We woke up at 6:00am at our hotel near the Belfast International Airport still a bit tired and in a sweat. In classic European hotel room style, the air con hadn’t been working all night and the room was plenty stale and stuffy. It was nice to have a bed (two single beds of course. One for each of us.), a private shower, and all the power outlets we needed, but it really wasn’t that great. Especially for getting in at midnight and waking up at 6:00am.
We left the hotel heading north and deeper into County Atrim ready to knock out our to-do list for the day. First up would be The Old Bushmills Distillery. One of the activities I was most looking forward to on our trip!
The Old Bushmills Distillery
This distillery was one of my most anticipated stops for our trip. I was really looking forward to Jameson and Guinness in Dublin but they ended up being more of a tourist attraction and had no actual factory touring. I really love visiting breweries and checking out the how it all actually comes together, and this was my first distillery.
Since we woke up really early at our hotel in an uncomfortable sweat, we arrived at Bushmills, Northern Ireland, a bit early and got in line for the very first tour at 12:00pm. Within 15 minutes of getting in line, dozens more people had shown up and got in line. We have been having great luck with getting to attractions early and beating the crowds by a narrow margin. It’s really been making me appreciate getting up early.
No photos were allowed at all on the tour. The tour guide claimed that due to the “high alcohol content in the air” any electrics could spark some sort of explosion. This sounded completely preposterous to me. If the ethyl-alcohol in the air was literally that high, we probably wouldn’t be doing a tour through it. Or we would at least be wearing masks. In any case, this meant no photos. I was super disappointed, but I snuck one photo in a barrel store warehouse anyway.
On this tour I was able to see the single lauter tun (large metal container in which the mash is separated into the clear liquid wort and the residual grain) that all of the Bushmills whiskey you’ve ever seen worldwide has gone through. Bushmills has a pretty small factory and it was kind of mind blowing they hadn’t expanded it much at all and still are supplying the world with Bushmills with just one lauter tun.
The distillation room had to be over 110 degrees easily. They had 8 (I believe?) copper stills in this room and while distillation creates a lot of heat regardless of the metal you are using, copper is especially heat conductive and releases a lot of heat out into the environment.
We didn’t get to see the bottling operation running because it was Sunday and the factory always has the weekends off. After we looked at the bottling machines sitting silent ready for Monday, we finished the tour at the tasting room and got to try anything we’d like. I got a Blackbush neat and Josie got a Hot Toddy. I bought two bottles of their 12 year single malt distillery reserve. This specific single malt can only be bought at the distillery so it’s a pretty special bottle to go home with. I got an extra bottle in case I ever want to give a special gift to someone, but I may just keep it for myself. 🙂
The Gian’t Causeway (Clochán an Aifir) has to be one of the top 3 tourist attractions in all of the Republic of Ireland. Upon arriving this is pretty obvious because the views are really incredible and there are probably 20,000 people scarring around like ants. If you don’t like places with crowds I would almost say you should avoid this location but the views of the coastline and the sheer oddity of the hexagonal columns makes it worth it.
The legend of the Giant’s Causeway is that what you see today is the remains of a causeway between Ireland and Scotland built by the Irish giant Finn MacCool (Fionn mac Cumhaill). The scientifically accepted reality is that 50-60 million years ago County Antrim was subject to intense volcanic activity and a large flow of fluid molten basalt created a lava plateau in the chalk beds of the coast. As the lava cooled the plateau fractured in such a way to create the thousands of hexagonal columns. This intuitively seems highly unlikely to me, but I guess I should trust the hundreds of years of geologists who have studied these rock formations. It’s definitely one of the more mysterious sights in the world.
There was tons of walking. First almost 2 kilometers down a hill, then of course 2 kilometers back up a huge hill. Since we’ve started our trip its been really unseasonably warm and with no clouds. You even see most of the locals with sunburns since they’re not really used to dealing with abrasive sun weather. So with the heat and the direct sunlight, walking back up this hill was pretty brutal at times. Our legs started to get pretty wobbly towards the end. Josie even slipped and cut her toe and started gushing blood onto her sandals, but she kept on hiking!
Kinbane Head & Castle
Kinbane castle is only about 10-15 minutes drive from the Giant’s Causeway and was a recommendation of an old school friend from Arkansas who now lives in Belfast. It was a great recommendation as apparently no one knows about it! We couldn’t find it on any of the travel maps we had and tour buses aren’t allowed down there. This means you basically have the entire trail and castle to yourself.
It seems a strange spot to build a settlement, perched on top of a tiny peninsula, but I imagine it was probably built by a family specializing in fishing trade. It would be a great spot to live since your work would be literally right outside your door. As we were going down we even had a local young irishman going down to the cliff of the peninsula (maybe a 10-15 foot drop?) with a wet suit and a spearfishing gun. Standing in this ancient ruins its hard to imagine how one they were teeming with life and activity. Everything from military attacks to children running around playing games. Right where we stood, just hundreds of years in the past. All of the history and ruins in this country are amazing.
The steps going up and down were a pretty brutal workout. You start at the top of a very high coastal ridge and have to go down a few hundred steps to get to the beach front where the tiny peninsula juts out into the ocean with the ruins of the ancient Kinbane settlement perched atop. Going down wasn’t too bad but I was nearly dead half way on the way back up. Unfortunately this trail is definitely not suited for the elderly or disabled. Children could probably handle it but count on carrying them a bit of the way when they get tired and start complaining. Its not a long trail; just steep.
On British Currency
Apparently the British government does not print paper currency. That is left up to the individual banks in the United Kingdom — of which there are many. I guess this is a form of privatization of currency printing? They have government mandated rules to follow but beyond that they can do what they want with it’s looks. The currency can look however the bank wants as long as it says something similar to “promise to pay the bearer on demand (number) Pounds Sterling.” I first discovered this when I went to pull out some money from the ATM and it comes out with large notes saying Ulster Bank.
Ulster Bank was the bank I was standing in front of pulling out money. There’s several banks in Ireland and Scotland that assist the Bank of England in printing notes. They all look different, and if you use one in another country than its printing, the person gets all uppity about it like they wont accept it. If they say they won’t accept it, you’re supposed to tell them that it says Sterling on it and it’s the law that they have to accept it. We experienced this when giving Bank of Ireland notes to an attendant at an attraction in Scotland (Yes, I’m writing this post a few days behind). He didn’t try to tell us he wouldn’t accept it, but upon handing it to him he had to inspect it and said “Does it say Sterling? Oh, there it is.” What in the hell kind of way of running a national currency is this? People don’t trust/know their own currency within their own country. Absolute nonsense.