with locals drinking coffee, as well as three American tourists who were praising the food. Good start!

The breakfast menu is priced between £4.95 for the Gallery Organic Porridge which is served with a mixed berry compote and honey, to £9.95 for the New York Breakfast, which was to be my choice after a recommendation.

Other breakfast dishes include French Toast, Homemade stacked pancakes, Smoked Salmon and Eggs, Poached Eggs and Avocado, and of course, the Gallery Ulster Fry.

I was torn between the Ulster Fry and the New York Breakfast, but I was told the New Yorker was really good – so I put my trust in them!

The New York Breakfast is two poached eggs served on a toasted bagel, with baby spinach, smashed avocado, Halloumi, cream cheese, sun blushed tomatoes and pastrami.

When it came I wasn’t disappointed in my choice- it was filling, it looked elegant, it combined different flavours and textures and most of all, it was really, really tasty!

My mum went for the Eggs Benedict which is two poached eggs served on sourdough toast, with honey roast ham and Hollandaise Sauce. She, too, was impressed with her brunch and said the Hollandaise sauce was zingy and creamy but not too thick.

The Gallery is chic with an impressive arty decor, and fits in really well on the Dublin Road. I’m looking forward to seeing what else it has to offer.

New York Breakfast

Eggs Benedict

Stylish arty interior at The Gallery

Stix and Stones at Balmoral Hotel

I’ve been to Stix and Stones in Belfast City Centre numerous times since it first opened just over 3 years ago and always loved the “steak on a stone” experience. What better way to get your steak just how you like it by cooking it yourself!

At the start of August I visited the Balmoral Hotel for the Belfast Masterchef Challenge where we told the exclusive news that Stix and Stones Part 2 was opening…in the very place we were sitting! Yes, Balmoral Hotel!

I thought it was a fantastic idea. There are loads of people who want to experience Stix and Stones who don’t necessarily want to go into Belfast city centre, who prefer to eat locally, who want ample parking or who want to have dinner and a few drinks and be able to stay over too!

So, when I was asked if I would like to try the new restaurant last week, of course I couldn’t say no!

We arrived at 6pm so were able to avail of the Pre-theatre menu which is available Monday to Friday from 5pm to 6.30pm. You can get 2 courses for £15.95 or three for £18.95.

The starters include Minestrone Soup with warm bread, or Goats cheese with pickled pears, pear gel and filo pastry.

I went for the Stix and Stones Chicken wings which are served with a creme fraiche salsa, while Barry choose the miso glazed salmon with fennel, blood orange, quinoa and rocket.

I loved the starter- the chicken wings had a slight sweetness to the glaze which worked very well with the tangy sourness of the creme fraiche. Barry said his salmon was beautifully cooked and coated with the simple and delicate miso dressing. He said the hints of fennel were mild but enough to come through on the palette.

Then it was time for the main course. You can choose from the “On the Stone” selection and the “Off the Stone” selection. The “On the stone” menu includes the rump steak and the rump of Lamb, while the “Off the Stone” includes pan roast supreme of chicken, chorizo and three bean stew, or Gnocchi served with wild mushroom ragu, smoked garlic and pea shoots.

We both went for the ‘cook-your-own’ experience and I selected the 7oz matured rump steak which comes with a flat cap mushroom, slow cooked tomato, balsamic glazed beetroot and sauce.

Barry selected the 6oz Yellowfin Tuna steak which was served with roast butternut squash, chilli, soya beans and quinoa.

Soon we heard the loud sizzle of the meat as our waitress brought the hot stone down to our table and explained the best way to cook the meat, from the size of the strips to the time we should each strip for.

I just love doing this- I think it is novel and fun and a different dining experience! My steak was gorgeous- a big juicy bit of meat which I cooked medium-well and devoured every bit. Barry thought his Tuna steak was fresh and delicious, and cooking it quickly over the high heat meant it didn’t dry out. Great!

Finally, we both went for dessert to round off a lovely meal. The desserts include Strawberry semi-freddo, Vanilla rice pudding or Lemon posset.

We went for our firm favourites- cheesecake, which was White chocoloate and Passionfruit- and anything with chocoloate in it, picking the Chocolate Tart served with a salted caramel macaroon and ice cream.

The tart is not the way to finish if you are looking for something light!! It was rich, dark and oh so chocolatey! Right up my street. The cheesecake was much lighter and more to Barry’s taste!

Overall, we had a great night out at Stix and Stones in Balmoral. It has only been open for a few weeks but I am already hearing that it has been very popular with both locals and people traveling from further away.

The atmosphere was lovely and the food was great so perhaps we might hear about Stix and Stones Part 3 in the future!

Starters- Chicken Wings and Miso glazed salmon

Mains- Rump steak and Yellowfin Tuna Steak

Dessert- White chocolate and Passionfruit Cheesecake and Chocolate Tart

Disclaimer: I was invited along to the Balmoral Hotel so the food was complimentary. I paid for all the drinks. All views expressed are my own.