It’s become a bit of a tradition that our first major trip of the season, after annual maintenance, is to head to Northern Ireland. We started this about five years ago and this would be my seventh trip in that time. We have always been fairly lucky with the weather and this year was no different with wind, weather and tides being fairly kind to us.

The first leg of the trip would take us from Largs to Lamlash, 17 NM and just over three hours away.  Unfortunately, there was virtually no wind and we motored down The Clyde towards Holy Island and Lamlash Harbour where we picked up a mooring. The moorings here are a pain in the arse as there are no pick-up buoys and the rings are too small for the stabby mooring thing I have to pass through.  I have to stretch over the bow of the boat and thread the rope by hand. Lamlash Harbour lies between the wee town of Lamlash on the island of Arran and the smaller Holy Isle – not to be confused with “Holy Island” or Lindisfarne, which is on the other side of the country and in England!  The bay is very well-sheltered and when we arrived – a flat calm.  Holy Isle has a long history as a sacred site, from before the 6th century. In 1992, the island was in the possession of Kay Morris, a devout Catholic who reportedly had a dream in which the Virgin Mary instructed her to give ownership of the island to the Samyé Ling Buddhist Community and is now the Centre for World Peace and Health hosting a retreat and courses run by Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist,

It was a beautiful evening and we had our tea in the cockpit followed by a couple of drams.

After such a warm, calm evening, we weren’t surprised to find ourselves in a thick fog the following morning when we would be crossing the North Channel between Scotland and Northern Ireland for Ballycastle, on the north-easterly tip of County Antrim.  The tidal stream is strong and with a crossing of just under 50 NM, we would have it against us at some point. However, to make the most of it we had to leave early at 0530 and only approaching Ballycastle did we have anything significant against us.

I have neither radar nor AIS on my boat but I do have an Internet version of AIS on a tablet which I described in a previous post, and this allows me to see other boats round about me. The wind picked up about 20 miles from the N.I. coast and we had a great sail towards Ballycastle, arriving in glorious sunshine!

Of the places we visit in Northern Ireland, Ballycastle is my favourite. There are two parts to the town: “Port Brittas”, the old name for Ballycastle Bay where the marina and harbour are located, and the main town about a kilometre inland. In previous years we have initially headed for Glenarm, but we were keen to visit “The House of McDonnell”,  a great traditional bar and the oldest in the area. We spent a short time here and then moved down the hill a wee bit to “The Boyd Arms”, the second oldest pub in the area, where we had a great craic with the locals.

The following day we had to wait until mid-afternoon before heading south to Glenarm. The tidal stream between Rathlin Island and the mainland is wicked, running 6.5 knots at spings and once around the turbulent waters at Fair Head, we made rapid progress south. With a favourable NW wind, we covered the 22 NM in just three hours. It was a great downwind sail in warm sunshine, following the beautiful Antrim Coast. It was just after six in the evening when we arrived, but we had phoned ahead and arranged a berth for the night, but as it turned out, the marina was practically empty. We were going to have to leave early the following morning, once again to catch the tides but we explained to the harbour master that we would be returning in a couple of days. 

Alan had brought his drone with him and he took some fantastic photographs and footage of the marina and surrounding town.

The fourth leg of our trip would take us to Bangor where we would be spending a couple of nights to allow us a day in Belfast. The sail south was fairly uneventful with once again a great following current we covered the 24 NM quickly. There are a few places you need to keep your wits about you, passing East and West “Maiden Rocks” and crossing Belfast Lough avoiding the ferries and other traffic heading up to Belfast. There is a marina in Belfast, very close to the Titanic Quarter, but it’s a slog up under power and once you arrive there’s not a great deal apart from the marina itself.  We prefer to stop at Bangor, which is a wonderful marina in a great wee town with all the amenities and a railway that takes you to Belfast in around forty minutes for £11 return. 

Alan’s daughter was in Belfast to attend an interview for a trip to the US later this year and after we had arrived and moored up, he took the train to Belfast to meet her and his wife. When he returned I met him in the town at a pub named after “Jenny Watts“, a pirate and smuggler. We had a couple here before moving next door to “Faelty’s” where we had a great time with the locals.

The following day we took the train to Belfast. I was keen to get to “The Friend at Hand” in the vibrant University Quarter, an Irish Whiskey shop which also has a great museum. The museum is a collection of whiskies built by one man and as well as numerous rare and old whiskies, has many artefacts and objects connected to the City of Belfast and The Titanic. We also visited “The Duke of York” just round the corner where scenes from “Line of Duty” were filmed. 

Belfast is a great city with some wonderful architecture, attractions and pubs. I was a bit taken aback by the cost of food and drink. Nearly £12 for two pints of bog standard lager and £4 for a tiny bowl of fewer than 20 chips in Robinson’s. There again, I might just be out of touch 😮 

Our intended route back to Scotland was via Glenarm where we spent the evening in “The Bridge End Tavern” where we always get a great welcome – and just £4 for the same Harp as in Belfast!  

The tides were not really in our favour heading back, but we had little choice. As it turned out they sort of evened themselves out over the passage. We had intended stopping off at Campbeltown, but being the start of the weekend it would be busy and we would be arriving late in the afternoon. This would mean we would probably have to raft – a thing I really hate doing, so we decided instead on Carradale further up Kilbrannan Sound to pick up a mooring.  On arrival, we found the mooring, but they were thick (and I mean covered) with weed. It didn’t look as though anyone had used them for some considerable time and this made me wonder when they were last checked and just how secure they would be. Nothing for it but to continue the eight miles or do to Lochranza. It was a mighty long day and a journey of over 50 NM but Lochranza had a number of mooring available when we arrived.

The following day we had the relatively short crossing from Arran back to Largs. On the way we met “Waverley” and kept well out of her way!

In June last year my nephew, Gordon and I took a similar trip to Northern Ireland. We are both keen whisky drinkers and we were eager to find some decent Irish whiskey. After reading up about it and consulting many blogs and reviews, sadly, we were both a bit disappointed. I have come to the conclusion that travelling through life many questions can be answered by asking a local. This applies to many things, including whisk(e)y. So this time, I chatted with the locals and took their advice.  With the exception of a Bushmills 16-year-old which was ludicrously expensive and only 40% abv and pretty unremarkable,  I got some excellent pointers and found some great drams.

It was another memorable trip to Northern Ireland and I don’t think I will ever tire of returning to these same places. The people are wonderful, generous with all things including their time and advice. We always get a great welcome and have never been disappointed, 

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