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On the Farm

The rooster crows each morning with the first light. He has a distinct sound that pierces the cold morning air and the stone walls of the barn we call home. He will not stop until we give up on our dreams and the warmth of our thick blankets and start our day.

The dogs come to the glass kitchen door when they see us turn on the light. We name them Scruffy and Old Tom and they don’t seem to care what we call them as long we give them treats. After a couple of days, we decide it is okay if they come into the house. The painted cement floors of the barn have permanently embedded dog prints so the owner must have been alright with them entering at one time. Scruffy knows where we keep the treats and jumps excitedly in anticipation. Old Tom sits patiently and relies on his sad eyes to inspire our compassion.

 

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On the Farm

 

We hear the sheep in the small field next to the barn. The sheep’s wool is full this time of year and each has one or two new lambs in tow. On rainy days, they make mournful sounds. The air is cold, the winds blow hard and with the rain or snow, it can’t be comfortable for them.

 

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Tamlaghtard Church near Limavady

 

The peacocks come to visit later in the morning. Our barn has a glass entry door that is mirrored and the colorful birds preen and pose to look attractive to their own reflections. Watching their odd antics from the other side of the glass is always entertaining. Sometimes the sheep from the adjacent field escape and lead their flock past the window. It can be a little unsettling to have a sheep staring at us while we drink our coffee on the couch.

 

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Antrim Coast

 

There is a fish pond on the property that is stocked with trout. It makes for a good walk to circle the lake when the weather is clear. The view over the surrounding hills is beautiful. Hedgerows separate the fields that are filled with sheep and green grass. A river runs through the valley. The trees that grow in the furrows between the hills are beginning to sprout leaves. More of the famous 40 shades of green are about to make their appearance. Bright yellow daffodils trace the path of the road as it rises over the hill. Cottontail rabbits are abundant and have homes under the berry plants that grow wild everywhere. Scruffy and Old Tom generally follow along until they realize we have not brought them treats.

 

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Dunluce Castle Sunset

 

The weather is constantly changing and never predictable. It is always the first topic of conversation amongst the locals we meet. It is several miles from our farm to the tiny town of 1200 where we find our supplies. The single main street is lined with barbershops, pubs, markets, butcher shops, hardware stores and small shops where we find all our necessities. The townsfolk are all friendly and make easy conversation. They are curious about strangers and happy to share ideas of how we might get the most enjoyment from the surrounding area. As soon as we speak they know we are visitors and are always interested to find out what we think of their country. They are surprised we are spending a full month in the area. International tourism is still a bit new here after the area was avoided for many years by tourists who only knew of it from nightly news reports.

 

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Downhill Beach and Mussenden Temple

 

On the few relatively better weather days, we make our way out to the surrounding countryside. The nearby Antrim Coast is one of Ireland’s most majestic. This magnificent meeting of land and sea is raw, windswept and weather-beaten. It is a stunning land of white rock cliffs, green pastures, wide beaches and pounding seas.

 

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Dunluce Castle Sunset

 

Narrow country roads connect the small villages that line the coast. The roads are incredibly scenic but take constant attention to avoid oncoming cars. The added challenge of driving on the left, roundabout etiquette and stormy weather take much of the enjoyment out of our first few days of touring.

 

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White Rocks- Antrim Coast

 

The popularity of Game of Thrones has brought many visitors here to find locations used during filming. Hoards of bus tourists from Belfast usually mark the most popular sites. The Dark Hedges are filled throughout the day by selfie-takers seeking to capture a little of the show for themselves. Ballintoy Harbor is also a popular stop along the coast for loyal fans.

 

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The Dark Hedges

 

Dunluce Castle displays the most complete of several ancient ruins to be found along the coast. Set on a jagged piece of rock that hangs precariously over the sea, the castles existing bones show the outline of what must have been spectacular in its time. Sunsets offer the most dramatic views and multiple visits are warranted.

 

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Mussenden Temple

 

The beaches are great for walks on tolerable weather days. These are not the beaches of suntans, umbrellas and beach games. The sands are wide and the waters are rough. Downhill Beach can be driven upon. Having a refuge in the car as storms passed proved helpful on some visits. The cliffs at Whiterocks are a good indication of how harsh the wind and sea can treat the land. Brisk walks on windy days here led through deep sand to hidden caves in the cliff face. Runkerry Beach offers windswept dunes of long grasses that somehow hang on to the sandy hills despite natures frequent fury.

