Hello everyone, since we started blogging, we decided we were going to start trying more experiences we would not have done before. We recently went on our first walking tour with If Buildings Could Talk in Belfast, Northern Ireland, we were not quite sure what to expect with the tour but decided to go ahead and do it.
The tour is run by Barney and we met him opposite Belfast city hall – this was all explained beforehand in the e-mail we received. It was one of those days where you didn’t know if it was going to rain or the sun would split the sky so as always in Ireland you need to bring a raincoat – this time of year the streets can also be a bit slippery with leaves and wet cobles so it is really important to wear the right footwear also.
Both of us grew up and went to school and university in the Belfast area so we went on the tour wondering would it be all new or would it be the same old stories you hear about Belfast growing up. There were two other couples on the tour and Barney started with a quick health and safety talk and providing us with guide/picture books. The tour itself takes about 1 and half to two hours and we found it covered most of the city centre.
As mentioned we both know Belfast well, we found that as the tour progressed although we recognised many of the buildings that Barney brought us to however at each stop he highlighted a history of the buildings and streets that we never knew about.
The tour covered the city centre from the area around City Hall, Castle Court, Cathedral Quarter, and other areas. The tour route is planned well to cover all these areas and we would recommend it to anyone who is first visiting Belfast and wants to get an idea of the city’s different quarters and history.
As a tour guide, we found Barney to be friendly and knowledgeable about the city, he has obviously done his research on the buildings and cities. Throughout the tour he was engaging when moving between the different stops and kept the group entertained, as a first walking tour experience we found it to be a really interesting and engaging experience that we will be recommending to our friends and family.
After the tour we popped into Hadski’s for lunch and a few drinks, Iain had the steak sandwich and Brianna had the Duck Ragu – to finish we had a cocktail. After this experience we will book other tours in Belfast, we have always talked about the Belfast Food Tour after hearing good reviews – we think it will be the next tour!
We 100% would recommend if you visit Belfast and want to get to know the city and its history to join Barney on his tour around the city centre! Have you done any walking tours that you would recommend?
Until then, stay safe and keep planning the next adventure! Brianna and Iain
The start of October saw us continuing our annual leave. After a few days chilling at home following our stays in Carlingford, Derry, Bushmills and Ballygally, we were looking forward to getting away again. October is our wedding anniversary month, so we were planning to do something special. But as is the case lately, the situation was ongoing and ever changing.
We had booked to spend a night in Lough Eske, but in the weeks leading up to our stay government guidelines changed in County Donegal and it was now recommended only essential travel should be happening. So, we moved our stay in Lough Eske to a night in November when we’re off. Next we decided to book 2 nights in Bishop’s Gate in Derry, where we were meant to stay the previous week before it was cancelled due to a Covid outbreak. However, days before our wedding anniversary restrictions in Derry were tightened, meaning we would have been confined to the hotel for our stay. The morning we were meant to go we contacted the hotel and cancelled our stay, and went back to the drawing board. We knew we didn’t want to venture too far, and that it would be best to stay in Northern Ireland. We realised this was the ideal opportunity for us to stay somewhere we’d always wanted – The Lough Erne Resort in Fermanagh. Luckily for us they had rooms available, so we booked a couple of nights, finished up packing and threw our cases in the car.
Fermanagh is about an hour and half from Belfast going down to the M1, with the Lough Erne Resort being 10 minutes away from Enniskillen town. It rained the whole way down in the car, which seemed to make the journey feel longer. We were glad when we arrived at the hotel, and were greeted by the doorman holding a golf umbrella to shelter us as we carried our bags in. A quick temperature check at the door, some hand sanitizer, and we were in. The cosy feeling inside was in stark contrast to the dull, wet afternoon outside – there was a fire burning in the hearth, soft music was playing, and the hotel lobby was decorated with beautiful autumnal features. We checked in, booked in dinner for the two nights, and then headed up to our room.
It was a beautiful room. The bed was unbelievably comfortable, and the bathroom was well sized with a walk-in shower and freestanding bath. The view we had was also amazing, overlooking the lough, golf course and reed bridge all at once. After settling into our room and freshening up we headed downstairs to grab a couple of drinks, but not before booking in afternoon tea for the next day. After some drinks by the fire looking out at the rain we went back to the room and got ready for dinner.
