Guest blog: Exploring Scottish culture at the causeway

Blogger, scholar and poetry aficionado Maeve O’Brien is based at University of Ulster, Coleraine, where she is currently completing a thesis on American poet, Sylvia Plath.  Maeve has been documenting the trials and tribulations of a PhD student on her blog, The Plath Diaries, for several years. We’re grateful to Maeve for taking time out of her busy schedule to guest blog on this occasion.

Dr Herbison at the causeway's Burns event‘A few weekends ago I decided to make the journey ‘upland’ from County Tyrone to the Giant’s Causeway. I grabbed my raincoat and boarded the Derry~Londonderry to Coleraine train, arriving at the causeway just a short bus journey thereafter.

Poetry napkins at the Causeway Hotel

Despite living in Northern Ireland, my visits to the Causeway are few and far between, and I hadn’t visited since the new (new to me at least!) Visitor Centre has opened. When I arrived at the site, I was pleased to discover a little vantage point in the car-park that afforded astounding views of the North Coast – I stopped to take a few photographs.

It wasn’t coincidence that I had timed my trip to coincide with the National Trust’s Burns Weekend. While you’ll have heard of Finn McCool, and perhaps even his arch-nemesis, Benandonner, a series of events over that weekend honoured another giant of Scottish culture – poet Robert Burns.

I registered at the warm and cosy Causeway Hotel for the Burns lectureBURNS_haggis and lunch. Following the bagpipe-fuelled presentation of the haggis, we were treated to some authentic Scottish fayre in the form of haggis, “neeps” and “tatties”… the menu elicited much amusement from all who consumed it! The dessert of cranachan (which consists of oats, cream, raspberries and whisky) went down much more easily than the mains. Indeed, our “honest, sonsie faces” were very glad “o’ the puddin’-race” – the literal pudding, of course. I have since decided that I am not a fan of haggis!

BURNS_dessertFollowing lunch, I poured myself a coffee and settled down to enjoy a talk on Robbie Burns, presented by Dr. Ivan Herbison, of Queen’s University Belfast. Sitting in the regal dining room of the Causeway Hotel, listening to the afternoon rain pelt off the windows between bursts of watery sunshine, the setting was perfect for an animated talk on Robert Burns and the Ulster-Scots poetic tradition.

I was especially taken with the speakers comparison between 19th Century weavers and poets: the weavers wove clothes but the poets wove words. Dr. Herbison even delivered a few verses of Ulster Scots which was especially illuminating!

It really is rare that you can have such an interesting afternoon that encompasses poetry, beautiful landscapes, familiar (but unusual!?) food and lively conversation.

Spotlight On… Cushendun

Blog by Shona Campbell

Nestled at the mouth of the River Dun (the Brown River) at the foot of Glendun, Cushendun is a charming, historic village with lots of character and folklore. Cushendun hosts a small, sheltered harbour and a beautiful beach with views of Scotland on a clear day.

Views over the village

Views over the village

The village we see today owes much of its character and unique architectural heritage to Ronald John McNeill, a Conservative MP, who became the 1st Baron of Cushendun in 1927. He had a vision and plan to develop the village in a Cornish style and in 1912 he commissioned the architect Clough Williams-Ellis to design a village square with seven houses, the remit also included a public hall which was never completed.

In 1923 the architect was once again
commissioned to design Maud’s Cottages and Glenmona House.  After this more cottages were built in 1925, keeping with the architectural integrity of the village they were designed by Frederick MacManus.

Glenmona House

Glenmona House

Since 1954 most of the village and the parkland around Glenmona to the north has been owned by us, the National Trust. Cushendun’s picturesque coastal setting in the heart of the Antrim Coast and Glens Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, together with its unique architectural inheritance, resulted in designation as a Conservation area in 1980.

We have a full time Ranger, Liam, who works in Cushendun maintaining the village and  properties.  He took over the job from his father, who had been head Warden before him.

Follow us to keep up to date with all work happening in Cushendun.

Ranger Profile: John Herbert

This week we caught up with our newest Ranger, John Herbert, to get to know him a little better. John looks after Downhill Demesne and Hezlett House.

Liam, John and Lee pose for the camera!
Liam, John and Lee pose for the camera!