 

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Dunluce Castle

 

We enjoyed strolls through several of the more popular towns. Bushmill is famous for its world-class whiskey distillery. Portrush is a typical summer beachside resort that is busily preparing to host a British Open on its famous Royal Portrush links. Castlerock is a quiet town of stunning seaside mansions. Nearby Downhill Demesne and Mussenden Temple offer another tour of National Trust protected ruins from days gone by. Ballycastle and Portstewart offer similar charm and both became favorites for day trips.

 

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Castlerock, Northern Ireland

 

We spent a day walking the city wall of Derry, the largest town in the area. The area inside of the walls has history at every corner and several interesting museums. We especially enjoyed the local history museum inside of the beautifully restored Guildhall that told of the founding of the city. Outside of the walls, we walked in the Bogside neighborhood along Rossville Street where we saw the Memorial Murals and the Bloody Sunday Memorial. The Museum of Free Derry tells of the history of “The Troubles” that affected the area for such a long period. The Good Friday agreements that brought an end to the violence were 20 years ago, but in these days of Brexit and talk of closing border crossings, many of the old sentiments have unfortunately been brought back to the forefront of many conversations.

 

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Giant’s Causeway

 

The most popular and famous attraction on the coast is perhaps the Giant’s Causeway. We finally found a nice day to visit. This unique geological formation is reachable after a long walk down a steep road from the parking lot. A small bus carries passengers during the day, but we decided to visit after the 5 o’clock closing time so we could view the area at sunset. We were glad that most of the crowds had gone home. We had most of the area to ourselves and enjoyed spending a couple of hours climbing on the strange rocks that sit next to the sea.

 

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Antrim Coast Rainbow

 

We had trepidations that a month living in a restored barn on a small farm amongst the green fields of Northern Ireland in the last days of winter might not be the best idea. We were afraid that there wouldn’t be enough things to see and do to fill an entire month.

 

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Antrim Coast

 

We did struggle with weather that was so ferocious that it sometimes became an event in itself. Rain from every direction followed by snow, wind, hail, more wind with only a few sunny days in between. We did struggle with budget. A rental car that turned out far more expensive than we planned limited our already strained finances.

However, I think we saw everything we came here to see. The highlight of our time turned out to be our small barn located on a scenic farm just outside a tiny town in the middle of a tiny country filled with friendly people. We had fun with friendly dogs and experienced rural life up close. I guess that is what travel is really all about.

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Waiting for Spring

A biting chill rides the frozen wind that crosses the esplanade in front of the castle. Visitors tuck closer behind the ancient ramparts hoping to find a protective lee, a moment of relief from the sand-like frozen mist. It proves fruitless as the gusts swirl and twist as though they originate from every direction. The ancient castle is perched high on its volcanic outcrop and looms mightily above the city below. When viewed from the streets of the lower city on stormy days like this, the castle appears to be floating in the clouds, sometimes visible and sometimes not.

The sound of a lone bagpipe carries strongly upward from the streets of the New Town far below. Its distinctive sound, so engrained in the culture of this part of the world, can fill the heart with longing and melancholy. Yet, on days like this, the sound penetrates the weather, and provides the hopefulness and inspiration to make the best of what the day might bring. Muted streetlights cast shadows on Princes Street, the wide boulevard below. Double-decker buses carry late commuters along the moist streets. Pedestrians stride briskly along the broad sidewalks, past ornate Edwardian storefronts, wasting no time getting to their destinations. It’s late March and winter still hangs heavy over the city.

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Victoria Street

 

 

If gray is a color, then no city has cornered the market better than this. Starting from the sky and looking down toward the cobbled street stones on this stormy day, the shades seem uncountable. Common vocabulary terms of light gray or dark gray don’t do justice to describe the lack of color. You often find yourself reaching for less used descriptors. Ash, platinum, gunmetal, charcoal, nickel, gray-green, blue-gray, asphalt and battleship become common terms. You may discover yourself reaching for more, perhaps taupe or puce uncomfortably roll across your tongue.

The architectural history of the city is easily traceable as you walk downhill from the castle along the high street toward the royal palace. In medieval times nearly the entire town was located along the wide street now called the Royal Mile. Only small parcels of land were available next to the road running along the natural volcanic rock spine that flows downhill from the castle. In ancient times these small plots were massively developed with some of the tallest and most densely populated buildings anywhere in the world at the time. Impressive stone facades line the street. Built to stand up to the elements and impress, they spread their broad shoulders high above the street.

