Search
  • Gary Rosewell

Forget your 'troubles' and get your arse to Belfast...

Updated: Feb 28

Rain or shine, this part of the world is brimming with character and a renewed sense of itself, as well as surrounding scenery that’ll make you spit out your Smithwick's Red…


Summary:


  • Why don't we travel more within the UK?

  • Industrial might of Belfast in years gone by

  • The Troubles

  • Party in Belfast

  • Hike near Belfast

  • Get there

We often take for granted just how much travel variety we have at our fingertips in the UK. From the wild highlands of the North, to the iconic coastlines of the South West and rolling green and pleasant lands in between, we really do have amazing natural landscapes and places to explore. Throw in some fantastic cities, captivating history and treasured national parks, and suddenly you begin to realize that the United Kingdom is up there with the world’s best destinations.


So, what’s the problem then and why don’t we travel more locally?


It’s not all grey is it?


They say that manufacturers spray Vitamin D over our cereals to make up for the lack of sun light and that UK fake tan sales in 2019 amounted to an equivalent value larger than the economy of Hungary. The latter might have just been in Essex alone!


That’s complete nonsense of course, but the weather here is shockingly miserable. For four months now we have had a steady mix of grey and more grey, amounting to a grey so grey that I’m prematurely starting to go grey. Where am I going with this, you might ask? Well, quite simply the weather in Northern Ireland is probably the worst of all countries in the UK, but Belfastians don’t seem to give a flying feck! 2019 was my first time visiting the city and surrounding areas and I absolutely loved it. Here’s why:


Linenopolis


To get Belfast it pays to understand a little bit of its history – and what a history... One of the first things that might strike you coming in from the ‘George Best’ Belfast City Airport are the enormous yellow cranes dominating the Titanic Quarter. Steeped in maritime engineering expertise (Belfast is famously where the Titanic was built), the Harland and Wolff cranes symbolize the industrial might and importance of Belfast during the 18th and 19th centuries.


Harland and Wolff cranes marking the start of the Titanic Quarter

(Photo, Gary Rosewell)

One of the original design schematics of the Titanic

(Photo, from Titanic Museum collection)


The city was also celebrated for tobacco production, rope making and world class textile manufacturing, the latter earning the city the nickname Linenopolis and paving the way for Belfast’s rapidly growing economy during the industrial revolution. By 1825, 3,500 people were employed across 20 cotton mills, mainly centered on the Smithfield area of the city. With the support of French textile specialists and English investors, Belfast quickly became a respected global hub for the textile industry.

One of the many mills operating in Belfast

(Photo, belfastlive.co.uk)


The Troubles


It also has a dark side to its recent history of course. A complicated overlapping of ethno-religious perspectives combined with a downturn in the economy have, at times, made the city synonymous with social instability and terrible violence. You could have a whole article series based on that one subject of course, but for the benefit of this piece we would say that although some hard-liner perspectives still linger, the city seems to have an eye on the future now and is once again heading in a very positive economic direction, hopefully with the same spirit that the early industrialists had.


Rather than seeing ‘trouble’, we now see tours of the areas formerly affected and Belfast's city center is quickly becoming a hot bed of international languages, education and entertainment.


Party: Belfast Style


There are so many positives to the city, not least the fact that Northern Islanders know how to party…


Here’s a few suggestions for your next visit:


1. Check out Babel Bar @ the Bullitt Hotel for a lively rooftop location…

2. Check out Berts Jazz Bar @ the Merchant Hotel for a more refined alternative…

3. Check out the Sunflower’s beer / pizza garden in the Summer for an edgier vibe. You might not be able to understand some of the locals but what a cracking boozer…


Babel Bar @ The Bullitt Hotel

(Photo, visitbelfast.com)

Complete with cages and graffiti from the troubles,

the Sunflower it isn’t the typical tourist stop-off, but 100% worth it!

(Photo, Gary Rosewell)


If you have time and enjoy local food / drink festivals, then look no further than the Hilden Beer & Music Festival @ Lisburn, a twenty-minute drive from Belfast. Normally occurring late August, Hilden pull together the best of NI regional beers for a music and tasting extravaganza, perfect for a reunion.


Hilden Beer and Music Festival, Lisburn

(Photo, Gary Rosewell)


Hike: Belfast Style


About an hour’s drive to the South will get you to the Mourne Mountains. Using the town of Newcastle as a staging point to ascend the highest peak, Slieve Donard (850m), you’ll need around 6hrs to get up and back comfortably on a good weather day and can enjoy views as far as Scotland and Wales from the summit.


Half way to Slieve Donard, the highest mountain in Northern Ireland

(Photo, Gary Rosewell)

View from the top cairn. In the opposite direction you'll see the 19.6m Mourne Wall.

(Photo, Gary Rosewell)


This is a relatively easy hike but does include some steep sections and uneven terrain, so take the right kit (boots, layers, plenty of water and snacks) and avoid in the rain. It is popular so you should be ok for directions, but no harm in downloading the route in advance. Several options once at the top to walk down the other side, but be mindful of the more open and typically very windy conditions.


There are a million and one other activities to do in and around Belfast of course, not least visiting the Giant’s Causeway or challenging yourself with a day’s coasteering, surfing or cycling. Visit Discover Northern Ireland for a comprehensive list of activities and accommodation in the area.

Altogether we’re pretty fond of Northern Ireland. It’s got a long way to go to match the economic might of its industrial heyday, but it’s on the right track. With Brexit now confirmed and the government back to work, hopefully a new period of stability matched with Belfastian values will bring it the prosperity it deserves.


August flights from Stansted are currently £50-£60 return with EasyJet or Ryan Air.


Sources:


  1. https://discovernorthernireland.com/about-northern-ireland/19-reasons-to-visit-northern-ireland/

  2. http://www.irelandseye.com/irish/history/belfast/linen01.shtm

  3. https://thebelfast.wordpress.com/2015/03/09/hello-world/

  4. https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/topics/znskjhv/articles/zbfnkmn

  5. https://www.belfastlive.co.uk/news/history/gallery/legacy-belfast-linen-mills-12159268

33 views