Ulster Transport Museum, Cultra, County Down

Sitting less than 7 miles from Belfast (with its own very handy train station which makes it easy to reach from the city), the Ulster Transport Museum aka The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum comprises of 2 distinct museums featuring both historical vehicles and old cottages, shops, and churches. It has won Irish museum of the year on occasion and remains one of the most visited attractions in Northern Ireland. You can buy a ticket to enter both museums (theres a short walk between them) or just pick the one you want to see. Among its many sights it includes a DeLorean car, which movie fans will know from the three Back To The Future films. DeLorean cars were built in a factory just a few miles outside Belfast (now gone).

Inside the transport museum, one of the old Belfast and Northern Counties Railway (BNCR) stations, a company which served the north-east of Ireland, and the huge No.800 locomotive “Maeḋḃ” which was one of the three largest and most powerful steam locomotives ever to be built and run in Ireland.

 

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One of the “101” Class diesel locomotives at the museum. This is No.102 “Falcon” which is the last surviving engine of its class (there were 3) after the other two were scrapped many years ago. I actually had a chance to drive this engine myself many years ago although I never saw it as this (original) colour (it was always blue). It was known simply as the “Hunslet” back then. Full details of this little engine and the fates of its two sisters are here:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NIR_101_Class

 

No, the blue bus on the left isnt actually a bus that ran on the road, its actually a Great Northern Railway “railbus” (built in 1928) that ran on the rails. Northern Ireland Railways had another one of these many decades later too but it wasnt exactly successful (lets just say). On the right are two Belfast Corporation buses with one being a diesel built in 1973 and one a trolleybus built in 1948. I think these are the only buses preserved in the museum.

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Tram No.249 would have been one of the first trams to use the electrified overhead line system through the centre of Belfast in 1905 (249 was built in 1905). Its seen here in its original colours and beautifully preserved.

 

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Both parts of the museum (I will put up a post about the folk museum one day too) are really worth visiting. Its a great day out and you can spend hours walking around looking at the various cars, planes, trains, buses etc and afterwards go for a lovely stroll into the countryside amidst the old preserved cottages, churches, and commercial buildings. Theres a cafe inside as well, but if youre trying to save some money its perfectly fine to bring a packed lunch and sit at one of the picnic benches there.

Ballintoy, County Antrim. Game of Thrones, Pyke Harbour

So not long now until the premiere of Season 5 of Game of Thrones (12th April 2015) so I thought Id mark that with a little mention of Ballintoy which substituted as Pyke Harbour in Season 2 of the series. A permanent plaque stands there now for visiting fans to read and it looks as if Northern Ireland will be home to the show for a while longer as Season 6 will also be filmed here. Ballintoy is a quiet little village with an attractive small harbour, but walk left around the headland and it has some amazing scenery. There are also some caves you can enter (though you may need wellingtons). 

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Some information.

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Do you remember this place? Its probably pretty recognizable as Pyke harbour even without the special effects.

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On the left is Roarks Kitchen, which is a little cottage style cafe that’s been serving lovely food here for 35yrs. And on the right is another view of the harbour used in Game of Thrones.

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Now follow the path left, walking away from the harbour and past this little house (there’s a cave before you get there you could maybe walk into, though it might have some shallow water in it).

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The view ahead.

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You can climb up some of the huge grass covered rocks (be careful) which have trails left by local sheep. Once at the top of this one, the view back to the harbour is quite amazing (you should be able to see it in the distance here).

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A huge eroded arch just off the shore, and a bit further out…….. arrrgh….. a shark!! 🙂

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Its easy to see here how vast the immediate landscape is, with all its greenery, yet having a look like some strange alien planet. And in this first picture you might just be able to see a little church on top of the hill. This is Ballintoy church, built in 1813 and seen closer in the second picture. Ballintoy is definitely worth stopping off at if you’re visiting the north coast, even if you’re not a fan of Game of Thrones 🙂

Bonamargy Friary, Ballycastle, County Antrim

Theres always a great atmosphere coming across a place like this as the Sun is starting to set. Creepy, yet hauntingly beautiful, we saw the old ruins from the road as we approached Ballycastle and had to loop back for a visit.

