Prior to their arrival to Dublin, my two Texas friends, Emily and Suzanne, told me they wanted to explore northern Ireland. I assumed they meant somewhere north of where I was. But what they really were talking about was that whole other country up there that inhabits the same land mass as Ireland, the one called Northern Ireland, as in part of the United Kingdom. Oh yeah, that northern Ireland.
After securing a rental car – and hoping my newly acquired skills of driving on the left wouldn’t get the three of us killed – we headed directly north, towards Belfast and ultimately arriving at the North Antrim coast, a scenic stretch of coastline that faces the North Atlantic ocean and Scotland. At some point, we assumed we would see some kind of indication that we crossed the border and entered the UK – a border crossing station or perhaps a welcome sign. But there was absolutely nothing. I found this kind of odd, considering you can’t cross state lines in the US without a big ” Thanks for visiting the ___ state!” sign on one side and a “Welcome to the ___ state! Home of the ___!” sign on the other. I guess we’re dealing with a more subtle people over here.
Our first stop on the agenda was the Dunluce Castle, a medieval castle ruin built in the 14th century, perched on the edge of a dramatic cliff overlooking the sea. I could have joined the guided tour and learned all about the castle and its inhabitants, but I didn’t. Or I could have opted to get the audio headphones that tell the history, but I didn’t do that either. I didn’t even read the numerous plaques and signs posted throughout the castle rooms that I’m sure gave a wealth of information. So I can’t give you a single fact on this ancient relic of architecture, this window into the lives of the people who once lived here. That’s what happens when I have a camera in my hand – forget the learning and all those words, all I care about are the pictures! I know, it’s sad really.
Next up on the list was a short drive east along the coast to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. When the word “rope” is used to describe a bridge, it doesn’t exactly instill a whole lot of confidence in the stability of said bridge. As we were driving to this bridge, Emily was reading out the description from her guidebook, which used such words as “exhilarating”, “utterly terrifying”, “one of world’s scariest bridges” and “plunging to your death and being swept out to sea”. Now does this sound like something you’d want to do? I thought the fact that I just drove over 3 hours on the left side of the highway at 120 km per hour was exhilarating enough for me. But when you get three gals from Texas together and stick ’em in a foreign country, anything can happen. So we decided to go for it – parked the car in the lot, paid the admission fee, signed the liability waiver for death or dismemberment and made our way down the trail (just kidding about that liability waiver, by the way).
This bridge was originally erected by salmon fishermen and spans across a 23 meter-deep and 20 meter-wide chasm to a very small island. And I’m so happy we decided to take the dare and cross the bridge! The views were so incredible – and the bridge wasn’t even that scary! You really over-hyped the fear factor on this one, silly guidebook writers.
Our final destination on Texas Girls Gone Wild, UK Edition was the Giant’s Causeway. The only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Northern Ireland, this geological marvel is the result of a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago and consists of about 40,000 interlocking polygonal columns of volcanic rock (basalt). These columns are in various heights and form geometric stepping-stones that are truly striking, appear strange and other-worldly, and are just plain fun to walk and climb on. In layman’s terms, this place rocks!
All puns aside, we were very impressed with the Giant’s Causeway. That so-called guidebook we’d been reading – you know, the one describing how utterly terrifying the bridge was – warned how the Giant’s Causeway was going to be somewhat of a disappointment. Really?? Towers of lava rock millions of years old, in the shape of hexagons straight out of geometry class, protruding from a dramatic, green and rocky landscape and disappearing into a sea that goes on forever?
Yeah, that sounds lame. Don’t bother coming here!
After ripping the guidebook in half and throwing it into the North Atlantic, we began our journey back to the hotel. Driving along a narrow road, admiring the rolling green hills and a random castle ruin, I noticed a flash of hot pink out of the corner of my eye. At first I thought, “Nah…that can’t be.” But then I yelled stop to Suzanne, who was driving at the time, and told her to pull over. She did, we all got out of the car and looked over a fence to a pasture. Here is what we saw:
What the…??? Are those pink sheep? Yep, they are. During this trip we had learned that the Giro d’Italia, an annual staged bicycle race held in Italy (like the Tour de France), just had a stage through Northern Ireland that ended in Dublin. The race leader gets to don a pink jersey – which means that all the little towns along the race route were decked out in pink. All the store front windows displayed every item in pink they could find, pink banners were strung overhead across town squares, bicycles spray-painted pink were placed everywhere, and even old phone booths were painted pink. But now they’re coloring their livestock?? This is madness! But it was absolutely hilarious. We admired their enthusiasm and wished we been around to witness the race itself. Not so sure what the sheep thought of the whole idea, however.
This was quite a road trip. It had it all. Crumbling castles! Harrowing bridges over death-defying heights! Pillars of volcanic lava forming a magical path that beckon you to follow it out to sea! It was as if we were in an episode of either Game of Thrones, The Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter.
Just trying to figure out how the pink sheep fit into this equation.