How long have you worked for the Trust?
“I’ve worked for the trust for one and half years”

What attracted you to the role of being a Ranger?/ How did you get started?
“Growing up on a working farm, I loved being outdoors and using my hands. Whilst working on the farm I gained various qualifications and experiences that helped me gain my first job with the Trust as estate ranger at Downhill Demesne and Hezlett House.”

What would a typical day include for you?
“Working at Downhill Demesne and Hezlett House is an extremely varied role, sometimes I’ll be in meetings with contractors, other times I’ll be out gardening, chainsawing or even herding the odd sheep that’s escaped!”

What do you enjoy most about the job?
“I love the fact I’m outdoors everyday and no day is the same as any other.”

What are you currently working on? 
“We are currently working on improving drainage across the estate through the installation of drainage channels and trenches, along with developing a series of natural play trails for our younger visitors.”

What would you suggest people do/ see who are interested in the outdoors?
“Come and volunteer at your local NT site!”

John and his team of volunteers hard at work

Ranger Profile: Derek Murray

Here on the North Coast, we look after a number of sites and properties over 60 miles of coastline. As you can imagine, this requires a huge amount of work from everyone but especially from our team of 6 dedicated Rangers!

They are the backbone of the Trust and can always be relied on to conduct a variety of tasks, ranging from maintenance and conservations works to hosting events.

Derek helps lift litter with Tidy NI

How long have you worked for the Trust?

‘I’ve been working for the Trust for 14 years 8 months and 5 days, ha! or 15 years come May.’

How did you get started with the Trust?

‘I started with the N.T. in 1997 for a year through the back to work ACE scheme, as it was then. This helped me acquire a full time position with the National Trust in 1999. Also through the N.T. and Greenmount College I was able to achieve a NVQ level II in Environmental Conservation.’

What would a typical day include for you?

‘I arrive to our office/ workshop at 8.30am, have a check of my e-mails to see if anything has come in that may need attention. If not then i set out to do tasks that are on the general works list that have come from regular maintenance meetings.’

What are you currently working on?

‘At the moment we are working on repairing rain damage on the paths to leading to the Carrick a Rede Rope Bridge and replacing broken posts in the car park. We are also replacing lifebuoy box at the Giants Causeway which had been washed away during the storms and working on  polly tunnels at Cushendun.’

What do you enjoy most about the job?

‘As well as being outdoors in the fresh air most of the time, there’s also the variation of jobs i.e. cutting grass, repairing paths, chipping wood, 50 things events. I also engoy going to various properties on the North Coast, as we cover from the Roughfort in Limavady to Cushendun, as well as Rathlin.’

What would you suggest people do/ see who are interested in the outdoors?

‘I would say come and volunteer and see what we do, also get the kids out and bring them along to The National Trusts 50 things to do before your 11 and 3\4 events.’

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Stay tuned to this blog to find out more information about our Rangers and the work they do! If you see Derek out and about, stop and say hello!

Burns weekend: Lecture, lunch, tall tales and haggis hunt

The Giant’s Causeway will celebrate its Scottish connections over Burns weekend (Jan 25/26) with events to suit all ages.

Benandonner meets bagpiper at causeway

Benandonner meets a bagpiper at the Giant’s Causeway

According to legend, Finn McCool built the Giant’s Causeway so he could reach Scotland and challenge his enemy, Benandonner, to a fight. There seems no better time of year to celebrate the causeway’s connection to Scotland than poet Robert Burns’ birthday weekend – although planned events will be less rowdy than a battle between giants!

A Burns Lecture and Lunch will take place Saturday 25th January, beginning 1pm, at the Causeway Hotel. Dr Ivan Herbison, Queen’s University, will deliver a lively lecture on Robert Burns and the Ulster-Scots Poetic Tradition – revealing, among other things, that Scotland’s most famous son enjoyed popularity in Ulster long before he achieved wider fame. A traditional Scottish lunch will be served before the lecture, washed down with a wee dram of Bushmills whiskey. Wearing of kilts is actively encouraged.

Tickets for the lecture and lunch are £15.50, including entry to the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre. Please call the Causeway Hotel 028 2073 1210 to book your places. Booking essential.

