The Causeway Coast tour complete, we made our way back to Belfast. On the way, we spent a sneaky night hidden away at a golf club in Galgorm, Ballymena, tucked behind an old brick wall amongst woods on the grounds (I did ask permission – the guys behind the counter said we weren’t really allowed to stay in the car park, but “if they didn’t know about it”, there was a little road off the side that may be an option, nudge, wink). We arrived in Belfast and parked in the harbour car park in Carrickfergus, beside a Norman castle, just a short drive north of the city.
After splurging on rather expensive fish and chips, we started noticing cars racing around us and beeping their horns; as the evening progressed, it became obvious that the car park was the gathering point for a group of odd youngsters who would drive up, engine roaring, stop, and sit in their cars beside other youngsters sitting in their cars. Every now and then, one of them would honk their horn, and then everyone else would have to join in. This horn honking game could continue for quite a long time, and, underwhelmed with the local youth culture, we looked up alternative sites and escaped to a more quiet harbour car park 15 minutes north, at Whitehead.
Anyway, we were in Belfast so Katherine could attend an art therapy workshop she had enrolled in months and months ago. For the first day, we drove in and parked at a big Tesco car park, minutes walk from the venue. It was conveniently close to a laundrette, so I dropped off a big bundle of washing that had been building up (phew!), and spent the day inside Nettle working on some software, as shoppers did their thing around me.
We spent another night in Whitehead, driving to Carrickfergus so Katherine getting the train in during the day, then decided to move to a caravan park after noticing the motorhome service point, a booth set up for motorhomers to plug in, fill up and dump waste, was rather damaged, perhaps reflecting the local opinion towards motorhomers (which seems relatively common in Ireland – there are height barriers above almost every car park and highway lay-by. They must hate us!). Besides, spending a week wild-camping in a city may be asking for trouble.
The workshop finished several days later, and it was time to get back to the tourist thing. We spent a surprisingly long time walking through Belfast, to a second hand book shop and a market, losing a little time when 3’s mobile network went offline for a little while, removing our map and search facilities. With quite sore feet we rejoined Nettle in the Tesco car park, put the bed down, and lay down to read and nap for the afternoon.
That night we spent in a relatively pleasant park we stumbled upon after roaming the back streets on the southern side of the bay for a while. Heading off the next morning we had an interesting experience where Nettle lost engine power, puttering along at about 40 km/h in an 80 zone, our panic levels rising. Three minutes or so later she sputtered back to life, to our great relief, and we continued onwards — to visit the Ulster Folk Museum, a town of old buildings, all made up to reflect traditional Irish life a few centuries back.
After trying to park up for the night in the museum car park, we were moved along by a very friendly staff member who was locking up and wasn’t allowed to let us stay. He recommended a park further along the road, and we followed his directions to find the same park we’d stayed at the night before. Classic.