One Final Jaunt – Northern Ireland

map 2_LIIt was mid-October, 2019, and I had just enough time left to take one more little jaunt somewhere before I returned home to the US after a 3 1/2 month-long vacation in Europe. Northern Ireland is relatively close to Aberdeen, approximately 225 miles as the crow flies. Since our oldest known Frew ancestor, Sargeant John Frew, was born there in a small village, Lindsay and I decided to go on another road trip to see it in person together. He had never visited Northern Ireland before. I visited a few years ago and made some beautiful discoveries and new Frew friends along the way when I first started traveling. It would be fun to share those discoveries with Lindsay and have an opportunity to see the wonderful friends once again while we were at it!

We rented a car in Aberdeen for a week to make the journey and headed south toward Glasgow on Tuesday, Oct 15. We had a leisurely drive as far as the Glasgow Cathedral and Necropolis. We found a convenient place to park and were able to give our legs a good stretch by walking up to the necropolis, a vast old cemetery perched upon a hill overlooking the medieval heart of the city.

According to their interpretive sign, “The Necropolis remains one of the most significant cemeteries in Europe. It was designed as a botanic and sculpture garden to improve the morale and trades of Glaswegians and act as a historical record of past greatness.”

It sits right behind the ancient Cathedral and is the largest old cemetery I have visited in the UK. It’s immense and absolutely full of interesting monumental headstones.

These memorials of the merchant patriarchs of the city contain the remains of almost every eminent Glaswegian of its day. Monuments designed by leading Glaswegian architects, including Alexander “Greek” Thomson, Bryon, Hamilton, and Mackintosh, adorn it. Their designs are executed by expert masons and sculptures who contributed ornate and sculptural detail of the finest quality.”

The carvings and details are quite ornate and worth a look. Besides, the view from that vantage point of the surrounding medieval center of town below is also quite impressive.

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After we enjoyed looking at the monuments, we leisurely strolled back down the hill, walked back over the bridge, and visited the Cathedral as well.

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Evidently, according to the church’s website, St. Ninian came here from Whithorn in the Galloway region of southwest Scotland in the 5th century to dedicate a Christian burial ground. In the following century, another monk named Mungo came here as well. Tradition says St. Mungo was born near Culross. (We visited that cute little well-preserved town during our last trip to Stirling).  The ruins of St. Mungo’s chapel in Culross evidently mark the spot where he was born. He was brought up by St. Serf of Culross and trained for the priesthood before coming to Glasgow and serving as the Bishop. St Mungo died in 612! That is probably the oldest tomb I’ve seen yet. His tomb is located in the Lower Church of Glasgow Cathedral, where a service continues to be held every year to commemorate his life.

Unfortunately, there is little known about the earliest church buildings which stood on the site of the present Cathedral. It wasn’t until the early part of the 12th century that we get information about the current structure. Its first stone building was consecrated in about 1136 in the presence of King David I and his Court. Put simply, it is really, really ancient, has been here quite a long time, and is quite an impressive building in its own right. Its amazing that it is still standing whole and complete.

We ventured inside, looked around, and I even managed to get down to the “Lower Church” just in time before it closed for the day and was fortunate to find the tomb of St. Mungo and get a picture without another person in the frame! Amazing!

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After visiting the necropolis and the Cathedral, we returned to our car and proceeded to drive during the afternoon to the town of Ayr, our final destination for the day. Ayr is a lovely coastal town with a very long public beach that is great for sunsets. For dinner, we enjoyed a fish supper at a local Chip Shop as we looked out over the ocean, enjoying the view.

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After a hearty breakfast at our B&B, Turas-Mara, we set out on the road early in the morning. The route we drove hugs the coastline all the way down toward the southwest tip of Scotland at Cairnryan, where we had a date with a ferry that would take us across the Irish Sea to Belfast, Northern Ireland.

IMG_7807We arrived in plenty of time to catch the Superfast VIII ferry, and in no time at all, we were boarded and well on our way.IMG_7819

The ferry was quite large and felt like a big luxury liner compared to many of the smaller ferries we had ridden earlier this summer.

It had several decks, and on each deck were all kinds of restaurants. There was even a movie theatre, various lounges, and some play areas for children! We found a quiet and comfortable lounge to relax in at the bow of the ship and enjoyed the smooth ride.

