Funny how you never know what little surprise life will throw into your day….
Day Two started off well, as days like these tend to do. I could see blue sky and sea from my window. The forecast was great – here was a rare summery day, though the wind carried a wintery chill, tidings from the season to come. I had a leisurely breakfast, then leisurely set off on my way to the Giant‘s Causeway, car packed to the brim with useless camping equipment and a restless surfboard. I had a 20 minute drive around the coast ahead of me so I thought perhaps a morning surf, then the rest of the day at the Causeway, which was after all, the natural phenomena I had driven seven hours to see. First thing I did was head out of town in the wrong direction. ….. Which was ok because it brought me to a long strand of beach with seemingly half decent waves. I drove down a small road only to find there was a charge of four pounds to get onto the beach. So I turned around – there weren’t any surfers out anyway. Heading the right way this time I came to the next town, Portrush, a confusing little sucker that had me driving in circles around its one way streets (two of them), first to find the beach, where again there was nobody surfing despite seemingly ok waves, then to try to escape the eternal driving loop of doom. Eventually, on the third lap I took a left turn and made it back onto the Giants Causeway Coastal route.
So, I’m driving happily along when I see a sign for Dunluce castle. Oh, a castle, how quaint, I think to myself and I pull into the bypass to take a look. And I take a look – out my window to see that there is a charge to get in, and being a cheapskate, and not that into fairly ordinary looking ruins of a building that someone built, then lived in, then left, and that I can see from the road anyway, I carried on my merry way. Down past the other tourists parking their cars, up towards the main road again. Picture this if you will. Ahead of me on the exiting road there is a large puddle stretching perhaps two metres along the left side. The kind of puddle you’d skid across if you were going too fast. To the right side of the road is a much smaller puddle about fifty centimetres across, the kind you might gaily jump in had you happened to be walking past wearing your galoshes. And then also, know this: Henry’s last debilitating illness, that left me stranded in pitch dark on a lonely country road not long ago, was a result of water in the distributor cap, which was in turn a result of too much water splashing up off the road and getting up into his knickers.So what to do, what to do. Despite the fact that I am driving the kind of slow you drive when pulling up to a busy main road, I think I’ll forgo the splash fest of the giant pond and veer to the right of the road to avoid it. Unfortunately, just as I drive over it, I realize too late that the seemingly innocent looking puddle on the right is actually a clever disguise for sneaky pothole. But this pothole was nothing compared to the one of the day before. Just a puppy in comparison. No wrist injuries, no black-outs. Just your run-of-the-mill bumpy jagged sharp pothole. I feel a wave of relief as it disappears in my rear-view mirror. Wait -what is that whooshing noise…… It sounds like someone is letting down their air-mattress…. And why is the horizon all tilted?…And so I find myself with a flat tyre. Some would call that Murphy’s Law (obviously alive and well in Northern Ireland as well as in the South). But, determined not to be the helpless damsel in distress, I accept the challenge of changing the tyre myself. Out of the boot came the surfboard, tent, duvet, hot-water bottle onto the side of the road. Out came the “wheel stuff”, and out came the spare tyre of which I had not as it happens, ever checked the air pressure. Thankfully it is not flat. I set about trying to look like I knew what I was doing.Right. First thing is to jack up the car. Luckily I had seen useful male Karl do this earlier in the year to try to un-seize another tyre of mine so I now knew the trick was to put the jack under the ridge of the car and not under the tyre itself. I put the jack in place and started twisting with this other metal thing – lets call it the jack raising stick. And hey! The car is rising! And I’ve almost got the tyre off the ground before I realize I have been raising the wrong end of the car. That’s right, it is my front tyre that is completely and utterly deflated, not the healthy back one that is before me. Good God I hope no-one stops by right now, this would be very embarrassing and damsel-in-distress-like. But no-one stops - which either means no-one much cares, or as I prefer to believe, I really do look like I know what I’m doing. I quickly lower the back of the car and start on raising the front. Front raised and I get the other metal stick thingy and try to loosen the nuts. But what’s this? The wheel keeps spinning round and foiling my efforts. I have a vague sound memory of a useful male telling me you need to loosen the nuts before you raise the car. So I lower the car again. Good thing I hit a pothole up this end of the road and not back at the start where all those workmen fixing up the castle are. Although I probably wouldn’t have even had a chance to make a fool of myself before one of them had offered to be useful.A campervan stops and a Friendly Aussie Family enquire as to whether I’m ok. “Yes thanks“ I say,standing in front of the wheel, “I think I’m fine, just as long as I can loosen the nuts” They obviously didn’t see what was wrong with this picture, but offered to check on me on their way back out. So, I lower the car. Then I loosen the nuts, raise the car, take off the nuts, remove the wheel, put on the spare, put on the nuts, lower the car, tighten the nuts. Yes, I think that is how it is done.Friendly Aussie Dad jumps out on his way back just as I’m finishing up and doing his bit as a Useful Male imparts some potentially useful information that the tyre may not actually be punctured but that the bead split (I nod wisely here) and that I could potentially go pump it up with no problems.
