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Road to ruin: a gin tour of Northern Ireland

Playing cards on the desk right here: I have been led off target by using robust drink.

Some weeks lower back, ready to be served on the Woodworkers Tap Room on Belfast’s Bradbury Vicinity, I heard someone order a Jawbox, a call as soon as related to Belfast sinks, however seemingly now shared with a craft gin, conceived in Belfast however distilled, the bartender advised me, in County Down, at Echlinville Property, outdoor Kircubbin on the west coast of Strangford Lough The Info Blog.

Next day I asked a chum whose in-laws lived out that way whether he knew the distillery. “Never heard of it,” he stated, then brought, “that avenue, thoughts you, is full of surprises.” Which turned into all the invitation I needed, that and the vague notion that Northern Eire’s handiest other gin – Shortcross – was being distilled in County Down, too, on the opposite aspect of Strangford Lough. Now and again the less you cross looking for the greater you locate.

Finding Strangford Lough
Traveller numbers keep rising in Northern Ireland, but for plenty traffic “seeing the points of interest” approach the Antrim coast – Massive’s Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge – Large Belfast, with a twist nowadays of Recreation of Thrones, and perhaps a Problems taxi excursion. And no harm in that, however on the other hand …

5760The view across Strangford Lough in the direction of the Mourne Mountains, Northern Ireland.
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The view across Strangford Lough in the direction of the Mourne Mountains
Strangford Lough separates the Ards peninsula – that leg dangling into the Irish Sea – from the west of County Down, and ends, wherein maximum Belfast human beings would in all likelihood tell you it starts offevolved, simply south of Newtownards. The road from Belfast takes you quite lots the route that guests have accompanied since the stone age: down from the Antrim hills, crossing the river Lagan at its maximum without difficulty forded point (the foot of Belfast’s present-day Excessive Avenue) and on out east, beyond the Parliament Buildings at Stormont and the suburb of Dundonald, which lengthy in the past eight the picturesque village of the identical call. Up a hill it goes, then down to Newtownards in which there are roundabouts to barter, the inevitable Tesco superstore, earlier than, simply beyond the Ulster Flying Membership, you trap your first glimpse of water.

Instantly The street narrows to 2 lanes – sea wall tough by way of the only one the right – and remains that way for the 20 miles to Portaferry, where the mouth of the lough comes inside a whisper of remaining on Strangford village.

 

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A sign a little manner out of Newtownards reads, “Strangford and Lecale Location of Terrific Herbal Beauty.” It is possibly the only ugly thing on the entire stretch and simply the most needless, even though if I informed you the substances you might well shrug: low-upward push nation-state on one side of The road, that wall and the lough immediately past it on the alternative, the same distance always shore visible with, to the south, the define of the Mourne mountains.

Join up the Portaferry street, analyzing Strangford and Lecale an area of Extremely good Herbal Beauty.
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Splendor mark … Join up the Portaferry road
The impact is more beguiling than breathtaking, however it builds and – thru Greyabbey, then Kircubbin – builds. The turn off for Echlinville Distillery is set half a mile outside Kircubbin: left on the bus shelter is the high-quality course I will deliver, there being, as but, no signpost. In case, you locate your self at the Saltwater Brig bar, flip approximately, however no longer necessarily without delay. Cross in, experience the seafood – all regionally stuck, regionally as in Portavogie, at the outdoor leg of the peninsula, however because that’s only some miles away no one might argue – or maybe simply reserve a table for tomorrow, when consistent with the blackboard outdoor there might be free beer.

