We awoke refreshed at The Willows after sleeping on such comfortable mattresses in our delightful Aspen bedroom. Drawing back the curtains we were dismayed to discover it was raining heavily, not a good sign for a planned hiking trip!
To lift our spirits we wandered down to the dining room to be greeted by the cheerful host Annie who was in the process of preparing breakfast and what a feast it was! We started the day with a granola and yoghurt compote served in cocktail glasses followed by a fresh fruit platter and delicious bacon and portobello mushroom baps.
Whilst sipping our coffee we took in the views of Binevenagh Mountain and the surrounding countryside from the window and were pleased to note that the rain was easing for our trek up the mountain.
After packing up the car and bidding our farewell to Annie and her little dog we drove the short distance to Swanns Bridge where we had arranged to meet Angie from Binevenagh Adventures. We then followed her car up the narrow Leighry Road to a lay-by opposite a gate where our walk would commence. Miraculously, it stopped raining just as we were putting on our hiking boots which made all the difference as the prospect of plodding up a mountain in heavy rain didn’t hold much appeal!
Our guide, Angie made us feel very welcome, walking at our own pace and leading us along forest trails and gravel tracks. It was muddy and quite slippery in places but apart from one tiny stumble I managed to stay on my feet during the ascent which surprisingly I didn’t find at all difficult as there were only one or two steep sections. The slopes are home to numerous rare alpine plants and birds and it is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Before reaching the summit we passed a trout stocked artificial lake popular with fishermen. This then led us towards the cliff edge and at the summit we were rewarded with breathtaking views stretching for miles across Lough Foyle to Inishowen and were able to see the path of the River Roe winding its way through the valley floor.
Angie explained that the cliffs were created from molten lava millions of years ago with the resulting basalt precipice being very impressive. I had to hold on to her on the cliff top as we were having our photo taken for fear of being blown over as the gusts of wind were so strong.
Just below the summit we found a sheltered spot to eat our packed lunch and warming cups of coffee before returning to the car along the road as it would have been too slippery to return the way we had come. Our looped walk was 4.5km (2.8 miles) and not only did it blow the cobwebs away, it gave us a sense of satisfaction for climbing a mountain!
Back in the car, we changed out of our hiking gear and then drove on to the pretty seaside village of Castlerock on the Causeway Coast. There was free parking on the seafront so we left the car there and enjoyed a gentle stroll along a boardwalk path through the sand dunes to the beach.
It was then time for our next activity, a Taste Causeway Chocolate Experience. We’re both chocolate lovers, I wonder who isn’t and had been looking forward to our introduction to the wonderful world of chocolate at The Chocolate Manor.
We were warmly welcomed into the purpose built workshop space by the owner and artisan chocolatier Geri Martin and after washing our hands and popping on our aprons we were ready to begin.
Over two and a half hours under Geri’s expert tuition we learnt how to temper chocolate and handcraft a delectable selection of chocolate truffles and moulded chocolate treats. We were introduced to local artisan products from Taste Causeway and paired several of these in our chocolate making process.
We used Mussenden sea salt which is harvested off Castlerock to create salted caramel chocolate and paired Bushmills Irish Whiskey with milk chocolate. It was suggested that we might like to use a little rhubarb jam from the nearby Dundarave Estate to add to our white chocolate moulds and some Causeway Coffee to compliment the dark chocolate.
We thoroughly enjoyed the experience learning so much and it gave me the confidence to have a try working with chocolate back at home.
Whilst the chocolate was setting we were treated to mugs of delicious hot chocolate which we stirred into hot milk from a solid cup shaped piece of dark chocolate handmade by Geri.
As we were packing our sweet treats into boxes at the end of the lesson it was hard to believe that we’d produced such professional looking chocolates, though it wouldn’t have been possible without Geri’s guidance. If you are planning a visit to the Causeway Coast then I would definitely recommend considering joining one of her chocolate experiences as we found it to be both a fun activity and an opportunity to learn a new skill. Her artisan chocolates are on sale in her shop and also available online for special treats with personalised greetings.
It was approaching 7.00 p.m. by the time we returned to the car and just over half an hour later when we arrived at The Causeway Hotel located beside the Giant’s Causeway UNESCO World Heritage Site. This historic hotel is managed by the National Trust with the main part of its building dating from 1841.
It was too dark to be able to take in the stunning views but a treat to look forward to the next morning. The hotel is full of old world charm and we received a warm welcome from the receptionist who insisted on arranging to take our luggage up the staircase leading to our comfortable room with its own private terrace.
Dinner is served in the elegant restaurant with its large bay windows and chandeliers. Service was faultless and the menu uses locally sourced produce wherever possible. I selected a goat cheese tartlet to begin and neither of us could resist plates of fish and chips freshly caught along the coast to follow which were mouth-wateringly delicious. We then relaxed over glasses of wine and cups of coffee reflecting on the wonderful day we had just experienced.
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