Sunday 7th May 2006
Weather Overcast with rain in the afternoon
Max 12c Min 6c Wind SW2
I left Balvicar at one thirty for Prestwick Airport, travelling through Oban, Taynuilt, Inveraray, Arrochar, Erskine Bridge, M8, Paisley and the M77.
I arrived at five o’clock and was transported from car park five to the airport. I contacted Geoff and he was soon picking me up outside the terminal building.
We travelled south through Ayr and arrived at Dunfoot on the Doon estuary. We stopped for tea and biscuits before we had a walk along the bay. There were eighty Mute Swans on the estuary along with Oystercatchers, four species of gull, Shelduck, Mallard and good numbers of corvids. Out at sea a single Sandwich Tern was fishing and a large flock of waders were swirling along the shoreline (probably Dunlin).
We continued south to our overnight stop at Culzean Castle Caravan Park. We stopped to check out the Electric Brae and I was astounded at the optical illusion. The road clearly looked downhill, but as we coasted the van came to a stop and started rolling back. Looking back the illusion worked both ways, I still haven’t got my head round this phenomena.
We were given plot number eight and soon connected to the mains. We prepared our evening meal and the later relaxed listening to Sam Cooke whilst I brought my diaries up to date.
Monday 8th May 2006
Weather Dry and sunny with strong winds
Max 18c Min 7c Wind SE6/7
After breakfast we took a walk down to Culzean Castle and the mature woodland produced Blackcap and Chiffchaff. By the castle as pair of Fulmars drifted effortlessly around the cliffs and several Gannet moved through north.
The screeching of Swifts around the castle was music to my ears as they were the first of the year. It was altogether a lovely walk and was enhanced by a coffee at the visitor centre.
We set off for Stranrear at eleven calling at Maidens, Turnberry Point and lastly Ballantrae where we stopped for lunch. A pair of Stonechat was the highlight at Maidens and Yellowhammer and Sedge Warbler were superb at Turnberry. Ballantrae Harbour was a beautiful location for lunch with the distant bay covered in gorse. The wind had increased and was gusting to force seven, although the day was still glorious with bright sunshine.
We passed through Stranrear and drove south to the Mull of Galloway. This was another half an hour, but well worth it as the coastal views were beautiful. We parked at the RSPB Reserve and followed a circular walk. Wheatear, Twite and Kestrel were soon in the bag and several Fulmars appeared around the cliffs.
The foghorn gave excellent views and Kittiwake, Guillemot, Gannet and Rock Dove were evident but not in large numbers. Further on a Rock Pipit appeared conveniently on the path in front of us giving us good views and House Martin was another addition as we finished the circuit.
We drove back towards Stranrear and decided to stop off at Portpatrick a delightful little seaside village for a meal. The harbour yielded Black Guillemot as promised and the Crown provided us with a good pint and excellent food. This was a good stop, at the right time.
We were soon in Stranrear and with the aid of Memory Map found the caravan park, our home for the night. After a shower and a cup of coffee we were soon ready for our beds after a full day with great weather and marvellous scenery.
Tuesday 9th May 2006
Weather Dry, sunny and warm
Max 23c Min 8c Wind S1
We were up early to catch the Starship Stena HSS ferry from Stranrear to Belfast. It left at ten o’clock and after boarding we were soon eating a full Irish breakfast in the restaurant.
The ferry docked at twelve o’clock after an impressive sailing across the Irish Sea. It is one of a new breed of vehicular ferries that are the fastest in the world. The twin hulled ferry is driven by four gas turbine engines producing a very smooth ride and a top speed of forty knots.
Although route finding could have been better we were soon heading along the M2 towards Loch Beg.. We were there within the hour and soon checking out the area.
Viewing was fairly distant over the wet meadow but Great Crested Grebe, Grey Heron and Wigeon were evident. A group of about forty summer-plumaged Black-tailed Godwits dropped in showing the sites potential. We moved to another viewing area and found a walk which gave us much better views. The marsh held a reeling Grasshopper Warbler and a pair of Stonechat. The route took us through a beautiful bluebell wood which immediately produced an unexpected bonus of Spotted Flycatcher. Emerging from the wood we then had further views of several Great Crested Grebes, Shelduck, Coot, Moorhen, Mute Swan, Redshank and Curlew. Our return walk was also productive with Goldcrest, two fighting Robins, Goldfinch and a female Redpoll.
We moved on towards Ballymena looking for a camp site without any luck, so we decided to head for the coast. A great deal of house building was underway in the area and we were later to discover that building regulations were about to change, thus the proliferation of new builds.
After some difficult route finding through Ballymena and passing through Carnlaugh and Glen Ariff we eventually found a council run site right on the edge of the sea at Cushendall.
We walked into the village and found the Glens Hotel where we enjoyed a good meal and drink. We chatted to the manageress who surprisingly was about relocate to Sheffield with her boyfriend.
