Sunday, November 16, 2014

Whiskey and drinking the whiskey did not make us see giants!

Since we were so close to the Giant's Causeway and Bushmills Distillery, we decided to take the scenic route along the coast up to Bushmills.  What a gorgeous day - though the locals told us it was rather dreary out.  Before really getting out in the countryside, we saw Carrickfergus Castle (built in 1177).  Sadly it wasn't opened that early in the morning so we only saw the outside.  Have no fear, we'll see other castles along our journey through Ireland!

Driving in Ireland is not for the faint of heart.  While these tunnels may look rather large...they are not!  And to add to the fun, they get narrower as you go through them and there is usually a very sharp left turn as soon as you exit.

It is also nearly impossible to go more than a mile without a roundabout...sometimes you exit one and there is yet another!  At least this roundabout had a crown.

We arrived in Bushmills in time for lunch so we popped into The Bushmills Inn.  The inn was started in 1608 and is one of the oldest still operating inns in Northern Ireland.  After a quick bite, we headed to the town's main attraction...Bushmills Distillery.  Clearly they knew we were coming as we arrived just before the start of a tour.  Unfortunately photos are not allowed along the tour and too bad I couldn't capture the smell...surprised we didn't have a contact high from the smell of the whiskey!! 

After the tour, we had a chance for a tasting.  I had the Bushmills Black and Julie had the Bushmills 12.  Personally not a big whiskey fan (except in an Irish Coffee of course) but I did have to try it since they are the oldest continuously operating whiskey distillery.  The distilling process is pretty fascinating and makes you appreciate the time that goes into making whiskey.  Unlike most whiskey, Bushills is triple distilled which apparently makes it a smoother drink.  What was very interesting to learn is Bushmills buys all their aging barrels second hand.  For the original Bushmills, it is aged in old Kentucky Bourbon barrels.  The Bushmills Black is aged in old Sherry barrels.  The color of the whiskey when it is placed in the barrels is clear and over the minimum 3 year aging process, it picks up the color from the barrel.

Our trip to Northern Ireland would not be complete without a visit to The Giant's Causeway.  Legend has it that the Giant's Causeway was created by a giant Ulster warrior named Finn McCool so he could spy on his Scottish rival, Benandonner.  While stalking his rival, he discovered that Benandonner was much bigger than he so Finn came up with a plan.  He headed back home and had his wife, Oona, dress him like a baby and place him in a giant crib.  When Benandonner came knocking to look for Finn, Oona told him to be quiet or else 

wake the baby. When Benandonner saw the size of the baby, he feared any man that could sire such a large child and ran back to Scotland.  Not being one to tempt fate, Finn promptly knocked down the bridge.  Now geologist have a much more boring story that involves volcanic eruptions, lava cooling, blah blah blah.  Personally, I believe Finn's story of how the over 37,000 hexagonal pillars were created!  But I'll let you be the judge as to what really happened.

The lower rock on the left that looks to be a silhouette of a person is Finn's Granny

Finn's organ...if you arrive at 6AM on Christmas Day you can still hear Finn play
The faint hill in the background is Scotland. 
We were fortunate to be there on a very clear day!
As I mentioned earlier, driving in Ireland is not for the faint of heart so we had planned to be well on our way by 2:30pm in order to arrive at Castle Leslie by dark at 4:30pm.  Well, so much for all good plans thanks to no cell reception and a completely crazy GPS.  The town where the castle is located is so small that the only address is Castle Leslie, Glaslough, Monaghan Co, Ireland.  Turns out GPS needs a little more info so we picked the town of Monaghan and headed that way since we couldn't ring the castle.  Again, GPS is completely bonkers and would have us turn on roads that didn't exist and then "recalculate".  We finally got to a location where we could get cell reception and called the castle and got their GPS coordinates.  Turns out you can enter GPS coordinates into my European GPS...who knew...only had the thing 4 years!!  Penny (aka, GPS) must have been sipping on some of the Bushmills because she had us on the smallest possible roads in the call them roads is actually laughable.  We finally arrived at the Castle Leslie four hours after we began what was supposed to be a two hour trip.  Our first stop after checking in was the pub on the estate for a drink as we had definitely earned it.  Thank goodness tomorrow is spa day!

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