So I carefully head back onto the main road, listening for sounds that a wheel falling off might make, scanning the road for demon potholes. The next town I arrive in is Bushmills, which has a gas station at the end of it that cannot help me. I try to pump up my spare only to find that it was not a split bead (u-huh) as hoped but an inch long gash. I enquire inside as to puncture repairs and am told “There wont be someone in until I don’t know” … Hmmm that’s helpful. But at least they point me to another gas station. And in a jiffy I am having my spare tyre examined and prodded and having a reel of numbers recited to me that mean it will be cheaper to buy a new tyre. And so I leave with a new tyre and, if you’re interested, a wallet 33.49 pounds lighter. If you ever get a puncture near Bushmills, I highly recommend the Maxol petrol station on the road out to Portrush. And generally, I do also highly recommend not hitting any potholes.
Finally I was back on the road, now a near qualified mechanic, the wind in my hair, sun streaming through the windscreen, on my way to the Giant’s Causeway. But first, a drive up to Whitepark Bay where again there is no-one surfing. I’m not sure why no-one is out but I am sure I don’t want to surf in a strange place when none of the locals are doing it. Perhaps something lies beneath…something monstrous…
Working my way back along the coast, I pull into the Causeway carpark and head down the 1km path with camera in hand. As I first approached the coast I must say I was disappointed. I had imagined the strangely regular rocks would stretch all around the coastline as far as I could see, but from a distance it seemed to be only a small local area. Is this what I have driven seven hours to see? But as I came upon them I realized how mesmerising and extraordinary they are. Roughly hexagonal in shape they rise in clusters here and there(note the woman in the orange jacket in this photo) , before disappearing into the sea. The biggest formation known as the Wishing Chair, another, surrounding a pool of water, known as the Wishing Well. And in the distance, seemingly carved into the cliff face, the formation known as The Organ… (the musical kind, if there is any doubt in your mind) .
I ended up spending all afternoon here walking and taking photos, battling with my newly found arch-nemesis for good photo shots. She being an American woman in an orange jacket bent on getting her husband to pose in just the right way, in just the right place, which was always directly in front of the thing I, and everybody else wanted to photograph. We had a battle of wits, a waiting contest to take a photo of distant cliffs through an arch-way. Both of us standing in the arch-way pretending to admire the view for 10 minutes, waiting for the other to pass by, her husband obediently waiting for orders. She won of course, as I being weak of mind gave up and moved away then hung around for 20 minutes until the photo-shoot was over and the arch way free again. And in the end it wasn’t even that good a photo.
My outwitting powers drained, I took a recovery break at the visitors centre, had a quick peruse of the usual Irish crafts – knitted socks, leprechauns, shamrocks, knitted socks with leprechauns and/or shamrocks on them. Then, renewed and with a foolproof strategy I returned to the coast ready for battle, only to find my nemisis had left. Aha, I win. And so now with nothing but beautiful scenery in my viewfinder I stayed long enough to watch the sunset light up the Causeway rocks and reflect off the ocean, before driving, very carefully, back to Portstewart for the night.