Bonamargy Friary in Ballycastle is a late Franciscan foundation established in 1485 by Rory MacQuillan. It is said that the first battle between the warring MacDonnell and MacQuillan clans was fought on nearby land. At the main entrance to the friary is a small, two storey gatehouse which opens into a store and workroom. Well worn steps lead directly to the dormitory above. Traces of an altar can still be found in the adjoining church, and the locked vaults hold the remains of the celebrated chieftain, Sorley Boy MacDonnell, and several of the earls of Antrim.

Perhaps the Friary’s most famous resident was the 17th century prophet and recluse Julie MacQuillen. Known as ‘The Black Nun’, MacQuillen wished to be buried at the entrance of the chapel so that she might be trodden under the feet of those who entered. A worn celtic cross (rounded with a hole in the centre) marks her grave at the west end of the main church.

Around 1822 four manuscripts were found in an old oaken chest in the ruins of Bonamargy Friary. One of these manuscripts is described as “Saint Bonaventures Life of Christ” and/or “A History of the Blessed Scriptures” Another manuscript contained a large portion of one of the principal theological works of Saint Thomas Aquinas, written on vellum, in very contracted Latin and extending to about 600 quarto pages. The earliest date appearing on it is 1338 and the latest 1380. It originally belonged to the Monastery of Saint Anthony, of Amiens in France.

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The entrance to Bonamargy

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Very atmospheric in the fading light of a February evening.

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The old surrounding graveyard and buildings

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One of the tombstones

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The circular stone disc at the bottom of the picture is said to be the marker for the grave of the “Black Nun”

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Quite a bit remains of the 16th century friary …

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The scene of many battles, death, and bloodshed, Bonamargy must have some tales to tell.

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As the Sun set, we left the friary to this fantastic view.

Castlewellan Forest Park, Peace Maze, and Lake, Co.Down, Northern Ireland

Northern Irelands largest forest park, Tollymore (in Newcastle), usually gets most of the interest from our forest hungry visitors, but just a short drive away lies Castlewellan Forest Park, which has a beauty all of its own. In fact the facilities here in Castlewellan easily match its larger brother, and coupled with a huge maze, several lakes, two cafes, and a brilliant bike hire office, make it well worth checking out. Our visit on the 28th December 2014 showed the park to be surprisingly busy, which was great to see in (what was) the depths of Winter. I hope the photos we took entice others to come here too. You’ll love it. 

CASTLEWELLAN CASTLE

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The dominant feature of the forest park, Castlewellan Castle was built in 1856 by William Richard Annesley, it overlooks the huge lake below and can be seen as soon as you enter the park. Today it is a center for many church, and school organizations. There are signs to say the immediate area around the castle is private, but we had no issues walking around its grounds to take some photos. Theres a little black cat who comes out to say hello too. Miaow.

CASTLEWELLAN LAKE

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On this lovely, frost glistening, December morning we had so many great photo opportunities and began snapping away frantically. The largest lake in the park is nearly one mile long, and there’s a fantastic circular path around its shore taking in much of the forest along the way. The route is a big hit with cyclists and there’s even a place to hire bikes if you don’t have one. The distance around the lake is about 2.4miles but its a very easy (and enjoyable) trek. The lake can also be fished. For more info see here: http://www.walkni.com/walks/222/castlewellan-forest-park-lakeside-walk/

ANNESLEY GARDENS (WITHIN THE PARK)

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To access Castlewellan Forest Park you pay just £4.50 per car which is pretty good as it doesn’t matter how many are in your car. Once parked your entrance fee includes all the walks and the gardens which are wonderful in Winter but must be even nicer in the other three milder seasons of the year.

The planting of the walled Annesley garden, the focus of the arboretum, began in the 1850s and rare conifers and maples were later imported directly from Japan. Then came the addition of more rich varieties, including Chilean eucryphias, Australian athrotaxis and pittosporum and Chinese rhododendrons. The arboretum holds many trees with record heights in the British Isles (see one of the monsters above!).