Back at the Auto-Sleeper I was very tired and it was not long before I was fast asleep and dreaming of another days birding.
Wednesday 10th May 2006
Weather Dry, sunny & warm
Max 25c Min 8c Wind S1
I awoke to the sound of the waves and bright sunlight and another stunning beautiful morning. We were soon on our way heading along the coast towards Ballycastle with wonderful scenery. We arrived at Cushendum an idyllic fishing village with lots of character and as we stopped at some stores for provisions, I met a guy who told me about Rathlin Island.
We drove onto Ballycastle as the ferry was to leave at twelve o’clock. We arrived in good time and purchased tickets for the Cal Mac crossing and for the Puffin Tour. The minibus was waiting at the ferry terminal and we were soon being whisked away towards the RSPB Reserve at Keebie. I met Ian again, the chap from Cushendum and he was to be our companion for the next two hours.
We passed fields scattered with orchids and primroses and the numerous bright yellow bushes of gorse which were everywhere on the island. The road became a track and on one side a precipitous drop looked precarious but we eventually arrived safely at the reserve.
I was not prepared for the stunning views of the seabird colony. Huge limestone cliffs with basalt columns stretched below us. Large numbers of Kittiwakes, Guillemot, Razorbill and Puffin filled the air and from our vantage point, it was a tremendous spectacle. We also had unrivalled views across to Islay and the Mull of Kintyre which is only twenty-five miles away. The whole scene below us has to be one of the most outstanding seabird colonies in Europe and until today I had not even heard of Rathlin Island.
Historically the island is also notable for being Robert the Bruce’s hiding place from the English. The cave and spider that provided his refuge is here, although the spider has probably demised by now !
The minibus returned us to a house in Church Bay where beverages were being served. A large pot of tea and coffee with a plate full of scones, shortbread, wheaten bread and biscuits were provided. We enjoyed a veritable feast served by an elderly gentleman who even provided suntan cream to protect us from the hot sun. He could not do enough to keep us happy and for me this island and his hospitality will stay in the memory for a long time to come.
After a walk along the bay to see a small colony of Common Seal and adding Whimbrel and Ringed Plover to our list we returned for another cup of tea and more shortbread.
The ferry returned us to Ballycastle and our stop for the night at Silver Cliffs Caravan Park. Once organised on our pitch we walked down to Ballycastle and a meal at the Marina Hotel. We enjoyed good food and drink and watched the EUFA Cup Final between Seville and Middlesborough a pleasant end to a wonderful day.
Thursday 11th May 2006
Weather Dry, sunny and warm
Max 26c Min 10c Wind Calm
We made an early exit from Silver Cliffs and continued our journey along the Antrim Coast towards Giants Causeway.
Our first stop was the rope bridge at Carrick-A-Rede which was just opening as we arrived at ten. The rope bridge spans a gorge between the mainland and the Island. Initially it was used by local fishermen to catch the wild salmon that passed through the strait.
Now it is a tourist attraction run by the National Trust and it provides excitement and incredible views both of the outstanding scenery and the small colonies of Razorbill, Guillemot, Kittiwakes and Fulmar that exist here.
Unlike Rathlin Island the views here are very close and give an intimate insight into the bird’s existence. I did not think Rathlin Island could be bettered, but this small island, the rope bridge and the birds make this a very special place.
There is also some history to the area as the headland was mined for limestone and the cliffs above for the dolerite. It was called Knocksoghey Quarry and the dolerite mined here paved Soghey Hall Street in Glasgow and other streets in Edinburgh. Dolerite is exceptionally hard and would provide the perfect surface for busy streets.
We stopped for lunch in the carpark before moving on to the Giants Causeway and Bushmills. After looking around the shops we took the lower path to Northern Ireland’s world heritage site. As with this entire coast we were not to be disappointed and we spent a pleasant hour exploring the rocks and then climbing the path to the cliff top to experience even better views.
A visit to Antrim would not be complete without visiting The Old Bushmills Distillery at Bushmills. We took the tour and learnt about the process of making their finest whiskeys. In the bar at the end of the tour we were given a dram of Bushmills twelve year old which went down very well, including Geoff’s as he was driving. I also purchased a small bottle of ten year old malt to keep us going for the remainder of the holiday.
The next task was to find our stopover for tonight, but this was to be thwarted by a big motor cycle event which was being held in Portrush. Despite any lack of information we managed to find an alternative route to Coleraine.
A series of mini disasters then befell us as we tried to find a site. Our first mistake was to ask a set of three drunks some directions and then we chose an unsuitable caravan park at Castlerock before finding a Caravan Club site in Bishops Road. This was an ideal location and had views down to the bay and Portstewart.
We decided to go to Castlerock for a meal but there were no taxis available due to the races. Hazel the owner of the site offered to take us and deposited us at Bertha’s Bar. Unfortunately they did not serve food but we eventually found the Golf Hotel. Here our bad luck ended after the chef agreed to cook us a meal. We ordered a mixed grill and were not disappointed, with a large plate of food and a large plate of chips.
