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Following Finn McCool

Ireland - Causeway Coast

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With Northern Ireland being the only part of the UK I had yet to visit, it has always been on my list as somewhere to visit. And with Brexit just around the corner causing uncertainty as to how this tense and unique part of the country will look in the not too distant future, we decided to quickly pay a visit and literally walk out of the UK at an unmarked border whilst we still could!

With the weather always being unpredictable, expecting rain constantly, we were pleasantly surprised to arrive to a warm and sunny morning at Belfast Airport.

With the first part of the trip being about seeing the north coast and the Irish border, we hired a car from the airport, being much cheaper than taking our own over on the ferry, and after picking it up we headed out to our first stop, just up the road in Antrim.

We stopped by the shores of Lough Neagh, the largest lake in the British Isles. The legend states that Finn McCool (or Fionn mac Cumhaill), a legend in Irish Mythology, was fighting with a Scottish rival, and scooped a bit of land to throw at him - missed, and this formed the Isle of Man, whilst the missing earth flooded and created the lough. This seems highly unlikely, but nevertheless it was a nice spot to stop after getting used to the car, looking over the lake, which was so big that the other side could not even be seen.

Lough Neagh

Lough Neagh

After getting back in the car, we then stopped by the Tesco in Antrim to stock up on some supplies, before we made the decision to head up to the north coast today.

After an hour or so driving through the Antrim countryside, we made it to the port town of Ballycastle, where surprisingly the beautiful blue skies had disappeared amongst the mist clinging over the town. worrying, as our first site was on 15 minutes down the road, where we had hoped to obtain views over the Straits of Moyle in the North Channel over to Scotland. As we drove around the hilly rural roads towards Torr Head, with the weather clearing, we found a good vantage point, where it was just possible to see the Mull of Kintyre. Guessing that it would likely be no better down the road, we decided to stop here, enjoy the views, and then continue on our way along the Causeway coast.

Straits of Moyle

Straits of Moyle


Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Our next stop was just half an hour up the road - the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. The bridge is a modern version of the traditional bridge in use for almost 400 years to connect a rocky island just off the coast to the mainland, at 30 metres above the sea level below. Upon arrival it was quite busy, being a major stop of the tourist trail, and as we walked the twenty minutes down the beautiful coastline we passed many tourists - mostly Germans and Spanish.

Causeway Coast

Causeway Coast

When we got to the bridge itself there was a little wait, as only 8 people can cross at once - however it didn't take too long before we made it to the other side.

Crossing the bridge

Crossing the bridge

After returning back to the car, we headed out for another 20 minute drive along the coast towards the jewel in the crown - the Giant's Causeway. However as we left the car park we were stuck behind a German tourist coach, then then proceeded to take the same roads as us, clearly taking the Germans to the causeway too.

Eventually we arrived at the car park for the causeway, and after taking a look at the visitor's centre, we made our way down the coast to the shore, where we could walk along the causeway itself. The legend of it's creation is that Finn McCool (yes, him again) built a causeway to fight a Scottish giant, destroying it upon his return. In reality it's of volcanic origin (with similar landforms in Iceland amongst others) and these are the last bits to remain above sea level, uneroded.

Giant's Causeway

Giant's Causeway

Although busy, the area is big enough to still enjoy it in it's full glory, and with the blocks forming steps it was also super easy to get around.

On the Causeway

On the Causeway

As we started to leave the area, we were stopped by a pushy Russian-American who wanted a photo. Before even answering he has given me his camera and directed how I should take the panoramic photo of his family on the rocks. Cutting out the signpost I swooped around, before stopping to cut out the tourist who had just walked into the area. Handing it back to him he then wanted another one, this time wider, and with less rocks - to which his wife smirked "that's what we're here to see". Next thing I was back taking yet another photo for this rude man. Thankfully he didn't want another perfect photo and we quickly made our mistake back up the hill.

As we got back to the car, it was another relatively short drive to our accommodation for the night - a B&B on the outskirts of Derry, close to the border with the republic. We arrived and checked in, before heading out to get dinner. We did however quickly stop by the village of Muff, just across the border. As we couldn't drive across due to the terms of our rental agreement, we parked up just metres away, and walked across the border, where the only sign of the border was a change in speed (km/h instead of mph) and signs welcoming us to County Donegal.

Muff

Muff

We then made our way to the local McDonald's to grab some food, before we went back to our B&B. We then went for a walk just 15 metres down the road where the rural track crosses the border. Even less noticeable than in Muff - just a solitary speed sign at a stream. As we walked back it occurred to us just how arbitrary this really is, and how deeply affected this part of the word is going to become should Brexit not work out well.

Chris over the border

Chris over the border

After a long day, it was now time to finally sleep, and tomorrow we would explore Derry before making our way back to Belfast.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 09:50 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged hills coast borders lake ireland island border geology geography Comments (0)

Border hopping the Fergana Valley

Central Asia - Fergana Valley

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Part of the reason the trip lasted and travelled as much as it did was due to the complexities of Central Asian political geography. Whilst the whole area was part of the Soviet Union, moving between different republics wasn't particularly difficult. However upon independence, these new countries suddenly had some very complex boundaries.

The divide and rule policies of Moscow meant that many of these boundaries were arbitrary - simply there to make sure no one could survive on their own, intertwining the republics with each other. Whilst Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan contain the energy reserves, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan contain the water reserves. Unfortunately, the countries have not been able to work together and thus one of the consequences for travellers are complex borders they cannot easily cross, and the Fergana Valley sums this up most.

The upper Fergana Valley is controlled by Uzbekistan, whilst Tajikstan controls the lower part. Meanwhile Kyrgyzstan surrounds the entire valley, controlling the mountainous edges. As Uzbekistan has a difficult visa policy, compared to the almost visa free neighbours, not to mention difficult customs, we had to circuit the territory around the Fergana Valley itself to reach the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek.

Driving to find....

Driving to find....

Lenin

Lenin

We began our day by having a short tour of Khujand, beginning with the statue of Lenin - who had been replaced on his plinth by Somoni, and moved to a 'park' located off a side road and down a track into a conspicuous looking cemetery-like area for Soviet memorials called Victory Park.

Historical Museum

Historical Museum

After taking a look at the massive statue and the Afghan War Memorial located a few metres away, we then headed to the Historical Museum of Sughd - detailing the ancient empire of the Fergana Valley; before heading to the Panjshanbe Market.

Indoor Market

Indoor Market


Unofficially entering Kyrgyzstan

Unofficially entering Kyrgyzstan

Making our way towards the Kyrgyz border, we had already skirted and unofficially entered several times through the republic's villages and past some of it's enclaves. On arrival we had a relatively relaxed and easy process leaving the Tajik side, and on entry to Kyrgyzstan our border guard was even having a joke with us - what a change it was to actually be welcomed in!

We continued in our new minibus, having obtained some local notes and still skirting the border, stopping for lunch on the border town of Kyrgyz-Kyshtak, where all local traders provided shoppers with old-logo branded Morrison's bags.

Uzbek Border Fence

Uzbek Border Fence

Our final travels today took us past the Uzbek border fence, and then de jure into Uzbekistan itself before reentering Kyrgyzstan and making it to our bed for the night - Osh.

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Tajikistan Tagged statues borders centralasia Comments (0)

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