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My best holiday - Northern Ireland famous faces on their favourite getaways

With the summer vacation period over and happy memories of sunny getaways fading fast, Kerry McKittrick finds out where seven well-known personalities spent their break

Published 21/09/2016

Frank Mitchell
Frank Mitchell
Rebecca McKinney
Big reunion: Noel Thompson (left) with his brothers and family in Cornwall
Claire McCollum
Denise Watson
David Ford

Summer - or what passes for our hot season - is well and truly over. But as the temperature starts to drop, where do Northern Ireland people spend their annual break?

Thanks to cheaper airfares and more direct flights from local airports to destinations around the world, few of us now have to endure the unpredictable summer weather here.

City breaks to Berlin or Barcelona and even New York are just a plane ride away.

We check in with politicians and personalities alike to find out about their best holidays - from yesteryear as well as this year.

Noel Thompson (59) presents Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster. He lives in Belfast with wife Sharon and their two sons, Matthew (29) and Patrick (23). He says:

This year I spent my summer holiday in Cornwall for a family reunion with my three brothers. There were 17 of us in a few rented houses and we had the most unbelievably gorgeous week. The weather was the most glorious you can imagine. We stayed in St Ives and we could sit on the beach at seven at night.

We didn't feel the need to go on day trips or anywhere else, we could go on all sorts of walks or just sit around. The locals said we got the best, most consistent weather they had seen in ages.

We're not really staycationers as a rule and prefer long distance travel. Airplane travel is generally pretty horrendous but if you grit your teeth and get through it you can end up somewhere pretty fabulous. We went to Kenya and South Africa last year to meet up with my son who was living in Mozambique.

My best ever trip was in 1984. My wife and I just sold up and headed off on an overland trip from London to Australia for 10 months. We went by double-decker bus from London to Kathmandu and the seats turned into beds. From there we travelled all around Asia before going on to Australia. It was real trip of a lifetime stuff.

When I was a child we always staycationed, so during my childhood we went around every corner of Ireland and I got a good knowledge of the island's geography."

Christopher Stalford (33) is a DUP MLA for South Belfast. He is married to Laura and they have three children: Trinity (5), Oliver (4) and Cameron (2). He says:

I haven’t taken a holiday in about three years because I try to fill the summer with constituency work. This year, though, I took a week off and we had a staycation. Each day of the week we would pick somewhere to go for a day trip.

We went all over Northern Ireland. One day we went to Dundrum Castle, because my two sons love castles. Another day we took the dog and went to Portaferry. We had a barbecue at Ballywalter Beach and then took the ferry to Strangford and the kids loved doing that — they called it the car boat. We also visited the Butterfly House at Seaforde Gardens.

Our children are still quite young so a staycation like this is a bit easier — you don’t need to pack lots of clothes or worry about accommodation. Trinity is starting to ask questions about Disney World, but I think they’re still a bit young to be going somewhere with that kind of intense heat.

The last foreign holiday I went on with my wife was to Budapest for our tenth wedding anniversary.

It was in December so it was absolutely magical. There can be a difference in opinion between Laura and I on where we go on holiday — I like visiting old ruins, but she’s not so keen.”

Claire McCollum (41) is a TV presenter. She lives in Greenisland with her husband Alastair and their children Samuel (9) and Rose (7). She says:

This summer we only went as far as Scotland and England. My sister has a holiday home in Scotland and almost every summer we pack the car and head over there on the overnight ferry.

This year I got to take the kids and family to Songs of Praise HQ. We got a proper tour of the BBC’s Media City, which included CBBC and the sport studios. They all loved it, so it was a good start.

I like lying in the sun, too, so we got a cheeky week in May this year. Thanks to the Brexit election, the bank holiday and staff training, the kids had a full week off, so we went to Lanzarote. Because of the school holidays we don’t normally get to go away at that time of year, so it was lovely to get some early sunshine. Then we  came back and the rest of May was glorious, so we felt like we got a really long holiday.

My parents come on holiday with us, too, so any hotel we go to has to cater for every member of the family.

Our honeymoon to South Africa and then Mauritius was my favourite holiday — and it was a surprise.

