It’s little wonder the Giant’s Causeway is a national treasure when it rakes in £9 a head from every visitor wanting to see it
It's been a few years since I was up at the Giant's Causeway but we were in the area at the weekend, driving around in the unusually mild and gorgeously autumnal weather, and decided to drop by for a look.
There was a time, on an October day, when you could have had the entire Causeway to yourself. Now you can't get near the place for tourists.
This is, I think we all agree, a great thing. Suddenly we have a proper tourist industry. In the north coast area the evidence is all around. Every hole in the hedge now has a B&B. There are coffee shops. Bistros.
As it turns out, it wasn't the throng of tourists that kept me from accessing the Giant's Causeway. It was the Giant's Causeway visitor centre.
We drove into the car park and the first thing I saw was the sign pointing out a ticket price of £9. Per adult. Eighteen quid for a walk down to see the stones. No thanks.
My inner Scrooge unleashed we headed instead for the beautiful Ballintoy Harbour, just down the road - free parking, spectacular views and even a Game of Thrones film set thrown in.
The row over the Causeway parking/visitor centre ticket price isn't new. I'd forgotten the advice of a friend who'd told me some time back that you don't actually have to pay the £9 to access the stones.
The problem is, however, that's the impression given at the site.
So how is this going down with the many tourists who visit the place from all over the world?
Over to TripAdvisor ...
Matt from Pennsylvania says: "It felt a little scammy and took away from the atmosphere of the visit."
An Australian visitor notes that this entrance ticket doesn't even include the fare for the wee bus that operates up and down the hill - that's run by Translink ... "Was surprised that after paying an entrance fee we had to then pay extra to catch the bus."
Tomtom from Larne says; "At the entrance desk we said we didn't want to go to the Causeway and only wanted to visit the cafe. We were told that we would have to pay the £9 entrance fee before we could do that! Well, our response came pretty quickly - stuff it! Then they relented and said they would give us a free pass so that we could use the cafe only but followed this up by saying that this was a one-off ..."
A visitor from Pensacola, Florida, suggests: "Perhaps improving the exhibits (in the centre) would help the price sting that other reviewers complain about."
Jim from Inverness sums up the general disquiet: "Many visitor centres give you free access to shop/cafe and charge for the exhibition. Here you pay to be allowed to spend more money in the shop or for food. The car park is included in the chargeable facilities but you're charged not per car but for the occupants. Strange."
Colin from Glasgow concurs. "You pay to park, you pay to pee and you pay to have the privilege of entering the visitor centre."
A visitor from the Isle of Man puts it even more bluntly: "We felt conned after we realised ..."
In fairness there are people on the website arguing that the £9 charge is value for money.
Just not so many.
The National Trust, who run the centre, can't be faulted for trying to turn a profit. But the tariff does seem steep. And shouldn't that sign at the site spell out more clearly that you don't have to pay to see to the Causeway?
It's one of our national treasures. You want tourists leaving it filled with a sense of wonder and delight.
Not feeling it's "a little scammy".
Courage under fire shows great journalism
John Irvine's reports from northern Iraq on the battle for Mosul have been utterly, frighteningly, breathtaking.
How terrifying it must be for him as suicide car bombers hove into view or the vehicle he is travelling in comes under fire. But he doesn't flinch. There's real, raw courage.
And how courageous too, are his family who will also be watching these nightly reports.
This is not just award-winning stuff. It is, in the real sense of that overused word, awesome.
Are some migrant ‘children’ kidding us?
In a nutshell, the controversy over the aged appearance of some of the migrant "children" recently brought to Britain comes down to this. People are happy to give a handout. But not when they think a hand's being taken out of them. If there's a question mark over whether somebody is under 18 or is actually in their early 20s, give them the benefit of the doubt, yes. A new life in Britain.
The problem is that, for a couple of those blokes who arrived last week, this new life appears to be beginning at 40 ...