We had dinner in The Blaney Bar the first night, which had a lovely relaxed feel to it. There was a small crowd in, so the atmosphere was lively. We had salmon fritters and dim sum to start, before sharing a delicious bento box. We decided to pass up on dessert, and instead have a Midnight Express cocktail, a wonderfully moreish cocktail that was like an espresso martini with a chocolate orange twist.
The next day the weather had improved significantly, so we thought it would be the perfect chance to explore the countryside around the hotel. Neither of us had been to Fermanagh since we were children, and we were amazed at how beautiful the county was. When talking about the beauty of Northern Ireland most people mention the breath-taking ruggedness of the Antrim Coast, and the rise and fall of the peaks in the Mourne Mountains, but Fermanagh often goes unmentioned, apart from the now Instagram famous Cuilcagh walk. With its rolling hills, stunning lakes and old trees dotting the landscape, it’s a truly stunning place. The area surrounding the hotel had a rich history, and there were a couple of 17th century castles nearby: Monea Castle, and Tully Castle, which we checked out. Then it was back to the hotel for afternoon tea.
The afternoon tea was served in the beautiful Catalina restaurant, and it was absolutely delicious. We spent a couple hours enjoying a mix of sandwiches, scones and sweet treats, all beautifully prepared. We were full after eating so much, so we went for another walk, this time around the grounds. After a loop of the golf course we headed back to the hotel.
Dinner that night was in the Catalina, the setting for the hotel’s more fine dining experience. We had booked in for a five-course meal, and it was incredible from start to finish. First up was an amuse-bouche served with a small cocktail. For starters, we went with foie gras, and crab ravioli, and mains were the beef, and stone bass, all served with wine pairings. We finished up the meal with petit-four, and desserts – some ice-cream, and another celebrating different texture of apple.
We left the Lough Erne resort the next day very pleased with our stay. From start to finish the entire stay was a pleasant one, in every sense. The setting was beautiful, the food and drinks delicious, and all the staff were friendly and welcoming. It truly was a five-star experience, and we both agreed it was the best hotel break we’ve had. In fact, we enjoyed it so much that when we got home we booked another stay, this time in December for a mini Christmas break. We’ve already started counting down the days!
Until then stay safe and keep planning the next adventure!
As mentioned in our final causeway coast guide we spent a night in the Ballygally Castle. This hotel is always special to us as it is where we had our wedding reception. We would pop in for a bite to eat a few times throughout the year, but we thought this time we would spend the night and have dinner.
On our way to Ballygally we stopped off in Glenarm to have a bite of lunch in the Glenarm Tea Rooms, these are part of the Glenarm castle and walled gardens. This is a place we always try to visit at the weekend and find that its full making it difficult to get into – especially during current circumstances! But the grounds were really cool, there is a workshop that sells really unique items, a clothes shop, fudge factory, gardens to walk around and a castle. The tea rooms provide afternoon tea, coffee and your usual fare – the food was good and reasonably priced.
After this we journeyed on to Ballygally Castle along the coast road, the castle is a 17th century castle that overlooks Ballygally bay. It has a modern section and then the older castle and exterior walls alongside a beautiful walled garden and river area. The hotel is owned by the Hastings group who own a chain of 4- and 5-star hotels across Northern Ireland, we aren’t normally huge fans of chains but we find that Hastings generally provide great service and accommodation.
On arrival our rooms were ready so we went and freshened up, our room this time didn’t have as good a view as previous stays – overlooking the roof of the function room, however as always with this chain the room itself was top class. We always find that they have the most comfortable beds, and the bathroom and shower are always great! We spent the afternoon in the lounge having a few drinks and chatting, the setting is really beautiful here and we sat by the window looking out over the Irish sea.
Our stay included dinner and breakfast in the hotel, we had booked in that evening in the Garden restaurant for food, for dinner Iain had prawn cocktail, and chicken and mango curry and Brianna had the pate with toast, and salmon with crushed baby potatoes. If we are being honest about the food we found that whilst it was fine, the quality and flavour were lacking.
We had stayed at the Bushmills Inn the night before and the food was much better – another issue we noticed during this visit was the lack of staff. There appeared to be only one staff on the bar and serving all the guests in the lounge and during dinner only two staff members for the whole restaurant. Whilst the service was friendly and helpful the staff members were run off their feet – at one stage, we noticed ourselves and three other tables in the lounge waiting for drinks orders to be taken.
Overall, we found that the Ballygally Castle as always has great rooms and is a beautiful hotel, but compared to other 4 star experiences the food and service weren’t quite up-to-par during this visit.