Benandonner takes a tipple

Benandonner takes a tipple

Festivities continue on Sunday 26th January at the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre, with ‘Tall Tales’ storytelling sessions by Liz Weir from 12pm – 3pm. Liz, a former children’s librarian, will capture the imagination of kids and adults alike with Scottish, Irish and Ulster myths and legends.

Scottish-themed crafts will also be available in the centre on the day, as well as a ‘Hairy Haggis Treasure Trail’ – find all the furry critters hanging out in the Visitor Centre to win a prize.

Warm up with a FREE hot chocolate from our café after a hike along the network of trails. Normal admission applies; National Trust members go free.


Free hot chocs for all visitors on Sunday 26 January


Spotlight on… Bann Estuary and Barmouth bird hide

Blog by Thomas Lilburn

It may look like a little green box on the banks of the Bann, but Barmouth bird hide is much more than that – it is an oasis for bird-watchers.

Kids spying with binoculars
Visitors can settle into the bird hide with a pair of binoculars to watch feathered flocks feed along the Bann Estuary – don’t forget a flask of hot tea! The Barmouth is the name of the National Trust site (also a local name given to the mouth of the river Bann), while the Bann Estuary covers a larger area of the river.

The Bann Estuary really comes to life in winter. While it might be cold to us, it is a heavenly climate for migrant geese, swans, and ducks, which face much harsher conditions in their native Arctic tundra.

At low tide the estuary can resemble the M2 during rush hour, as a diverse range of wading birds descent on the open mud flats to forage for shellfish, worms and crustaceans.

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The mud flats may look uninspiring and lifeless to the casual observer, they abound with life and are an important part of our local ecosystem. They are rich in organic matter and are life-sustaining for crustaceans, worms, plankton and birds. Even mammals such as foxes and hedgehogs visit occasionally.

It is the eclectic bird variety that visitors to the Barmouth bird hide will be most interested in. Many species of bird found here have unique adaptations to help them survive in this habitat. Look out for the Curlew, whose down curved bill can probe deep into the mud, and Dunlins, whose shorter bills make them better suited to snapping insects along the surface.

At high tide, the sea reclaims the estuary, and as the frenzied feeding is forced to end, waders disappear and calm is restored along the waterway.

Bird hides offer excellent opportunities to enjoy the views, as well as the wildlife. Keys to the bird hide are available from The National Trust Hezlett House, call 028 70848728 for enquiries. Keys cost £15. Old keys can be traded for new ones for £5.

An old war bunker can be seen on journey to and from the bird hide.


Indie treasure hunts return with festive feel

If your kids didn’t get the chance to collect eggs in Bushmills at Easter, or hunt for lost treasure in Ballycastle over the summer, they won’t want to miss out on the Christmas Challenge!

A treasure hunt for Christmas baubles will take place across three of Moyle’s shopping towns this December in a bid to get more shoppers spending locally. The majority of retailers in Ballycastle, Bushmills and Cushendall have lent their support to the initiative, and will be handing out colourful stickers in exchange for a shop visit.

The Treasure Hunt begins on 4 December 2013 and ends 4 January 2014. Don’t forget to enter the prize draw when you complete the challenge! The winner will be notified 10 January 2014.NationalTrust_Santa_Blog

The campaign is supported by the National Trust in collaboration with Ballycastle Chamber of Commerce, Bushmills Traders Association, Cushendall Development Group and Moyle District Council.

“The idea is to help people realise they don’t have to shop on city high streets when there’s so much produce available locally,” said Eleanor, Community and Volunteering Officer at the Giant’s Causeway. “It’s not always easy keeping the kids occupied when out shopping so for that reason we’ve come up with this rather clever little hunt sheet.”

“We’ve found out in previous campaigns in Bushmills and Ballycastle that even if people don’t make purchases on the day, they often return at a later date to buy. It’s used as a kind of ‘scoping out’ exercise, and the majority of businesses felt it had a positive impact on their sales.”

In order to participate, treasure hunters collect a hunt sheet from a participating retailer, and begin the task of gathering colourful bauble stickers from a variety of shops.

Completed hunt sheets can be submitted to a draw for a family pass to the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre or the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, among other things. In order to be eligible for the prize draw you must have visited at least two shopping towns. Each shopping town will issue their own specific colour of bauble.

For further information please contact:

Eleanor Killough