Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Seven Wonders of Northern Ireland: Time to pick the best

Giant's Causeway

This is your chance to tell us your favourite wonder of Northern Ireland. Every day this week we have featured five entries - each chosen by a well-known personality from the province - on what makes this place unique.

It may be our scenic wonders, such as the Mountains of Mourne, the Antrim Glens, Fermanagh's lakeland or the Antrim Coast Road.

Or it may be a trait among the people of Northern Ireland that makes us remarkable, such as our humour, our sense of community or love of home.

Once you have read all 25 submissions by our advocates, send us your choice of which one you regard as the greatest wonder of Northern Ireland.

Your votes will then be considered alongside the choices of a panel of judges to provide the definitive Seven Wonders of Northern Ireland.

These will then be published by us at a later date.

To register your vote, visit belfasttelegraph.co.uk/sevenwonderspoll.

'Our famous landmark epitomises the place'

THE GIANT'S CAUSEWAY

Billy Carter is an actor who is starring in a 12-part mini-series, Titanic: Blood And Steel, about the building of the ill-fated liner. He plays the ship's designer Thomas Andrews

Being from Bangor, I have always had a great affinity with the sea and when I come back to Northern Ireland I like nothing better than to go for long walks along the shore to recharge my batteries.

I have spent a lot of time in London and New York during my acting career and there is one image of Northern Ireland that always transports me back, at least mentally, to the province when I see it - the Giant's Causeway.

I remember one stifling hot summer's evening in New York I was standing in a subway when I saw an advertisement for Irish tourism with that iconic image of the Causeway.

For the first time that day I was able to breathe easily. I could imagine myself back in Northern Ireland by the seaside with the wind whipping around me.

It is such a powerful and unique place with those oddly-shaped columns spread over a vast area, with the backdrop of the ocean behind them.

I often like to tell people in places where I go to film the old legend of how the Giant's Causeway was formed and they are always entranced. Mind you, I take care to embellish the story.

I visited the Causeway several times when I was younger and always enjoyed that beautiful drive along the coast road to north Antrim with the hills on one side and the sea on the other.

For me, at least, the Giant's Causeway always spells Northern Ireland no matter where in the world I see that image. We are lucky to have such an attraction.

'The city's cabbies are a breed apart'

BELFAST TAXIS

Charlie Lawson is a Fermanagh-born actor best known for his role as Jim Mc Donald in Coronation Street although he has many other television credits to his name

I may have been that hard man Jim McDonald in Coronation Street, but really I'm a big softie when my plane touches down at the George Best Airport.

I feel right at home again the minute I step into a city taxi and the driver says: "What about you big man - glad to see you back."

And all the way into town he talks to me sincerely about my career, how things are going and what the future holds. Apart from embracing again the Belfast accent I grew up with when I was a boarder at Campbell College, he makes me feel right at home. There's nobody quite like the Belfast taximen. I do have a special regard for them.

By the time my partner Debbie and I arrive at the Europa Hotel our driver has won her over too. She's from Essex, but she adores the friendly attitude of Belfast cabbies.

Debbie and I have a Farm Shop now in the village of Prestbury in Cheshire and I can't wait to give our next taximan the news.

But let me not forget the South Belfast branch of the Northern Ireland Football Supporters' Club which meets in Shaftesbury Square. If I didn't take time out to drop in on the lads - they call themselves the Nutts Corners - I'd feel I wasn't really home on a visit. We chat about football and everything else and I know Belfast hasn't lost its sense of humour or passion for a bit of craic.

I follow the international team, although because of other commitments I don't get many opportunites to go to matches. I haven't been in Windsor Park for years and that's a shame. Anyway, the Nutts keep me informed.

'A magical landscape full of memories'

CROM CASTLE, FERMANAGH

Gloria Hunniford began her career with UTV and the BBC in Belfast before going on to host a wide range of programmes on national radio and television.

When I was working in the BBC in Belfast a colleague discovered Lord Erne was renting out cottages - known as the Piggery - on his Crom Castle estate in Fermanagh.

A few of us rented them at a ridiculous peppercorn rent of £138 a year with the proviso that we would do some refurbishment to the properties. My three children were quite young at the time and had this amazing 28,000-acre estate to roam around.

Paul, who was in his early teens, actually learned to drive on the estate. We bought him a secondhand Mini for his birthday and he drove it all the time there, as it was on private roads.

We were also able to buy a horse cheaply for my daughter Caron, and Lord Erne allowed us to graze it on the estate for £50 a year.

The cottages have since been taken over by the National Trust and I think this is just a magical part of Northern Ireland.

I came back to Crom Castle - it is possible to rent part of the main residence now - twice last year.

What I love about Fermanagh is that you can have a holiday that is as sophisticated as you like or as simple. The amazing waterways, the landscape, the friendliness of the people and the pace of life all make it the ideal location for me.

'Glens chase politics from my mind'

GLENARIFF

Dr Alasdair McDonnell (60) is leader of the SDLP

There are many amazing landscapes in Northern Ireland but I still feel impressed when I go to Glenariff in the Glens of Antrim.

But when I was growing up there I didn't appreciate the beauty, and it's only as time has rolled on that I get a surge of energy and purpose, a great life, from the appeal of the Glens.

It isn't just the rugged beauty and diversity of it either, although that's part of it. No two Glens are the same.

I was born in Cushendall and reared in the townland called Kilmore in Glenariff.

When I stand on top of the mountain on the Antrim plateau and look down into the valley, I can see the great lump of the Mull of Kintyre and the Sperrins in the other direction.

I have three brothers who farm - Dermot, Sean and Charles, who's known as Carlo - and a sister in the area, and I take my children down there.

We always go at Easter when my brothers are delivering lambs and calves. It's so different from the city.

It's a given that the children would abandon Belfast and move there. My wife, who is from Armagh, also loves the Glens and I think she'd an affection for it even before she discovered me.

There is a great sense of grandeur there, a sense of reach when you're high up. You get a clear view. And politics, which is on another planet, gets left behind.

'An extraordinary feat of engineering'

THE ANTRIM COAST ROAD

Hector McDonnell (64) is one of Ireland's best known artists and the son of the Earl of Antrim.

The coastal road past the Glens is an amazing feat of engineering and extraordinarly beautiful. The Glens of Antrim were effectively isolated until the road was built back in the 1930s, and it was so cut off it remained an Irish speaking area.

The views as you travel along the road are outstanding and I have often painted them. Among the Glens I'm very fond of my own Glen, Glenarm, but apart from that my favourite is Glenariff.

I love it because you can park your car at the top of the Glen then walk for the whole day if you want, covering a series of circuits.

The best time to go is when the sun's shining. I usually end up painting the sea, whose colour changes every five seconds, although I often begin by painting the Glen.

The ladder farms round here are fascinating with the fields going almost perpendicularly up the sides of the hills. Each farm has good and bad land and I love to see how things have changed from the old patterns of fields to the more recent.

This area is totally special and it also has native woodland found nowhere else in Ireland.

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