Alastair had booked it and I didn’t have a clue where I was going.

Childhood holidays were in Donegal and I have very early memories of the beach and the hotel — but the most exciting holiday was when I was 13.

My uncle was working in San Francisco and invited us over for a few weeks.

From San Francisco we drove through Monterey, Big Sur and Carmel as well as Mexico, LA and Disneyland.

It was an extraordinary holiday back then.”

Rebecca McKinney (29) is a co-presenter of the Cool FM breakfast show. She is single and lives in Belfast. She says:

I’ve had some great trips this summer, including three weeks in France with work broadcasting from the Euros — it was amazing.

Then I went back to Marbella for my best friend Victoria’s 30th birthday and after that went to Rhodes with a big group of friends.

I’d never been to the Greek island before — we stayed in Lindos and it was the most relaxing week I’ve ever had. I love a sunny holiday.

My favourite thing is to lounge by the pool all day before a lazy dinner followed by cocktails at night.

It’s my ideal escape and I turn off my phone so I can properly relax.

We didn’t go on big family holidays when I was younger.

My parents are both teachers so every summer was spent at home as a family.

We would go on all sorts of day trips to the coast or to National Trust houses.”

Frank Mitchell (53) presents the Frank Mitchell phone-in each weekday on U105. He lives in Belfast with his wife Helena and they have one daughter, Laura (24). He says:

I had a fabulous holiday this year, although it wouldn’t be described as exotic. I walked Hadrian’s Wall in England and then spent a lot of time in Newcastle-upon-Tyne because that’s where my daughter Laura is living.

What made the holiday for me was travelling by boat rather than flying, so we took the Stenaline. I was like a little child I enjoyed the experience so much. It was the perfect start and then we were blessed with really good weather. We had lovely walks and fantastic hotels in the countryside.

My ideal getaway is a walking holiday or a city break. While I don’t like two weeks beside the pool in Majorca, my wife does, so we compromise.

When I was younger we had holidays at home in Cranfield, Co Down, where my aunt lived. A mad adventure might have taken us to Donegal.”

David Ford (65) is an MLA for South Antrim and Alliance Party leader. He lives in Antrim with his wife Anne and they have four children. He says:

This year we went on a walking holiday to Gindelwald in Switzerland — it was to celebrate our wedding anniversary, as we did the same thing on our honeymoon. We went for a week, as that was all the time we could take off work.

I enjoy active holidays and wouldn’t lie on a beach.

It’s nice to look out the window in the morning and think we can walk but not climb across the valley. Our honeymoon was the best ever holiday, so we went to the same place.

In those days, though, we could only afford to camp, instead of staying in a small apartment like this year.

Switzerland is a beautiful country and we’ve been there five times now.

 Closer to home we tend to have a short break with the extended family on Rathlin Island — at least there you don’t need a passport.

It’s quiet and we can walk, read or ride a bike and relax.”

Denise Watson (44) is a sports journalist and presenter. She lives in Holywood with her husband David Scott and their daughters Samantha (10) and Beth (6). She says:

We’re just back from a break — every year we go to my in-laws’ caravan in Juniper Hill, Portstewart — and we stay for at least a week.

Two years ago, after a dreadful summer where it rained all the time, I booked us a sun holiday to Marbella.

The whole time the girls complained about the heat and the sun, as they’re very fair skinned.

Since then, we’ve been making the most of Portstewart.

There’s so much to do there  and we have National Trust membership which can take us to Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, the Giant’s Causeway and Downhill, so there will be a lot of day trips.

Our favourite holiday of all was Disneyland a few years ago.

My daughter Beth had had to have a lot of surgery to help her to walk, so we decided to push the boat out and have a really good holiday as a family.

It took some saving, but it was wonderful.

We went in March when it wouldn’t be too hot and had passes for all the Disney Parks, which is quite expensive.

The girls loved the whole thing and each got little Disney princess costumes.

The Magic Kingdom in particular is geared to kids, so you just let yourself get wrapped up in it.

It was everything we hoped it would be.”

Belfast Telegraph

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