Echlinville Distillery
Echlinville is a B1-indexed residence by way of Charles Lanyon, Belfast’s main Victorian architect. Lynn and Shane Braniff sold it in the course of the recession and started the distillery by reviving the historic Dunville Whiskey call. They’ve due to the fact that crafted their own whiskey, or what’s going to be their very own whiskey as soon as the 3 years and an afternoon stipulated with the aid of the whiskey gods have handed. They’ve been on the gin for the reason that 2015, developing and malting their own barley, making Jawbox, Ireland’s handiest single-Property gin. Extra recently they created an Echlinville Gin, flavoured with whin (gorse) and seaweed, which They have bought into Fortnum & Mason. There was a box on the ground the day I used to be there. “That’s the Echlinville,” stated Suzanne, one of the group of workers of six, who changed into showing me spherical. “Right,” I said. “No,” she stated, “I mean that’s it all.”

The Echlinville residence & Distillery at the Gransha street, Portaferry
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The Echlinville residence & Distillery at the Gransha street, Portaferry
Even the Echlinville excursions (£15pp) are craft: one organization of 12, the first Saturday of each month. Mine turned into met by way of Lynn herself (inside the library) in addition to Suzanne and Graeme the distiller, who added us to the Echlinville still, a contraption of such copper and glass marvel – helmets, swan necks, line hands and huge rectifying columns – which you half of assume Gene Wilder to pop out Willy Wonka-like from at the back of it. There are plans for a devoted visitors’ centre within the courtyard, even in a single day lodging. For now, In case you intended to make a night time of it your best bet might be to hold on to Portaferry.

Portaferry
The Portaferry Motel (doubles from £80 B&B) occupies a huge nook website overlooking the harbour. Once more Portavogie features prominently within the seafood menu, alongside Portaferry cockles and mussels. It appeared the simplest becoming that I have to order a Jawbox with my dinner – butternut squash gnocchi. A case, I admit, of matching meals to drink, however before you query my judgement, try it. Both they had been out, though, or they By no means had it in. They did have Shortcross, served up (as endorsed) in a brandy glass.

In shape of the day … Glenn’s lunch of butternut squash gnocchi – paired with a pitcher of gin
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Fit of the day … Glenn’s lunch of butternut squash gnocchi – paired with a tumbler of gin
“Gin makes you sin,” a female said as I sat Next to her.

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I advised her with me it becomes greater like sing, although a few could say this is sin enough.

The Motel is slightly a minute’s stroll from the ferry to be able to take you the half-mile across the lough to Strangford village. The ferry is going to and fro from 7.45am to ten.45pm (eleven.15pm on Saturday, 7.30am to 10.30pm/11pm in the contrary route). The 8-minute crossing takes you inside spitting distance of the tidal turbine – an international’s first while it began generating strength for Strangford and Portaferry in 2008, although it has now been decommissioned. Shorn now of its extensive wings, the turbine resembles an oversized pink-and-black buoy. John who keeps the ferry instructed me conservationists and marine experts have been arguing over the way to eliminate it, this lot announcing it wanted chopping off at the foot, that lot that it had to be dug right out. “There’ll be huge cash concerned Either way,” John stated: divers most effective have 20 mins to paintings in-between the tide finishing coming in and beginning to exit.

The Cuan, Strangford
Exterior of Cuan Guesthouse in Strangford, County Down.
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Cuan Guesthouse
Strangford’s population is set a 5th of Portaferry’s, a lot of it focused in an arc around the ferry touchdown. The Cuan Guesthouse (doubles from £ninety five B&B) is sort of the first constructing you return to at the left-hand facet. In case, you time your arrival right, you might be fortunate enough to locate your self in the organization of Marie-Therese Brownlee and Sarah FitzSimons, aka Mrs B and Sally, aged 92 and “a dyslexic seventy-eight” respectively, sisters who have been coming in each day for the closing 11 years.

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In the path of the lunch that I spent After them (scampi to overcome the band, even though the signature dish is chowder), the verbal exchange ranged over the spelling of the solfège syllables (do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do), misspelt, Mrs B contended, on the programme of a production of the Sound of Track, whether colliding with a man on foot down the center of the road with a herd of cows even as reading his newspaper might be considered riding with our due care and diligence and why exactly the door to the function room become open after they have been being “blown away”. (It was over 20 tiers outdoor and hardly a breath of air.) Dale McKibbin, the bar supervisor, commiserated with me that I didn’t get a chunk of poetry thrown in.

