Stones and Game of Thrones in Northern Ireland

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Pic Credit: Amanda Killen

Chef and I are both a little obsessed with the TV show Game of Thrones. A few episodes into season one, I was totally hooked. The strong plot line of treachery and scandal and interwoven characters gets better and better with each episode and season.IMG_3279

When we discovered that 75% of the medieval fantasy series is filmed in Northern Ireland, where we were planning to stop on our holiday last year, we HAD to pay a visit to some of the filming locations. For centuries giants and dragons have been part of Northern Irish legend, so it’s very fitting that so much of the show is filmed there. The beautiful landscapes of Northern Ireland are ideal for the barren and unforgiving lands of Northern Westeros. It’s also the perfect place to crack out my “You know nothing Jon Snow” impression!IMG_3271 We happened to be visiting the world heritage site, The Giants Causeway and a couple of the filming locations are close by. The unique volcanic rock formation was every bit as stunning as we thought it would be. Though the Giant’s Causeway itself isn’t used in Game of Thrones, the ocean and area around it has been used for shots of The Stormlands. The Glens of Antrim and their isolated rugged landscapes have been used to film parts of the Dothraki Sea.20140712_121349 Dragonstone – Downhill Beach

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Pic © 2015 Caught on Set

Standing on a cliff top above Downhill Beach is the Mussenden Temple in County Londonderry. This location was used to film the scene in season two when Stannis and Melisandre were burning the old gods on the beach in “Dragonstone”. It’s a dramatic setting and lovely beach too, though the water is a bit chilly, even in summer!IMG_3186 Iron Islands – Ballintoy Harbour As we drove on, we found a town called Castlerock, inspiration for Casterly Rock perhaps? The picturesque Ballintoy Harbour is where Theon Greyjoy returned to his true home in season two – the Iron Islands. He also met his sister Yara here in “Pyke”.IMG_3297

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© [2014] Home Box Office, Inc. All rights reserved. HBO® and all related programs are the property of Home Box Office, Inc

Here we stopped for a bite to eat in a quaint little café right on the harbour wall. We enjoyed an authentic Irish stew made with mutton, potatoes, carrot and onion with champ (mash with spring onion) on the side.IMG_3319

Stormlands – Carrick-a-Rede

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© [2014] Home Box Office, Inc. All rights reserved. HBO® and all related programs are the property of Home Box Office, Inc

Our next destination was Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. It’s an iconic crossing that connects the mainland to Carrick-a-Rede Island and not for the faint hearted! The rope bridge is not used in Game of Thrones, though the magnificent headland has provided a backdrop for many scenes.IMG_3347 It was pretty amazing to see “Westeros” in person. The drive along the Northern Irish coast is considered one of the best in the world and I’d have to agree. We zipped around the country roads in our Audi hire car and had a wonderful drive back to Belfast, which took about an hour. In Belfast, we passed the Titanic Studios, where the interior set scenes are filmed. It was a hive of activity as filming of season five has just started (July 2014).IMG_3363 IMG_3361Northern Ireland is a country with a rich history as stunning and unforgiving as it’s landscapes. We thoroughly enjoyed it. We were wow-ed by the building that houses the titanic museum (next to the studios). Game of Thrones is bringing a new generation of tourists to Northern Ireland. There are guided GoT coach tours and even an archery experience. We were wondering what to do with ourselves till the next season airs, we were happy that our holiday to Northern Ireland helped to fill the void! Find out more at; http://www.discovernorthernireland.com/gameofthrones/