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Edinburgh Castle

 

On cloudy days, the gothic spires of the many ancient churches along the mile literally reach skyward into the clouds. St. Giles is the most famous. It provides a welcome break from the weather on a stormy day. Towering arches rise high above the pews, softly but colorfully lit by the immense stain glass windows that fill the church. Although fairly modern by this church’s standards, the ornately carved Thistle Chapel inside conjures images of Knights and Kings in times past.

Numerous tiny alleyways called ‘closes’ are located along the entire length of the Royal Mile. They lead to tiny courtyards surrounded by large buildings that provided crowded housing for the early citizens. Rich and poor mixed together in these tenements. When passing through these arched passageways on a stormy night or gray windy day, it is easy to see where favorite Edinburgh authors Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson and J.K. Rowling found inspiration for Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, or some of the darker passages of the Harry Potter books. The cold drafts, dark shadows and foggy mists can inspire a chill in anyone’s dreams.

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Edinburgh from Calton Hill

 

The stormy days and chill filled nights may force the visitor indoors. This is not necessarily a problem as Edinburghians have created a wealth of indoor activities to chase away the gray of winter. A host of world class museums, as nice as any in Europe, seem to be around every corner. The National Museum of Scotland is amazing and requires multiple visits. Visits to the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Museum on the Mound and National Gallery of Modern Art can easily fill a day. The Writers Museum and displays at the National Library are interesting and provide excellent afternoons indoors. All are outstanding and all are free.

Cafes, Pubs and Bars are always filled with friendly people who are willing to have a chat. Stylish, well informed citizens are proud of their country and heritage. Coffee, Tea, Gin, Beer and of course Whiskey each have loyal devotees who are willing to share their knowledge with the less informed.

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Edinburgh

 

Time passes and the gloomy skies eventually give way and spots of blue sporadically appear. Almost magically a few yellow daffodils are noticed as you pass the towering Scott Monument along Princes Street. The next day you notice a few pink or white flowers in the budding trees. Recently turned flower beds begin to fill with colorful flowers in the abundant parks of the city. Window boxes are hung out on windowsills of palatial Edwardian townhouses adding a welcome softness to normally stern facades.

It is time to head up the hill to Queens Park, the undulating grass covered hilly area behind Holyrood Palace. Take an easy hike around Salisbury Crags or perhaps follow the young and fit to the top of Arthur’s Seat for commanding views over the entire city and all the way to the sea. The cities different periods of development are noticeable, roads growing wider as your eyes travel from the dense inner city outward to the surrounding countryside.

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Dean Village- Edinburgh

 

Another sunny afternoon can be spent viewing monuments on Calton Hill which towers over the inner city and provides the best views if you are lucky enough to catch a sunset. The nearby seaside town of Leith is an easy bus ride away. The once gritty town depicted in Trainspotters is slowly (and perhaps grudgingly) giving way to gentrification. Perhaps a tour of the retired HMS Britannia, the former Royal Yacht of Queen Elizabeth on a sunny day will give you an idea of the excitement surrounding a royal visit.

Sunny days also bring opportunities to purchase an inexpensive day pass on public buses for trips outward into the beautiful green countryside that is found north of Edinburgh. After crossing the choppy water of the Firth of Forth, narrow two lane roads lead the way through wooded farmlands and lush pastures. Horses, ponies, cows and of course sheep with heavy fleece ready for shearing after a long winter are everywhere. Recently tilled fields, separated by tall hedges, appear ready for planting soon.

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Salisbury Crags and Edinburgh Castle

 

A visit to Saint Andrews, the legendary home to golf, is enchanting for day trippers as well as golfers. Classic architecture of the historic city center filled with restaurants, cafes, and shops draw visitors for sunny afternoon strolling. A long sandy beach and stunning coastal walkway leads along the gray-green sea and past the ruins of an ancient castle and cathedral.

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Edinburgh

 

Edinburgh is known as Festival City. It is known worldwide for its almost never ending outdoor party that runs non-stop for most of the summer. Unfortunately we were not here to visit in the best part of the year. Nevertheless, once we adjusted to the hour to hour weather extremes that make up Edinburgh’s early spring, we found the city to be one of our favorites. Any challenges or frustrations encountered with the weather were easily overcome with an extra layer of clothing or an interesting conversation with one of the warm hearted citizens. Most assuredly we will return one day. This is a four season area of the world and surely each is worth seeing.

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