ON a sunny day, Northern Ireland seems a mere mile or two from the coast of Galloway, enticing us to visit.
And when you discover the luxury of driving or walking onto a ferry at Cairnryan and stepping off a couple of hours later in a whole new world, you have to glance behind you to check that Scotland is still there - can it really be such a quick hop over the water?
Gazette reporter Emma Barlow recently took her first trip on the new Stena Superfast ferries - which are a sight to behold in themselves - and visited the famous Titanic Exhibition. Docked at Cairnryan, it’s clear to see these boats were once cruise ships in Europe.
She said: “With a 1200-passenger capacity and such vast amounts of seating space, it’s little wonder we managed the whole journey in the ‘news room’ lounge with the quiet company of just one other person.
But I couldn’t sit still for long and wandered off for an exploration. Unsurprisingly, the majority of passengers were not too far from the bar and shop deck - some quite rightly enjoying their day or night away.
The sun was belting down (yes, really) the entire crossing so I took a spin around the sun deck upstairs, which also home to the fabulous Nordic Spa and whirlpool. Sadly, I didn’t take the opportunity to indulge myself on this trip but what a great idea for a girls’ day out or treat for a friend.
There was time to check emails at the free-to-use ipad station, and even grab a bite to eat. My hands were free of children but it wouldn’t have mattered if they weren’t - there is plenty to keep them occupied, including a cinema.
Arriving at Belfast, memories from previous visits remained true as a quick hop in a taxi into town took us to our hotel and from there, we were free to explore. This trip is perfectly manageable in a day but why not make the most of it?
No one can go to Belfast without checking out the Titanic Belfast® exhibition. Having welcomed over 150,000 visitors since its opening in March, the centre - a truly magnificent building from the outside, situated in the very shipyard where the vessel was built - is a must for anyone with an interest in anything maritime.
The word ‘exhibition’ doesn’t really do this justice. At first, I thought it would be just that - photos on the wall and a bit of info. But actually, it turned out to be an interactive and emotional two hour visit (it could be quicker if you’re not bothered by the technical ins and outs of ship building).
A moving cabin in which you take a seat will transport you up and down as it tours the old Belfast shipyard and shows you how rivets were made and fitted, before you make your way through to a display of a bedroom from each class of travel - first, second and third. You can even stand inside a square of screens and be transported from the boiler room right up past the magnificent staircase and up into the sunshine.
You are also introudced to to some of faces of staff from the boat and are can walk through a radio room, where you can see a digital display of morse code messages sent on the fateful night.
One of the exhibition’s biggest selling points is the launch display. A TV monitor shows video footage of this momentous occasion before turning black and the window shutters behind it opening up to reveal the actual slipway from which Titanic was launched.
The sinking is portrayed through digital displays and a theatre shows you actual footage from the Titanic lying on the seabed and some of the treasures thrown out by the impact. You can also walk on an interactive floor which feels as though you’re stepping onto the seabed.
You’d be well advised to take a moment afterwards to gather your thoughts, as the museum certainly affects its visitors.
From Galloway, a day trip is a simple way to experience this historical must and you can take a tour from as little as £23, departing from Cairnryan.
See www.stenaline.co.uk for details.