“Heston Magic” at The Hinds Head, Bray

IMG_6017 The Hinds Head on Urbanspoon

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The Fat Duck, Bray

If you ask our five year old who Heston is – he’ll tell you all about him. Little Chef knows that he makes bacon and egg ice-cream and he made a giant lunchbox full of fantastical treats at Legoland. He may even tell you that Mr Blumenthal is his favourite chef –if daddy isn’t within earshot! Since our holiday to England in August, Little Chef lights up every time he sees Heston on TV and tells anyone who’ll listen he’s eaten at Heston’s restaurant – where he got to taste some “Heston Magic”… IMG_6009a Chef and I first heard of Heston Blumenthal in about 2004, when we lived in the UK. It was before he got really popular – but he was making big waves in the culinary world with molecular gastronomy. It had been on our bucket list to eat at the Fat Duck, in Bray, but with Little Chef in tow that wasn’t really going to work – so we opted to go for Heston’s more family friendly gastro pub next door, The Hinds Head. We were also dining with my lovely cousin H and her family.IMG_6015 The Michelin starred Hinds Head is a historical 15th century pub. Think low beams and wood everywhere! It felt like a proper village local. You can even pop in for a pint and bar snack – Scotch egg anyone?IMG_6020 We weren’t really sure what to expect, but we were surprised at just how welcome and at ease the staff made us feel. We’ve dined at many Michelin starred restaurants and most of them you get quite stuffy and sometimes even snooty silver service from the wait staff. The waitresses and waiters at the Hinds Head were very professional – but in a warm way.IMG_6025 One waitress in particular kept up a hilarious banter with the kids, which was just lovely and made us all relax. She whisked the boys away for a few moments to let them poke their heads around the kitchen door and see the chef’s cooking their dinner. We thought that was a wonderful idea, sitting in a lovely restaurant sometimes it’s easy to forget there are many people busily cooking to create a wonderful meal for you! The boys were also kept entertained with pencils and an activity sheet that turned into a chef’s hat! You’ll notice from the food pictures that the dishes look very simple. It can be a bit misleading, especially when you’d probably expect something with all the bells and whistles on coming from one of Heston’s kitchens. It is a much different style to the Fat Duck. The produce used is still of an exceptional quality. The classic British food at the Hinds Head is done exceedingly well. For “starter” Chef loved the fresh raw highland estate venison, with a carro and horseradish puree and shallot dressing (£10.50)IMG_6028 - Copy I chose the Smoked Guinea Fowl and Foie Gras Terrine (£9.95). The silky terrine was absolutely mouth-watering and complimented with a side of apple chutney. Loved it!IMG_6032 - Copy Cousin H had beetroot and goat curd with cider poached pear and pumpkin seeds (£8.75). The plating of this dish was beautiful and she really enjoyed it.IMG_6029 - Copy Chef, ever the carnivore, chose the Hereford prime rib eye, (£33.95) for his main. It was the most expensive item on the menu, but Chef absolutely raved about the very tasty piece of meat – worth every penny. He drizzled the bone marrow sauce over it and soaked up all the meaty-ness with a side of French fries.IMG_6037 - Copy There’s not much in life I love more than a slow cooked egg! When our waitress brought out my empty plate she said ”there’s your dinner” with a wink. Shortly afterwards, my wild mushroom macaroni (£17.95) followed, the extra plate was to spoon my macaroni onto. The hen’s egg was deliciously runny and I really relished the earthy and cheesy flavours. Delish!IMG_6035 - Copy Banana and custard quaking Pudding (£7.95). We’re avid Heston watchers and we know he loves his historical food. Chef jumped at the chance to try the quaking pudding and he wasn’t disappointed!IMG_6041 - Copy It was the perfect end to my brilliant meal – I had a Cherry Bakewell with yoghurt Ice cream (£7.95). The Bakewell was spot on. The yogurt ice-cream was quite different and worked really well with the nutty flavours.IMG_6047 Little Chef had a bowl of ice cream and the waitress sprinkled some “Heston’s Magic” over it – which is actually chocolate popping candy! His little face was priceless!IMG_6045a - Copy It was an incredibly special experience to dine as a family at the Hinds Head and one that we’ll never forget. We even got our menu signed by the talented kitchen team. The food was superb, in an understated British way – we thought it was really well priced too. The service was absolutely wonderful – easily the best we’ve ever had, by a Berkshire country mile. We all certainly experienced a bit of Heston Magic and hopefully it wasn’t the last time! Outstanding.

The Chef’s Wife UK Holiday – York

IMG_5444I love England to bits. There is just so much to see and do. One of my most favourite cities in England is York. In my opinion, it is so packed full of attractions, it’s the best place to visit after London. Like London, York has a very long and rich history. Spanning back nearly two thousand years – founded by the Romans, conquered by the Vikings and in modern times made famous by the steam train era and rise of large confectionary companies.

IMG_5452We start our day just on the outskirts of York, at a designer outlet shopping village. It’s strongly encouraged that you don’t bring your car into the walled city. The Tour de France started from York, just a couple of weeks before we were there – I was blown away by how many bikes were in the city. It seemed to be many people’s main mode of transport. There were literally thousands parked around the place. We opt to “park and ride”, the bus is very convenient and cheap too. In no time we see the city walls and we are in the heart of York.IMG_5318

We stop just near to the tourist information centre – a must stop for visitors. We pick up a York Pass, which is a pre-paid card (RRP £36 for an adult 24hr pass) so you don’t have to pay admission at 30 of York’s top attractions – you end up saving about 30% and it also offers many discounts on tours and eating out.

