When they told us that they'd been up to parts of the North Coast before but hadn't managed to visit The Giants Causeway because of the queues of people, we decided we had to take them. It was January - sure we'd have the place to our selves (Ha - ya think?)
We left Armagh at 11am - we're into leisurely Saturday mornings - and arrived in Portstewart at 1.30pm, just in time for lunch.
The sun was at it's highest but at this time of the year, at this latitude that's not saying much. Huge white clouds chugged across the sky accentuating the gorgeous landscape and providing a feature all of their own. Precious chunks of blue sky peeked from between them and brightened patches of a pewter ocean to Azure.
Our first stop along the road was Dunluce Castle. The first time I saw this place, thirty odd years ago, (some years odder than others, believe me) I was driving the coast road from Portstewart to Bushmills and didn't know it was there. I turned the corner and BAM - this amazing castle on a cliff edge just sitting in a field. There was no wall or fence around it, no visitor centre, no cover charge - just this mad castle that you could walk freely around. Today the castle is still as splendid. So much so that it has been used, with the help of CGI technology, as a set for Game of Thrones - representing House of Greyjoy.
Further along the coast, we didn't exactly have the Giants Causeway to ourselves but compared to the crowds you get here in the summer, it was fairly empty.
The clouds competed with the rock formations for our attention...
And stole the show, hands down, when the sun painted them in golds and bronze.
The highlight of the trip was the gorgeous Ballintoy Harbour, also seen multiple times on Game of Thrones. In that world, it's part of the Iron Islands where Theon Greyjoy's family hails from. In real life, it's actually far prettier.
But it's easy to see why someone would base a fantasy story here.
As a whistle-stop tour of the North Coast goes, we did fairly well to see so much before it got dark. I would recommend spending a few more days here and take some of the rambles along the coast... we've marked it on our to-do list for this summer.
Driving home, we came across this ethereal scene and had to stop the car to take photos of the theatre of cloud, fog and snow - fairyland indeed.
Is it any wonder Irish culture is so heavily sprinkled with fairies and magic when this is on our doorstep?