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Queen lets train take strain as she enjoys her day at the coast

Royal visit: School children, parents and politicians among well-wishers as monarch makes first visit to Giant's Causeway before taking steam engine for scenic rail trip

By Rebecca Black

Published 29/06/2016

The Queen with Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers (right) and First Minister Arlene Foster as she arrives at Bellarena railway station yesterday
The Queen with Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers (right) and First Minister Arlene Foster as she arrives at Bellarena railway station yesterday
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh travel by steam train along the historic line below Mussenden Temple
The monarch meets Justice Minister Claire Sugden
The Queen meeting schoolchildren at Coleraine rail station
The Queen signing the visitors’ book at the golf club
The monarch attending a reception at Royal Portrush Golf Club
The royals enjoy the view on board the steam train from Coleraine to Bellarena

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh started the second day of their visit to Northern Ireland in style, arriving at the stunning north Antrim coast by helicopter.

It was a leisurely mid-morning start for the royal visitors who flew from Hillsborough Castle for the Queen's first visit to a tourist favourite - the Giant's Causeway.

Life on the normally laid back north coast was spun into a frenzy in expectation of the visit - with local school children practising their curtsies, dignitaries buying new hats, steam trains being polished and even the stunning local landscape being additionally embellished with lavish flower displays.

The rain, unseasonal cold and remote location did not put off fans of the royals - and a few tourists who happened to be visiting the attraction at the same time - from joining in the excitement and giving the monarch a warm welcome.

As the big arrival beckoned closer, North Antrim MP Ian Paisley turned up with his wife Fiona and greeted the royal wellwishers, before Economy Minister Simon Hamilton arrived with First Minister Arlene Foster.

And then the distant sound of rotor blades could be heard echoing off the distinctive Antrim coast cliff faces as the royal helicopter approached and landed nearby.

The Queen emerged wearing a vivid lime green dress coat and matching hat, followed by the Duke of Edinburgh in an impeccable navy suit, to be greeted by Joan Christie, the Lord Lieutenant of Co Antrim.

They first toured the Giant's Causeway visitor centre, meeting National Trust staff, rangers and volunteers before making their way to the famous stones.

The Duke took a particular interest in some of the goods on display from some local craft producers, including a stack of fudge bars, although he remarked ruefully: "That should come with a health warning."

The Queen was interested in some of the varieties of honey that beekeeper Kathryn McWhirter had brought along.

Next on the speedy tour was an animation on an enormous screen telling the local legend of Finn MacCool which Philip seemed very taken by.

While these visits may be an everyday occurrence for the royal couple, it was a huge day for little Grace Higgins (9), who stood with her mother practising her curtsy as she waited to present the Queen with a posy of flowers.

She was part of a group of local school children who presented the Queen and the Duke with gifts towards the end of the visit, and said she had been practising her curtsy for weeks beforehand.

"I used to do ballet so I learned how to curtsy from my old teacher," she said.

The Ballycastle Integrated Primary pupil also picked her new dress with the Queen in mind because it had the landscape of London embroidered on the skirt, and even included a corgi, but admitted that in the moment she met the Queen she felt too shy to show it to her.

"I gave her the flowers and told her that they had all been grown in Ballycastle," she said.

Chloe Walker (10) from the Irish Societies Primary School in Coleraine presented the Queen with an engraved wooden bowl.

"I think they look more kind in real life," she said.

Kiana Walker (12) and Josh Bryant (10) presented an engraved basalt stone to the Duke.

"He pretended it was really heavy, he was really nice and talked to us for a while," said Kiana. Josh added: "He was really jokey and friendly."

For 16-year-old twins Christopher and Peter Algie, who volunteer as rangers at the Giant's Causeway, meeting the royal couple was a very timely incentive to complete their gold Duke of Edinburgh awards.

The teenagers are from Banbridge but love the Giant's Causeway so much they travel there at weekends and summers to volunteer on the stones, keeping visitors safe.

"We are doing our gold award expedition in the Lake District very soon so now we have met the Duke of Edinburgh we really can't fail it," the pair said.

As the royal cavalcade made its way down to the stones, supporters again cheered and some even sang God Save The Queen.

Following a civic lunch at Royal Portrush Golf Club, the Queen took a step back in time boarding a No 85 Merlin steam train at Coleraine station to recreate a small section of a trip she made during a visit to Northern Ireland a month after her coronation in 1953.

Well-wishers cheered and waved as the train left the station with its distinctive puff of smoke for a train journey once described by Michael Palin as one of the most beautiful in the world.

As the train chugged through the stunning landscape, which included views of Benone Strand, the cliffs at Downhill and Binevenagh Mountain, golfers, police officers, beach visitors and passers-by waved.

The Queen officially opened two new station platforms at Bellerena before a crowd packed on to the platform, and was presented with a framed photograph of the train by Translink chief executive Chris Conway before departing with the Duke of Edinburgh for City of Derry Airport and her plane home.

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