I had landed in Northern Ireland's second-largest city. The official name of this city is Londonderry however many locals prefer to use its original name of Derry, and on most signs and literature it is written as Derry~Londonderry. The history of this city is fascinating, complex, and emotionally charged. For short-hand purposes in this article I will use the name Derry
The easiest way to get from London to Derry is to fly Ryanair from Stansted Airport. Ryanair cops a lot of criticism and is often quoted derisively as an example of everything that's wrong about budget travel. It is no frills flying, but if you're in the right state of mind it's an efficient way of getting you to where need to be. If you're looking for alternatives you could fly to Belfast and then drive or train to Derry, or you could tackle the ferry.
It had been wet and grey as we had flown out of London, so it was no surprise that it was a cold and blustery evening as we landed into Derry.
'What's the weather forecast looking like?' I enthusiastically asked my friendly taxi driver.
'Not good', he said shaking his head, 'it's going to get colder.'
I was here to explore the Antrim coast - the north eastern edge of this island. Cold wasn't ideal - at least it wasn't snowing.
Dermot was warm, affable, full of stories and insights, and great company for the day. We drove across the Foyle Bridge and headed East, up Binevanagh Mountain, down past the ruins of the 18th-century mansion of the Earl Bishop Hervey, and then along the spectacular coastal road to just near Ballintoy.
Our first stop was the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. For over 250 years local fishermen have kept a bridge at this spot, enabling them to get to the best places to catch the Atlantic salmon that migrated past each summer. While salmon numbers have declined so much that commercial fishing is no longer possible, the bridge itself and the access it provides to spectacular coastal views is now a major attraction. Dermot pushed me out across the bridge first.
'I don't like to look down', he said as the bridge swayed beneath our combined weight.
While comfortingly solid and stable, if you don't have a head for heights you will find the short walk across the rope bridge a bit challenging.
From the rope bridge we drove back along the coast to the Giant's Causeway. If you believe in science, the more than 40,000 interlocking basalt columns are the result of intense volcanic and geological activity about 60 million years ago. I much prefer the legend that the Causeway was built by Irish warrior giant Finn mac Cumaill so that he could do battle with his Scottish rival Benandonner. The sleek and stylish visitor centre has a fantastic animation showing the giants in action.
The Causeway truly justifies its world heritage status. To stand on the eerily hexagonal stones and look out into the stormy Atlantic Ocean is a rare thrill. If you have time this area also has a network of cliff paths that enable you to explore beyond the main Causeway feature, along the coves of this wild and rugged coastline.
Our marching about in the blowy cold had worked up an appetite and so next stop was lunch. Bushmills is the home of the famous Bushmills Whiskey distillery which also offers food, but we opted instead for some excellent cooking at local restaurant Tartine. Friendly, professional, good value, and (most importantly) great food. It's hard to imagine a better lunch stop.
Our final stop on this adventure was the ruins of Dunluce Castle - just a short distance from the town of Portrush and its famous golf club. The castle dates back to the 14th-century and its precarious perch on the rocks almost defies architectural principals. Dermot tells the story, and it's almost believable, that during the height of the castle's importance a feast was being prepared for guests - an almighty crash was heard and the Lady of the house discovered that the rocky outcrop supporting the kitchen building had eroded away and the kitchen and its staff had been dashed on to the rocks below.
We were soon back in Derry. Not long after getting back into my hotel room, I looked out the window and a flurry of snow blurred my view of the Peace Bridge spanning the River Foyle. I headed to the bar for a pint of Guinness - the perfect end to a great day of exploring.
To plan your visit to Ireland's Causeway Coast visit www.ireland.com.