After collecting an armful of flyers and leaflets we set off to the Jorvik Viking Museum. In the Coppergate area of York they found 40,000 Viking artefacts in the early 1980s. We saw helmets, weapons, pottery and much more in the museum. Little chef loved it and the highlight for him was going on an interactive journey through recreated Viking village where you can smell the fires, cooking and really feel as if you are there. Little Chef thought this was pretty cool, as you sit in a moving “time capsule”.IMG_5335

Just around the corner is the ancient Clifford’s Tower – the keep of York Castle, which is now mostly gone. We walked up the many steps, rewarded with one of the best views in York from the top. Next to the tower, outside the Castle Museum was a vintage fair. Little Chef loved the helter skelter – what a beauty! IMG_5344

And we just couldn’t say no to some locally farm-made “Ryeburn of Hemsley” Ice cream from the vintage Fordson Thames ice cream van – one of just a handful still in operation.IMG_5343

IMG_5380We were hoping to stop at the Yorkshire Institution, Bettys, for morning tea. I love a high tea as much as the next person and I have heard the Betty’s experience is quintessentially English. Unfortunately many other people had the same idea as us and the queue was snaking out the door. We had so much to fit into our day, so we instead grabbed a macaroon and some fondant fancies from the shop counter. It is a beautiful olde worlde shop, where the assistants are dressed up as they would have in Victorian times. I would definitely recommend you make a booking at Betty’s.IMG_5385 New Image1

We ate our goodies from Betty’s in the grounds of the enormous York Minster, the ancient cathedral. Then had a wander about the rest of the city centre. IMG_5402

One of my favourite streets is the narrow medieval lane “The Shambles”. I found a fab little butchers down there that sold many many types of pork pie, chili, black pudding and wild boar to name a few. IMG_5358 IMG_5350 IMG_5362

York is a great place for shopping. One of the things I really love about York is it’s abundance of one-of specialty shops and boutiques. Every other town has the same old chain stores, but in York there are so many interesting little places to find a one of a kind gift.

IMG_5442It was time for a bite to eat. With so much still to see we decided to eat on the run. Chef and I do enjoy a hot roast roll at the York Roast Co. York has a long history with the humble hog, dating back centuries to before the War of the Roses, when kings would go hunting for wild boar in the forests. Chef and I enjoyed a couple of rolls, with apple sauce, gravy and a few morsels of pork crackling on the side – scrumptious!IMG_5426

York’s Chocolate Story celebrates the city’s rich confectionary industry. From the history of the coca bean to the process of making chocolate bars. Rowntree, the company that developed Kit Kats, Smarties, Areo and many more, still operate in York. One billion Kit Kats are made in York each year. Terry’s, maker of one of my favourites the “Chocolate Orange”, was taken over by Kraft. York’s Chocolate Story is an interactive and interesting attraction. A must stop for chocoholics!IMG_5429

By this time, though York is fairly compact, our feet were in need of a rest, so we hopped into a tour bus. Little Chef wanted to go on a red double decker bus while we were in the UK, so that box was ticked too.

We hopped off the bus near the National Railway Museum. It is a free attraction to enter, for a small donation Little Chef received a lovely train colouring book. It’s a vast museum which houses many trains including opulent royal carriages once owned by Queen Victoria, iconic locomotives like The Mallard steam train and a Japanese bullet train.IMG_5568

It would have been nice to spend a couple of days in York and experienced even more. We passed the York Dungeons, somewhere Chef and I had a bit of a fright a decade ago.  For the older kids and adults the York Dungeons are full of very interesting and often gruesome historical tales. There are many ghost tours at night too, which I bet would be fascinating, since York was home to famous baddies – highwayman Dick Turpin and gunpowder plotter Guy Fawkes. York is one of the most haunted cities in England.

We walked a couple of miles on along the stone city walls, on the way back to our bus stop. We had a brilliant day out in York. I’d plan your day before you go, to make sure you get the most out of your time there.20140725_160407

Many thanks to Rachel and Kay at York Visitor Centre for the use of our York Passes and fantastic expert advise – it really made our trip.

Visit http://www.visityork.org/ for more info on this beautiful city and http://www.visityork.org/food/ for the insiders tips on where is best to eat and drink in York.

UK Road Trip – The Lake District, Scotland and Northern Ireland (Causeway Coast)

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Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge – Northern Ireland

At the very beginning of our 5 week trip, we decided that since we had very limited time and a to-do list as long as your arm, we had to make every day count. We crammed as much as we could into a five day road and air trip over four countries. Visiting many interesting and delicious places along the way – including servos with Krispy Kreme machines – dangerous!
We started from our base in Sheffield, England, We drove our hire car (the “Chelsea Tractor” Land Rover) up the A1 and west through the Yorkshire Dales to our first stop. The Yorkshire Dales are stunning – lots of hills and valleys covered with farmland – made famous round the world by TV series such as James Herriot, Heartbeat and even Postman Pat!