You may fortuitously spend the hours among lunch and dinner in the Cuan and, having eaten Once more, sit down on into the night – it has accommodation too, even though if via then you desired an exchange of surroundings and had the wit to ebook in advance there are tenting pods from £38 a night at Fortress Ward, a couple of miles out of Strangford. Citadel Ward is one in all three Country wide Trust houses flanking the lough (Mountstewart, near Greyabbey, and Rowallen are the others), and has doubled in the latest years as Winterfell in Game of Thrones.

The paranormal ‘Game of Thrones’ door at the Cuan Guesthouse in Strangford, County Down.
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The paranormal ‘Sport of Thrones’ door at the Cuan Guesthouse
The roads this facet of the lough, I get the experience, are a touch extra travelled by means of the excursion buses; even the Cuan boasts a Recreation of Thrones door. Turning left past Strangford will take you, by way of Ardglass, to Coney Island, which except inspiring that Van Morrison tune (“Wouldn’t it’s great if it becomes like this all the time?”), furnished the area for Terry George’s 2012 Oscar-winning brief, The Shore. My undertaking, although, required me to stick to the Strangford shore for as long as possible, heading north to Killyleagh then inland to Crossgar.

Shortcross Distillery
Fiona Boyd-Armstrong of the Rademon Property Distillery, maker of Shortcross gin, had given me guidelines concerning a left flip at a filling station at Crossgar (the “brief” in Shortcross derives from “gar” in antique Irish), an injunction to disregard one set of gates a mile down The road, however turn left Once more quickly after and (some other region mile) left Once earlier than the humpback bridge and the tree in the center of The street. A path, that ultimate, you’ll need to comply with to the letter.

Quick Go Gin, near up of gin bottle and gin-filled glass with ice.
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Fiona’s dad and mom very own the 500-acre Rademon Property on which she and husband David began the distillery in 2012. David himself is the Shortcross distiller. He grew up among two former Belfast distilleries – Avoniel and Connswater – and instructed me the town within the early 1900s produced 40% of all whiskey under the influence of alcohol on these islands. Which made me suppose There has been a marker being set down here, the rebirth of a subculture. (Rademon like Echlinville is counting down the 1,068 days to the Statement of Whiskey.) Rademon’s traveler centre is already built – the doorway via a lovely slate porch – and tours will begin later this year, even though not, David pressured, “like Bushmills: at the hour every hour”. That is still a small-scale circle of relatives operation: small sufficient that Fiona’s brother-in-law changed into signing the labels inside the bottling room after I surpassed via; small sufficient that when they have been taking their first batch of Shortcross out to ability clients they didn’t even have a box to place the bottles in.

I don’t know whether the excursions will soak up all of Rademon Property – from what I saw it opponents any of the neighbouring Countrywide Trust properties – however on a rise simply past the distillery an obelisk is definitely visible, a monument to a previous proprietor, William Sharman Crawford, a Chartist, champion of Catholic emancipation, founding father of the Ulster Tenant proper Association, and a reminder that politics right here, just like the roads alongside Strangford Lough, Sometimes consists of welcome surprises.

Returned to Belfast
I completed my personal excursion again in Belfast, in Muriel’s Cafe Bar, with a Jawbox served “the Belfast manner” with ginger ale, lime and a wedge of honeycomb. Later inside the Crown Bar (Ok, I didn’t finish in Muriel’s), I ran into a collection of Canadians who had arrived earlier in the day from Dublin. I requested them what they had visible so far. Giant’s Causeway, they said, Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. And the next day? Black Taxi Troubles tour, Tremendous, again to Dublin.

Inside the nicest feasible manner, I wanted to say they didn’t recognise what they have been lacking.