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Before we knew it, the port of Belfast was coming into view, and we could see towns dotting the shoreline of Northern Ireland beyond.

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IMG_8122From the port of Belfast, we drove straight to the Wellington Park Hotel that we would call home for the next three nights. It was centrally located in the Queen’s Quarter near the places we wanted to visit.  We were within walking distance of the Botanic Garden, the Ulster Museum, Queen’s University, and some really great restaurants. 

There is one quirky little cafe in particular on the corner near the entrance to the Botanic garden that I really like called ‘Maggie Mays,’ and we headed straight to it for our lunch after we got checked in. It is frequented by a younger crowd of students from the University and is usually a buzz of energetic and infectious gaiety. Besides, they are known for their stupendous shakes and great food, so we couldn’t pass up that combination!

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IMG_8103After a satisfying bite to eat, and a good dose of youthful energy, we walked a couple of doors down the street to Friars Bush Graveyard, but, unfortunately, they were closed. We took down the phone number hoping to make an appointment with a tour guide to gain access to where our 4th great grandfather, John Frew, may be buried. He died from cholera during the epidemic in 1832 that hit Belfast pretty hard. There is a mass grave of its victims buried within its walls, which his body might be buried amongst.

Unfortunately, we were never able to get an appointment with anyone during our visit, so we missed that opportunity. In the future, if we should ever return, we will know to make an appointment and arrangements for a tour well in advance of our visit!

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We continued on our way and walked to the botanic garden nearby and had a lovely stroll along its many meandering pathways through the glasshouse, which held all types of tropical plants and other various sections of the grounds.

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The enormous rose section of the garden was undoubtedly done for the 2019 season, and yet, there were still a couple of determined blooms having their final say as the season drew to its close.

IMG_7871As the afternoon faded, we made our way back to the hotel, passing this colorful building along the way, which is part of the University.

The glow of the low afternoon sun danced on the glass panels creating quite a delightful display of light and color in this beautiful example of architectural design.

map_LIThe following morning, we set out into the countryside northwest of Belfast in County Antrim to see a few sights along the northern coastline and visit the village our great grandfather was born in.

Our first stop was the Giant’s Causeway situated on the coast near Bushmills, where they distill delicious and lovely Irish Whiskey.

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The Giant’s Causeway is a geological wonder and consists of substantial interlocking basalt column formations. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The tops of the columns form stepping stones that lead from the cliff foot and disappear under the sea. Most are hexagonal, but there are also some with four, five, seven, or even eight sides. The tallest are about 39 ft tall!

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Much of the Giant’s Causeway World Heritage Site is owned and managed by the National Trust, and it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Northern Ireland. Access to the Giant’s Causeway is free of charge. It is not necessary to go via the visitor’s center, which charges a fee. However, if you want to ride the tram down to the bottom of the cliffs and back up again, or you want an audio guide, you need to buy a ticket from the National Trust. If you are a member of the National Trust, you get in for free. If you’re young and fit and can easily climb a long steep hill, then it isn’t a problem, but it is oh-so-nice that they have a tram for the ‘not-so-able’ as well, nobody misses out!

After exploring the Giant’s Causeway, we drove along the coast for a while, enjoying the views in the clear morning light. For instance, the sight of White Park Bay with Rathlin Island in the distance (below) was stunning and oh-so inviting!

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The next place we stopped to visit was Dunluce Castle perched upon a little rock crag nestled in amongst high ocean cliffs. They provide excellent interpretive signage in each section, so its quite easy to go along by yourself without a guide and explore at your own leisurely pace.

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IMG_7925Lindsay and I leisurely enjoyed exploring this castle as we usually do. However, when he entered the lower part of the tower structure, he suddenly felt a very foreboding and uncomfortable feeling, and he immediately wanted to get out of that space as if it was haunted. He found it ironic because he had never felt anything quite like that with all the places he has visited over the years. Interesting…

Because he felt a bit spooked and uncomfortable after that encounter, we took one last look out of the castle’s windows to see the views up and down the coast that the inhabitants enjoyed once upon a time and then we turned around and found our way back to our car parked nearby.