A taxi dropped us back at the caravan site and we finished the evening with a few drams sat outside taking in the lights of Portstewart.
Friday 12th May 2006
Weather Overcast early but sunny periods later
Max 16c Min 6c Wind E4
Before leaving we thanked Hazel for her help last night and a good stopover. She kindly provided us with some scones for our onward journey.
We then made our way to Bar Mouth and the Bann Estuary and soon found the car park. We walked the last section and after acquiring the key enjoyed an hour in the National Trust hide.
There was at least two hundred Dunlin on the mud flats along with good numbers of Ringed Plover, Oystercatchers and Curlew. Shelduck were also well supported with Mallard, Mute Swan and Grey Heron. Several Sandwich Tern were resting on the sand bar and unexpectedly a Hooded Crow added to the list.
We decided to head south as the weather seemed unsettled and we were soon passing through Limavady, Claudy, Plumbridge, and Omagh before stopping at Gortin Lakes for lunch. I heard my first Cuckoo of the year here, whilst enjoying bacon sandwiches and scones.
We then passed through Kesh to arrive at Castle Cauldwell on Lower Lough Erne by mid-afternoon. This was supposed to be a RSPB Reserve but we even had trouble finding the hide, never mind the birds.
Disappointed we moved onto our stop for the night at the Lakeside Caravan Park at Ballyshannon. We walked into the town and dined at the Sopranos Italian restaurant near the bridge. This meal was probably the best so far after a series of excellent dinners.
We returned to the camper to finish the evening reading and planning tomorrow’s explorations.
Saturday 13th May 2006
Weather Dry and sunny
Max 18c Min 8c Wind SE2
We left today hoping to make Galway by this evening. We moved down the coast to Bundoran and then onto Sligo. I was surprised by the prosperity of the area and as we travelled west to Ballina the houses just got bigger.
We stopped at Ballina to do some shopping and I found some presents for Holly and Joe. The next stop was for lunch at Pontoon on Loch Cullin. A Garden Warbler was singing close by and a Common Sandpiper skimmed across the water in front of us adding to the list.
Castlebar was the next stop for supplies at the local supermarket and then we pushed on towards Galway. We were making good time so we decided to carry on, avoiding the town and onwards to County Clare.
We headed west along the N67 passing through Kinvarra an unusual seaside village with the Burren hills in the distance. The Burren is a group of hills covered in huge pavements of limestone and this makes the area unique.
We turned off the main road towards Burren and Aughinish Bay. If we could find the right location we would wild camp tonight. Our Luck was in as we found a space next to two other campers at the mouth of the bay.
I was amazed to find five Great Northern Divers in summer plumage in the bay, along with Black Guillemots and several Sandwich and Common Terns fishing. To add to this wonderful scene three Common Seals moved easily around the bay.
We had found an idyllic location for our wild camp with views across the bay to Galway, and the limestone pavements of the Burren hills behind us. I finished the evening admiring the lights across Galway Bay before retiring for the night.
Sunday 14th May 2006
Weather Heavy rain all day
Max 16c Min 12c Wind SE3
The rain started as got up and continued all day putting paid to any serious birding. Consequently we had a late start, but by ten o’clock we were on our way and drove along the bay towards Bell Harbour.
From there we continued to Ballyvaughan Bay, but stopped at a new shop called Burren House where I bought a couple of pictures for the cottage.
Ballyvaughan was a typical Irish seaside town with picture postcard views. We lunch by the harbour and stopped for some photos in the centre.
We carried on to ‘The Burren’, hillsides full of limestone pavement, and covered in wild flowers. They cover an area of about sixty square miles, special to this part of County Clare and unique to Ireland.
The Cliffs of Moher should have been the last place to visit after looking at Doolin, but with rain still falling heavily we decided to make our way to the camp site at Corrofin. We managed to find a good pitch and settled in, to what for me would be my last night. After a good shower we were both ready for a meal and we headed for Quinn’s Bar which was conveniently just across the road.
We weren’t to be let down and we both enjoyed excellent meals, washed down with a couple of pints of Smithick’s beer. This was to be my last night in Ireland after a wonderful week full of good memories and good food.
I don’t think it will be too long before I am returning to this green and pleasant land with its warm hearted people and amazing scenery.
Monday 15th May 2006
Weather Heavy rain
Max 16c Min 10c Wind SW3
We left Corrofin at seven thirty for the journey to Shannon Airport. It was an hour’s drive and we were just in time for check-in as the flight was leaving at 1030 hours.
Geoff joined me for a coffee and I thanked him for a great holiday. I passed through departures and waited for the flight.
We were twenty minutes late leaving but most of this time was made up crossing to Glasgow Prestwick. I caught the transfer bus to car park five and was soon collecting my car and heading home to Balvicar. I arrived back at 1545 hours just in time for tea.
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