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My must-see places throughout NI that should be on ALL of our bucket lists

New journal lists top spots here and our lesser-known hidden gems

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LABOUR OF LOVE: Sasha turned her passion for travel into an informative guide to NI

LABOUR OF LOVE: Sasha turned her passion for travel into an informative guide to NI

Stephen Hamilton

LABOUR OF LOVE: Sasha turned her passion for travel into an informative guide to NI

As we look forward to a summer of staycations one Belfast artist aims to ensure no one is stuck for ideas on how to spend their time right here at home in Northern Ireland.

Sasha Ferguson has created a unique new book, Northern Ireland Bucket List, Your Adventure Journal, highlighting places to see in every corner of the province.

The 27-year-old, who blogs about her own travels on Instagram, decided to compile the guide during the last lockdown and has been astonished by the interest, with her first batch of over 200 books selling out within just three hours.

And it’s not just local people in search of inspiration who have snapped it up, but copies have been posted all over the world.

Sasha, who is from Belfast, lives to travel. She works three jobs — a full-time post in a local bank, part-time in Tesco and part-time in her dad’s butcher’s shop — so that she can save money for her next adventure.

She has spent most of her 20s travelling with her partner Matthew Culbert (27) from Newtownards, who she met through Instagram seven years ago.

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MOUNTAIN HIGH: Sasha and Matt on Slieve Binnian

MOUNTAIN HIGH: Sasha and Matt on Slieve Binnian

MOUNTAIN HIGH: Sasha and Matt on Slieve Binnian

Together they have explored most of Asia, travelled all over Europe, the US, and the Scottish coastline and had hoped to spend next summer touring South America.

A keen photographer, she posts beautiful pictures of her adventures on Instagram where she has an international audience of more than 6,500 followers.

Keeping journals of her journeys has also been a hobby and she has amassed a collection of 10 scrapbooks bursting with memories.

It was the popularity of her online journal which gave her the idea for a Northern Ireland guidebook, as she explains: “Last year because of Covid all my trips were in Northern Ireland or down south.

“I love photography and post pictures everywhere I go. I started to get a lot of messages on Instagram from people asking me to give them a list of things they could do in three days here or where is best for a day trip in Northern Ireland.

“I just thought, ‘Why not make a book?’ and Covid seemed the perfect time to do it.

“I love keeping journals, so I designed it as a journal for people to put their own pictures and memories in. I haven’t visited everywhere in the book, but I intend to this summer.”

Sasha has compiled her book to cover places of interest across all six counties and in and around Belfast.

As well as obvious attractions such as the Giant’s Causeway and the Titanic Centre, she has included some of the little gems she has discovered on her own journeys which might not be on the usual tourist trail.

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The Giant’s Causeway

The Giant’s Causeway

The Giant’s Causeway

She says: “Each page has a suggestion of where to visit and I have included some tips on what to do in some of them, for example on Whiterock Beach on the north coast it is worth going at low tide to see the sea cliffs.

“I love street art so there are details on the best street art to see in Belfast and things like going to the top of the Grand Central Hotel to enjoy the view of the city and where to find the Art Deco elephant sculpture in the city centre.

“Some places people might not have heard of are in there too, such as the Ballynoe Stone Circle near the Mournes which you have to go through a beautiful tunnel of gorse to get to, Harry Avery’s Castle in Newtownstewart and Lough Navar Forest in Fermanagh.

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Harry Avery’s Castle at Newtownstewart

Harry Avery’s Castle at Newtownstewart

Harry Avery’s Castle at Newtownstewart

“I plan to visit a lot of them this summer as part of my own bucket list.”

Sasha’s stunning photography also caught the eye of Tourism Scotland last year who flew her over to take pictures to help promote Glasgow.

She has also been in talks with Visit Belfast to possibly do something similar to promote her home city.

Another hobby is collecting badges of places she visits which led her to design her own Northern Ireland range, featuring landmark sights and buildings as well as some of our unique colloquialisms.

Her badges and pins are popular with tourists and locals alike and have also led to some commercial commissions.

She explains: “I collect patches and pins everywhere I travel and couldn’t find any nice ones in Northern Ireland. Any I could find were really tacky, so I decided to design some myself.

“I have 10 different ones with pictures of places here like Scrabo Tower and the Harland and Wolff cranes with some funny wee sayings from here like ‘hallian’, ‘melter’ and ‘Bout Ya’ on them.

“They are a bit of fun and people seem to love them.”

Sasha works day and night to fund her love of travel and her days off will be spent out and about visiting one of Northern Ireland’s many beauty spots.

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Ballynoe Stone Circle at the Mournes

Ballynoe Stone Circle at the Mournes

Ballynoe Stone Circle at the Mournes

Weekends and annual leave allow her to travel further afield and as soon as lockdown restrictions lifted last month, she and Matt were on the ferry to Scotland where they enjoyed a road trip exploring the north coast.

With her natural wanderlust, being locked down proved a real struggle for Sasha and took its toll on her health.

She says: “I work so hard that when I have a day off, I need to get out. Life is short and I believe you have to make the most of every minute.

“Last year because of Covid all our trips were in Northern Ireland or down south and not being able to get out at all during lockdown was really hard.

“I loved the fact I worked in Tesco as it got me out seeing people in real life.

“I was going a bit stir crazy and I went to the doctor at one stage, and he diagnosed stress-related IBS and told me I needed to get out of the house.

“On our days off we love heading to the north coast or the Mournes or just getting away anywhere for a day.”

As for her globe-trotting she had ambitious plans to spend next summer exploring South America but the slow pace with which vaccines are being rolled out in the country has forced her to rethink her plans.

She says: “Matt and I had planned to spend between four and six months in South America next summer and I had a route worked out and how much money we needed to save; everything was organised.

“Because of the situation there with Covid, I don’t think that will happen now so we are looking at what we can do this year and some of the things in the book are on our list.

“We also hope to do the Atlantic Way in August and maybe get a trip to the south coast of England in November.”

And of course, there is her new guide book which is currently waiting on a second print run.

She has a waiting list of people eager to get their hands on a copy and is hoping to take delivery of her books soon.

n You can follow her travels and find out when the book is available at instagram/sashaferg and her badges and pin designs can be seen at instagram/sashafergart


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