When we planned our trip from Larne to Cairnryan, we opted to get the early ferry so that we could watch the sunrise as we sailed across the North Channel towards Scotland. At 2am my husband, Andy, packed up the car with all of my ‘essentials’…my extremely large suitcase, picnic basket, picnic blanket, bags of snacks, ‘emergency coats’ and a pillow for car naps (strictly for the passenger only). In fact the only thing I didn’t pack was my dog, Bruiser, but I discovered afterwards that pets are allowed to travel for free with P&O on the Irish Sea crossing, so Bruiser can come next time! The best thing about travelling by ferry is that you can bring anything that you want in the car with no weight restrictions. This is ideal for someone like me. I am that person you see in the airport on their knees, unpacking their bulging suitcase into their hand luggage!
We hopped into the car and made the short journey to the ferry terminal in Larne. From Belfast, it took us only 30minutes to drive, which was a lovely surprise! We joined the check-in queue, ready to board the ferry. When the gates opened, we got to make the exciting drive from our lane, up the ramp, onto the ferry. As soon as we parked our car, we were allowed to get out and make our way on-board.
We did a quick tour of the ferry to get to know where everything was and then made our way to the club lounge, where we purchased access for only £14 (you can get this for £12 if you book ahead online!). The club lounge is a lovely way to enjoy the journey. It has really comfortable chairs, a complimentary glass of wine, soft or hot drink, which is served to you by one of the stewards (who will also take food orders from the club lounge menu), complimentary snacks, complimentary newspapers and magazines, and views of the deck and ocean.
We were able to see from the club lounge when we were getting close to Scotland, so as soon as we saw that we were approaching land, we made a beeline for the deck to watch the sunrise dance off the Scottish shores.
Our journey was very short and it felt like we were no sooner driving onto the ferry in Larne, than driving off the ferry in Scotland! If you’re like me, the first thing you’ll think of when you drive off the ramp is, “Where can we eat?” I found a gem of a café, called Fig and Olive. It is a gorgeous little spot in the town on Stranraer, which is only a five minute drive from P&O dock in Cairnyryan. The café caters brilliantly for anyone following a speciality diet – gluten free, dairy free, vegan, etc – and their menu is absolutely gorgeous!
When we finally couldn’t eat any more, we made our way back to the car ready to start our road trip around the Dumfries and Galloway area. This area of Scotland is absolutely stunning, especially when the sun is shining – the whole area seems to come to life! Here are my top 5 favourite places that we visited:
1. Castle Kennedy Gardens
One of Scotland’s finest gardens, and possibly the most beautiful gardens I have visited. Castle Kennedy Gardens is set in 75 acres and includes the ruins of a lovely castle, walls of flowers, bird hides, a two acre lily pond, lakes and lots of wildlife. The vast flower walls of rhododendrons and azaleas look like they have come straight from someone’s Pinterest board – they are breathtakingly beautiful and my phone is now full of photos of amazing flowers in full bloom! It is difficult to describe just how special Castle Kennedy Gardens is. It is enormous, but very well structured and you are given a map at the entrance. So although you get the gorgeous feeling of getting lost amongst the flowers, you will always find your way back onto a path!
2. Knockinaam Lodge
Originally built in 1869 as a hunting lodge, Knockinaam is in a very secluded location on the South-West tip of Scotland. There is a lot of history surrounding Knockinaam Lodge. In World War II, this was the site that Sir Winston Churchill and Eisenhower used as their secret meeting location, so secret, that it is hard for a Sat Nav to find (luckily, it is well sign posted!). This is one luxury hotel that I definitely want to return to for a weekend. Gorgeous interiors, a whiskey bar, fine dining and it’s own private beach and uninterrupted views of Northern Ireland (which shows just how quick the P&O ferry journey is!). We enjoyed a private afternoon tea in the lounge. They catered brilliantly for my gluten free diet. Make sure to book in advance!
3. Southerness Lighthouse
Take the walk along the beautiful beach of Southerness to one of the oldest lighthouses in Scotland. Southerness is a popular camping destination and is home to a large caravan, so it is perfect for anyone travelling to Scotland in a campervan. The beach has lots of rock pools to explore, so would be a great stop for anyone with children!
4. Galloway Forest Park
As the largest forest park in the UK, Galloway Forest Park is home to 300 square miles of amazing scenery, lots of lovely wildlife and things to do. On the drive to the park, we stumbled across Galloway’s red deer herd at the Red Deer range (near Creebridge). It was beautiful to see the deer basking in the heat and making the most of the Scottish sun.
A short drive away, I was even more excited to find the Wild Goat Park. A herd of beautifully rare, long-haired goats were lined up along the fence while friendly visitors fed them fruit and carrots. I made a dash to the car to see what snacks I had in my handbag and came back with two bananas. I was delighted that they seemed to love bananas and ate them right out of my hand (including the skin!). A local man said that the goats have roamed the area since the 1970s!
Located at the edge of the park, is the Scottish Dark Sky Obervatory – it has two large telescopes that are perfect for observing the night sky. Unfortunately, we were there at the wrong time of the year so missed out on this, but the venue hosts regular stargazing events throughout the year. Andy is a really keen astronomer, so this is something we will definitely be back to see!
We made the drive to Newton Stewart and stopped at Kirroughtree, which is home to lots of red squirrels. Unfortunately, we could hear them but couldn’t see them – they were very well camouflaged! We parked up the car and rented some bikes! There are a number of different cycling routes around the area ranging from beginners to advanced. There are also lots of gorgeous picnic spots in the area, so it’s a great spot for couples and families!
The Kirroughtree Visitor Centre has a coffee shop that serves fantastic coffee and the most delicious gluten free avocado and courgette cake. It was the perfect fuel to tackle the hills on the bikes!
A pretty little town of pastel-coloured houses set along the beautiful harbour. To me, Portpatrick is the perfect seaside holiday location and has everything that you would need for a peaceful getaway. Bars and restaurants overlooking the sea, a small clean beach, and a nearby hotel set on the dramatic cliffs that act as a backdrop for the town (perfect for a walking holiday!). Portpatrick is a great base for travelling around the Dumfries and Galloway area, because it is only a short drive to all of these areas.
On the final day of our trip, we popped into the bustling town for lunch and got chatting to a group of incredibly friendly locals. I could have listened to them talking all day because the Scottish accent is hands down my favourite accent! They suggested that we come back again for the Portpatrick Festival (the first weekend in September) because the atmosphere and music are both excellent! If this is something you would like to experience too, click here to book your ferry.
Driving along the stunning coastline of Dumfries, with gentle rolling hills and wild flowers lining the roadside, it is clear to see why so many people make the trip from Larne to Cairnryan. The views are breathtakingly beautiful, the food is fantastic and the people are lovely. As soon as you drive off the ferry, the options on where to go next are endless. The best thing about out trip was the unexpected, like stumbling across a wild goat farm! It is things like this that turn a simple weekend getaway into an adventure to remember!
Disclaimer - This blog post is a paid collaboration with P&O Ferries. All images, words and opinions are my own. Photographer: my very own Instagram husband.