Sunday 18 August 2019

Golf and giants, history and a harpist

With thanks to Silversea for this cruise
We moved early this morning from the rugged utility of the LSS jetty with its ranks of tanks full of oil and chemicals along to the, er, equally rugged utility of the cruise ship terminal, with its huge heap of scrap metal - both places a decent drive from Derry itself.
I was doing a ship excursion today: a full day's guided tour focused on visiting the Giant's Causeway. We drove through neat and pretty countryside, all fields and hedgerows and trees, listening to Adrian telling us the history of Ireland. That's a lot of ground to cover, especially since he started way, way back in the pagan days, and included invasions by Vikings, French, Spanish, Germans and, of course, the English. Unsurprisingly, he didn't get through it all, being distracted by disparaging, at considerable length, Scotch whisky amongst other things (bagpipes also, naturally).
The Visitor Centre at the Giant's Causeway is run by the National Trust and is modern, stylish and well done. I took the 15 minute walk down to the sea listening to the recordings on my electronic guide, and found myself at the Causeway feeling initially a bit underwhelmed. I saw similar basalt columns in Iceland last year, and they were immense and raw-looking. Here they are clearly more eroded, and aren't that high - but, picking my way around (and negotiating all the many other tourists inevitably most focused on their selfies) I came to accept their being accorded World Heritage status.
There are 40,000 of them, after all, up to 12 metres high (much of that length buried) and they do all fit together in a marvellously satisfying way. The sea broke white on the black ones at the bottom of the slope, while those higher up were redder. They are certainly a feature, leading from the hillside down and into the sea, and the legend that goes with them, of originally linking Ireland with Scotland and allowing the Scottish giant to come and threaten the Irish Finn McCool (saved by the cleverness of his wife Oonagh) is inventive. 
Finn McCool, incidentally, I've known about since my extreme youth, listening to a story often repeated on the Sunday morning Junior Request Session on the radio that my parents set up for me each week, to give them a bit more time in bed. "I'm bigger and stronger than you, Finn McCool!" was the catchphrase that entered my brain then and has never left.
Adrian took us then to go and see a rather dull golf links course where The Open had recently taken place, to the huge excitement of the locals - but the drive along the coast with its limestone arches and derelict Dunluce Castle was worth seeing, especially as we were lucky to have sunshine.
Hanging out for something like soup and a sandwich for lunch, I was disappointed to be served an immense helping of roast beef with Yorkshire puddings and two sorts of potato, followed by pavlova. How Irish isn't that (apart from the two sorts of spud)?
And then we did another detour, to Bushmills, to make a quick visit to the whiskey distillery there. This led Adrian into talking about Brexit and how it's going to lose jobs once a hard border is in place again - not just whiskey makers but also farmers, who will have to cull thousands of cattle.
Finally, he got onto talking about the Troubles, during yet another detour, this time through Derry, where we got to see some of the dramatic murals in Bogside, the fortified police station, the memorial to the dead, the tall peace walls still standing between Protestant and Catholic, and the statue of two men on opposite sides of a wall leaning across to clasp hands. It was an interesting listen, and clearly close to Adrian's heart - how could it not be, he's a local man who lived through it - and that alone made the day's outing worth while.
Our butler Roy was pleased to be able to find us a spare table at La Terrazza tonight (our late entry onto this cruise meant that everything was already booked solid) - but we were less pleased because, sadly, still sick. But we went through the motions, eating mere mouthfuls of delicious food, feeling guilty about waste and insulting the chef and disappointing the waiter. Such a shame.
The day ended well though, with a performance in the Show Lounge by harpist Phamie Gow, who is Scottish, striking to look at, and a very talented musician who's performed at Carnegie Hall. I really enjoyed her 'Raindrops' composition.

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