THE PEACE MAZE

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The “Peace Maze” was opened in 2000 and while you may think its nothing more than a quaint curiosity on entering you’re going to be in for a shock. This is one of the worlds largest permanent hedge mazes (it was the largest in the world until 2007 when it was beaten, only slightly, by a maze in Hawaii) and it really will offer a challenge to those without a pigeons sense of direction. The maze covers 3 acres and has 2.18 miles of pathway (the one in Hawaii has 2.46) and upon reaching the center there is a bell you can ring which is said to be the most rung bell in Ireland with half a million rings a year. When you visit the park make sure you go inside and see if you can find your way to the center (on top of the footbridge). Good luck! You’ll need it. The panaoramic picture above shows Castlewellan town, the Mourne Mountains, and a small part of the maze.

For more info on this great forest park see here: http://www.discovernorthernireland.com/Castlewellan-Forest-Park-and-Peace-Maze-Castlewellan-P2881

Downhill Mausoleum and Old Cemetery

As you approach Downhill Demesne from the Lions Gate entrance, the first thing you will see is the towering “Mausoleum” monument. There’s actually never been anyone buried in there, its really just a remembrance building. Across the road however, lies what seems like a very old graveyard (at the back of the current one), and some of the stones show dates of over 200yrs past. I imagine it might be even older however as when you walk around there looks like even more graves below your feet, with the large ones piled high in the middle. The cemetery looks like something constructed for a movie. Beautiful and creepy.

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The Downhill Mausoleum. Much larger than it looks from the road.

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The inscription.

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Much of it has now fallen down.

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Dominating the landscape of a dark Winters day. Downhill House in the background.

Then across the road hidden away is this….

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An old graveyard.

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Long since past anyone caring for it.

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This stone seems to have a 200yr old epitaph (1817)

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An overgrown tomb.

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The place looks like a classic cemetery from some Hammer Horror movie.

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This mound has a path that winds around it, but as you walk there are small graves under your feet with tiny headstones lost in the grass. It seems like they piled the graves on top of each other.

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The ruins of some old church at one corner of the graveyard. Creepy place.

Tamlaghtard Church, Cemetery, and School, County Derry

Its hard to know where to locate this church based on what it says on Google. Some sites state its in Bellarena, others near Limavady, and some in Magilligan. Safe to say its in County Derry however (parish of Tamlaghtard), and sits just below the stunning Binevenagh plateau. Tamlaghtard is said to mean “the cemetery on the height” which is hardly surprising based on its position. It was built somewhere around 1784 and has a wonderful setting in this designated area of outstanding natural beauty. You can see the little church clearly in the distance if you travel from Castlerock to Derry by train. The denomination here is Church of Ireland, and the grounds contain an old school (now abandoned) which may have doubled up as a robing room. There is also a (creepy) tomb of sorts at the back of the attached cemetery which you can see below.

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Tamlaghtard Church. Simply lovely location.

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Seen from the front on an early Winter morning 2014.

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A distant plane leaves for places afar, above Tamlaghtard Church.

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The attached old graveyard, with the imposing Binevenagh cliffs towering behind.

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At the very back of the old graveyard lies this tomb in the right hand corner.

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One of the headstones on the tomb.

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The door was open.

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A look inside.

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These stone coffins were old based on the dates.

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Pretty creepy in here.

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In front of the church is this little building which apparently is an old abandoned school (if anyone knows more let me know).

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The front of the “school” – the door at the back had blown off in the wind it seemed…

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We had a look inside. Very dark, very creepy.

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With the flash on, things became much more illuminated.

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A little desk. We didnt touch or move anything for the few minutes we had a look inside.

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The paint and windows from inside.

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Somebody didn’t want anyone to come in this door, that’s for sure.

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Obviously electrics had been added at some time. The building is mentioned as being used as a robing room as far back as the late 19th century. Apart from that, the internet seems to give up nothing else about the building. Those little coat hooks on the wall could probably tell a story though.

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Is that the book from the Evil Dead movie on the ceiling? I hope not lol.

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Time to leave Tamlaghtard Church. So many more things to see in this area.