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It was time for us to move on, we still had a bit of exploring to do that afternoon, so we got in the car and started looping back inland the way we had come.  Our next stop was where our 4th great grandfather, John Frew, had been born. A couple of tiny villages called Kells and Connor are usually referred to as twin villages and coexist as if it were only one. The twin villages appear to have been this way for a very long time too. Even though the villages are tiny in size, surprisingly, there were 11 separate historical and archeological sites to visit on the Heritage Trail, complete with interpretive signage. There was an ancient fort, a church, an old woolen mill, and a bridge, for example.

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We don’t know who John’s parents were, whether he had siblings, where they might have lived in this parish, or much else about him except that he was a ‘nailer’ in the mill trade. Having so much history available to us on the Heritage Trail interpretive signs scattered about were quite helpful. We learned a lot about this tiny area that we otherwise would not have necessarily discovered on our own. We visited most of the sites and ended up in front of the remaining walls of the old medieval fort that were still standing after all these years. Just being in the immediate area where John may have lived and getting to see structures, such as the old bridge which he may have also walked upon, helped us feel more connected to our distant ancestor.

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By the time we explored the various sites around the village, we had noticed it was getting late in the afternoon. We had a dinner date with a whole bunch of Frew friends about 10 miles away at 5 o’clock. We drove to the small village of Ahoghill, where Stewart Frew has a delightful Fish & Chips Shop, met up with our various Frew friends, and enjoyed a scrumptious fish supper together!

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Deirdre, Roy, Heather, Florence and all the cute little ‘wee ones’ came out to see us! It was fantastic to see them all once again and hear all the latest news! Each time I come to Northern Ireland, I make a special effort to see this delightful group of ladies, and luckily, we had another opportunity to enjoy each other’s company once again. Fun was had by all, especially for Lindsay, since this was the first time he had been able to meet them in person. Before that, he had only met them online.

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The next day, Friday, Oct 18, we spent most of the day exploring the many exhibits at the Ulster Museum.

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Upon entering, we were greeted by the whimsical flying dragons overhead…

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On the first floor, they had an intriguing display of costumes from Game of Thrones made out of paper! It was utterly fantastic!

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We spent quite a while meandering around the museum looking at ancient gold jewelry, mummies, and everything else you might imagine is in a museum.  Here are just a few chosen samples of what we saw.

Naturally, since this is Northern Ireland after all, there were political exhibits about “The Troubles” during the late 20th century, and there were also delightful paintings and pottery as well.  So many exciting things to look at. I always enjoy the museum.

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We had worked up an appetite. Maggie May’s cafe was just across the street, so we headed over there for a bite to eat.

The afternoon was still so nice and lovely, we decided to take one last stroll to the glasshouse in the Botanic Garden and have a look around.

Back at the hotel, we noticed a pub on the corner that has its timing right! Yet another full day of exploring in Belfast; it was time to relax and enjoy a brew!

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The next day, we left Belfast in the afternoon on the 3:30 ferry back to Cairnryan, Scotland. Before we did, however, we went to the Titanic Experience in the shipyards nearby. The Exhibition is an extensive presentation all about the famous ship, and it is built on the very site that the actual ship was built upon. There are various levels of exhibits to explore, which cover all aspects of the ship’s conception and construction all the way through to its sinking to the bottom of the ocean. The tour is quite fascinating, informative and entertaining, you won’t want to miss it if you are in Belfast!

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Unfortunately, when I went to retrieve my folder of photos for that day to share with you in this blog, I came across an empty folder! Somehow I managed to lose every single photo I took that day! Hmm, I wonder how that happened? Oh well… not gonna let that spoil my day. Sorry. If you would like to see more about this place, just click on the link above which will take you to their website where you’ll get the whole story and all the info you need.

When we landed in Cairnryan, Scotland, it was early evening, and the sun was about ready to set. We spent the night at a lovely B & B called Kildonnan in Stranraer about 5 miles away from the ferry landing. It was a nice quiet spot on the bay, and we had a delightful view in the morning at our breakfast table. Rita, and her husband, were delightful hosts and thought of everything in their lovely home.

