Despite being Northern Ireland born and bred, I have to admit there are still some places that I have yet to spend time in.
Some I have driven through without realising while on my way somewhere else. One such place is the Faughan Valley and on a recent weekend in the area I soon discovered there are a lot of reasons to spend some time there.
We managed to see the area from a whole new angle too, about 1000ft up in a helicopter with locally based Cutting Edge Helicopters. I will be the first to admit I was a little hesitant about the idea, however, the pilot was excellent. He explained absolutely everything about the helicopter, what every change in engine noise meant and we barely realised we had even left the ground.
It was fascinating to see the valley and neighbouring city of Derry/Londonderry on our short excursion. At one point, I found myself humming the Airwolf theme tune!
We found there are plenty of activities, both indoor and outdoor that keep all agegroups amused.
Lovers of the outdoors will enjoy the many walks in the area, or perhaps prefer horse riding at one of the local stables. We decided to be a bit more energetic and stopped in at Campsie Karting, where, if you feel the need for speed, you can race around their indoor track. After a safety briefing we were let loose on the 400m circuit where the inner boy racer was released. Despite me thinking I was going fast, I was lapped at least twice and finished last.
On to more cultural climes, we visited the historic Ashbrook House, which has been owned by the same family for many generations. We were shown round by the current owner, who proudly showed us family heirlooms and some totally unique historical artefacts. What makes this different from other historic houses is that this is still very much a family home and has a welcoming ambience.
Our delve into the area’s history continued next door to Ashbrook, at the Beech Hill Country House Hotel. Whilst this wasn’t our first visit to the Beech Hill, I think on this visit we gained a much better understanding of the estate’s fascinating history as Base One Europe, where the US Marines based themselves in preparation for World War 2.
Walks have been developed around the grounds which give you some insight into the hundreds of structures that were once there, and if you look closely enough, you can see where they stood. The story is told in a new interpretive display in the house itself.
As somewhere to stay, the Beech Hill is excellent. It attracts celebrities, politicians and other well known faces. Its one of those places where if a fellow guest looks like someone famous….it probably is them! However, everyone who stays is given a warm welcome by the owner Patsy and her staff.
There are a number of room styles, we’ve been lucky enough to stay in both the original building and the new extension. The suites in both wings are stunning and very comfortable. In the restaurant, the food is excellent too, with attentive waiting staff ready to assist.
We also stayed at the White Horse Hotel, which is close to City of Derry Airport on the main road to the North Coast. We found ourselves in a very comfortable suite with an attractive patio area, near to the hotel leisure complex. Dinner in the restaurant was superb and the Chef is being quite inventive when it comes to desserts which added some fun to the meal.
The hotel bar offers entertainment at weekends, and I even took to the stage myself to belt out a great version of “Ring of Fire”.
NORTHERN IRELAND – Faughan Valley 2
Regular readers may remember my visit to the Faughan Valley earlier this year which involved helicopters, fast cars and historic homes.
It transpired I was only skimming the surface of the activities and places to see in the area, which is a matter of minutes outside Derry/Londonderry, the UK City of Culture.
This time around, I was accompanied by my 4 children. Given they are aged between 9 and 15, it’s not that easy to find activities that will keep everyone amused. However, the Faughan Valley came up trumps.
On this trip, we stayed at Derry Farm Cottages at Drumahoe. Our cottage was very well appointed. If, like me, you grew up in a farming community, the sight of a huge “Aga” in the kitchen is something you would be used to. However, I’d had never seen one that is controlled by touch screen technology! The addition of Sky Tv and free Wifi are a great bonus to keep everyone entertained.
However, on our trip, the TV was barely used as the weather was too good to waste and there were bicycles outside and Alpaca’s on the farm!
We soon discovered that the cottage was within a 4 mile radius of anywhere we needed to be over the weekend, including the centre of Derry/Londonderry.
One such place was Oaks Fishery, which is open to beginners as well as experts. They can hire you all the equipment you need, including the boat! The 15 acre lake is a really tranquil place and somewhere I could imagine myself chilling out for a day. Now, to be honest, I don’t really know the first thing about fishing, so luckily the owner, Ian, was on hand to show us the ropes.
I was astounded to see trout literally jumping out of the water, though not as astounded as my 10 yr old, who managed to catch one while out on the boat. The rest of us caught and released a number of smaller fish from the jetty. The kids were buzzing after the fishing expedition and full of chat as we left.
The buzz continued as we headed to Campsie Karting, where we got kitted out in overalls and helmets to race around the 400m indoor track. After a safety briefing, we got into the karts and the race got underway. I found it fascinating to see my kids get braver and braver as they got used to the kart. So brave, in fact, that I was beaten into 3rd place. Even my daughter drove faster than me!
The adrenalin keeps building at Oakfire Adventures, where willing participants clamber into a huge ball and then roll down a steep hill. I guess Zorbing is a bit like being in a huge hamster ball.
If that’s not enough, the Giant Swing sends you flying head first towards the ground from a height of 60ft!
If that’s too exhilarating for you, a visit to the Faughan Valley Golf Course will calm you down again. This course is built on the banks of the river and offers some great scenery as you enjoy your game. We had a golf lesson from Noel, the Club Professional. And he is good – even I was able to hit the ball off the tee by the end of the lesson.
The Faughan Valley is home to some very good chefs too. Barry O’Brien at Beech Hill Country House and Noel Ward at the White Horse Hotel are old hands at cooking for my demanding (!) tastes – so it was great to bring my 4 kids to let them enjoy the dining experience at both places.
New to us all was the Belfray Country Inn. On arrival (purely by chance) we were met by clowns, stilt-walkers and a happy couple arriving courtesy of locally-based Cutting Edge Helicopters, which certainly added to our evening!
The Faughan Valley has a wealth of activities, history and sights to see. It means that each visit can quite literally offer a totally different experience.