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Bike on Hillside – Hawes, Yorkshire Dales

Chef was super excited, as just two days before, the Tour de France had passed through the dales. It was a real thrill for him to be driving the route of Stage One. The bunting was still out in the villages and there was a festive atmosphere in the market towns. We even spotted a huge bike on the side of a mountain!
A few hours later we came to the first destination – The Lake District. This is a very popular holiday spot in England’s North West, as it’s filled with beautiful scenery, lots of culture and so many things to do. To Chef’s delight, I’d booked our two night stay in a country pub. It was in the village of Hawkshead. Somewhere I’d holidayed as a child many times. All roads in and out are very narrow, so there were some very hairy moments when we met busses and trucks coming the other way, nearly ending up in a hedge full of brambles.

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Hill Top Farm

Beatrix Potter, the author of Peter Rabbit and many other beloved children’s tales, lived in the Lake District. The National Trust has preserved her house, Hilltop Farm, which we visited. Before entering the house, to the delight of our son, we saw bunnies hopping in a meadow. He was calling “Peter” out to them, to see which one looked – so cute! One of the guides in the house took Little Chef to one side and read him parts of the book “The Tale of Samuel Whiskers”. It quickly transformed what was just a dark old house to a very magical place to him. She showed Little Chef the chimney place where Tom Kitten got stuck and the rat hole where Samuel Whiskers lived. His eyes were wide with wonder – oh to be five years old again!!

We also visited Wray Castle, Windermere, The World of Beatrix Potter and Grizedale Forrest – where we went on a Gruffalo hunt.

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Our Accommodation – The Quaint “Queens Head” gastro pub. Hawkshead, Lake District

Back at our pub, the Queens Head, we had some fabulous food. The 17th century inn is regarded as the best in the village by many of the locals (there are 4 pubs in Hawkshead). We had some excellent breakfasts and dinners at the gastro pub. The dining room had a cosy feel – with low ceilings and wooden beams, it was brimming with character.

IMG_2830The pick of the bunch was a slow-cooked lakeland pork belly dish, with creamed mash, roasted root, pickle jus (£15.95) that Chef really enjoyed and Little Chef loved the local specialty of sticky toffee pudding (£6.50). Our room and en suite were lovely too and we thoroughly enjoyed staying at the Queens Head.IMG_2833

We drove up to Scotland the next morning and after a couple hours, we found ourselves at the venue of the Commonwealth Game’s opening ceremony – Celtic Park. We then took a trip through the cosmopolitan city of Glasgow and to the gorgeous old Central Train station.

We took a short train ride to the lovely holiday town of Largs – on the west coast. We were there to catch up with Chef’s Aunty C and Uncle W. We were made very welcome and had a lovely time with Aunty and Uncle. They treated Little Chef to fairground rides and numerous ice creams! We even met a giant Viking called Magnus – Largs has a rich Viking history.

We all had a lovely dinner together at the appropriately named “Scotts” – at the Largs harbour. We sat in a booth in the stylish restaurant. Scotts overlooks the Firth of Clyde and as Chef noticed – some VERY expensive boats! Our pick of the dishes were an entrée of pan friend king scallops and pork belly was a well-cooked dish (£7.45). It came with pomegranates and cauliflower puree.

For main, I REALLY should have tried the Scottish delicacy of “Haggis with Neeps and Tatties” (Turnips and potatoes), but I totally chickened out. I regretted it a bit, but after eating out for four days solid, all I really wanted was something light, healthy and fresh. The Asian sirloin salad with a hot and sour dressing (£12.95) fitted the bill nicely.

On the penultimate day we flew from Glasgow to Belfast. The fight took a whole 25 minutes! Once in Belfast we picked up our slick Audi hire car and Chef drove us west through the Northern Irish country side.

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Giants Causeway – Northern Ireland

The roads were some of the bumpiest we’d encountered so far, we felt like we were on an hour long rollercoaster! Soon enough we crossed the border into the Republic of Ireland. We stayed in a lovely town, full of little shops and bars. Chef isn’t usually a Guinness drinker, but he agrees that it somehow tastes much different in Ireland, so he had a couple of pints of the black stuff.

After a nights rest, in our County Donegal Hotel, we drove back to Belfast. This time taking a route through Derry/Londonderry and along the magnificent Northern Irish coastline. We stopped at the world heritage site, the Giants Causeway along the way. The unique volcanic rock formation was every bit as stunning as we thought it would be.

 

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Irish Stew at Ballintoy Harbour – Northern Ireland

We also stopped at a few filming locations for our favourite TV show – Game of Thrones (which I’ll cover in a future post). We carried on through small fishing villages, pausing for a traditional Irish Stew (lamb/mutton, with potatoes, carrot and onion) and champ (mash with spring onion) lunch.

IMG_3365Eventually we ended up back in Belfast. I loved the stunning building that houses the titanic museum. In stark contrast to this, we also found ourselves in East Belfast – which I found very interesting, not having any Irish heritage of my own. The ends of the terrace houses were covered in murals, depicting images from the past conflict in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is a country of many facets – through it was a flying visit, we thoroughly enjoyed it.