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After our peaceful and relaxing breakfast, we began to leisurely drive north back to Aberdeen, taking a different route than the way we came. Instead of heading north to Ayr, we headed east toward Dumfries and made a point of taking the back roads through the Galloway Forest Park instead of the main thoroughfare. It was a lovely drive full of beautiful landscapes.

We stopped in Dumfries at a church where one of Lindsay’s maternal great grandfathers is buried. His name was Joseph Johnstone Glover, and he served as the Provost for Dumfries for 12 years in the early 20th century. Lindsay’s paternal great grandfather, John Rose Frew, also served as a Provost about the same time in Dingwall!

In the same churchyard, another extremely famous Scotsman and Poet is also buried, the beloved Robert Burns.

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Lindsay’s great grandfather, Joseph, also played an instrumental role as Provost when this mausoleum was built and dedicated. Here’s a picture of him at the “placing of the wreath” celebration. He’s the one with the big mustache to the left of the center next to the wreath.

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There are several Robert Burns’ friends, and contemporaries also buried in this particular churchyard. If you’re really into the works of Robert Burns, this appears to be a place to definitely visit. His contemporaries and friends even wanted to be buried near him; he was so beloved!

Afterward, we climbed back in the car and started driving north. We enjoyed a nice lunch break at a garden center just north of Dumfries somewhere. I just love stopping at garden center tea rooms. They’re affordable, have good local home-cooked style food, and they sell flowers! What more could I want?

Many tea rooms also proudly display a collection of teapots as well that are fun to look at and admire.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon driving through the countryside all the way to a town near Edinburgh where Lindsay’s cousin, Keith, and his wife, Helen, live. We had the chance to visit with them in the evening, and the following day finished making our way back to Aberdeen, hugging the coastline in Fife all the way to Dundee from Edinburgh.

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It was a lovely drive. Its a very slow and winding road, as coastlines almost always are, but we weren’t in any hurry, so we enjoyed stopping at various harbors and fishing villages along the way.

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It was a perfect way to slowly bring our travels to an end for the season, and we both enjoyed our final jaunt immensely.

About a week later, I flew back to Portland, Oregon, and officially ended my traveling for the year.

Not long after returning home, Lindsay and I began planning my next trip the following summer. We made great plans for my return in July. We had plans to fly over to the Netherlands and Belgium from Aberdeen to explore that region for about a month.  Like usual, I planned on staying abroad most of the summer.  We had airline reservations, rooms at hotels and hostels booked, and we created personalized travel maps in anticipation of this year’s travel adventures.

However, like everyone else on this planet, there was a bit of a hitch in our get-along – the coronavirus! After traveling every year for the last 5 or 6 years, it seems strange not getting ready to pack my bags once again. Lindsay and I have decided to postpone all of our plans until next year (hopefully) and just hope for the best.

Being part of the older generation, I fall into the category of “more vulnerable” these days, so I have been in lockdown mode with my granddaughter Grace, who also has an immune system that is weakened. Luckily we have each other to keep us company. We’ve been developing a strong gardening bond this spring too. You should see our gardens!

I’ve been gardening for years, and although I am certainly not an expert, I do know a few things about plants, so I’ve been more than happy to share that knowledge with hands-on-training outside in our backyard this spring. My daughter, Errin, keeps us supplied with all the seeds, bags of dirt, mulch and manure, and all the plants we can possibly stand. It’s been quite an adventure right in our own backyard! It’s been an adventure in itself. Instead of visiting gardens in Europe this year, I’ve been investing my traveling money into my own garden and expanding its footprint alongside my granddaughter in my own backyard.

Until such time as I can start traveling once again, this, my dear friends and followers, brings me to the end of my traveling tales for 2019.  Eventually, sometime in the future, I will pick up where I left off, but who knows when that will be.

In the meantime, I’ve been writing a book entitled “Road Trips in Scotland – The chronicles of an American woman discovering what lies beyond Edinburgh.” I will be concentrating my efforts on my book now that my blog posts are finished. I hope to finish it soon.

If, by chance, you would like to order a copy of the book, you can place a “pre-order” by leaving a message on this post in the remarks section.  Thanks in advance for your order – I appreciate your continued support and encouragement.

Until next time… hope it’s not too terribly long of a wait until we can once again resume our traveling.  Keep well, and safe in the meantime.  ~ Claudia