A Maginot Line classic

Ouvrage Hackenberg, one of the largest forts in the Maginot Line, is composed of 17 combat blocks, working gun positions and shell hoists, an electric train and over 10 kilometres of tunnel. If you are interested in history, military or otherwise, the informative and lively guided tour is time very well spent.

The fort was built during the 1930s as part of the French defensive line named after the incumbent Minister of War, André Maginot. As one of the largest and first built it was so symbolic that it was chosen for a visit by King George VI during the phoney war in December 1939.

The fort saw action in 1940 when it was eventually surrendered to the Germans following the Armistice and later in 1944 when it was captured from German forces by General George Pattons 90th Infantry Division.

A guided tour of the fort takes approximately two and a half hours. Travel throughout the extensive galleries is by foot and by electric train. Extensive exhibits give a very good idea of what life would have been like for the defenders of Ouvrage Hackenberg and fully operating gun turrets, shell hoists and electrical generators add to the atmosphere.

Having entered the fort through the ammunition entrance and spent some time underground, it is fascinating and refreshing to find yourself stepping outside the fort through one of the infantry entrances onto green and forested hills complete with tank traps, barbed wire defences and machine gun cupolas; the very view the opposing forces would have had of the fort.

I would thoroughly recommend a visit to Ouvrage Hackenberg.

Details: Hackenberg Fort


What a beautiful place to build a castle

If you travel along the coast road between Bushmills and Portrush, you will come across the dramatic setting of Dunluce Castle. Built in a strategically brilliant but a practically ridiculous setting, the castle is now a ruin. It’s a complete wreck, but therein lies its charm.

The first castle at Dunluce was built in the 13th century. In subsequent years, the castle went through the hands of a number of powerful local families including the McQuillans and the Clan MacDonnell.

Legend has it that at one point in the history of Dunluce, a large part of the kitchen collapsed into the sea leading the lady of the manor to refuse to live there any more.

The castle has been featured on a couple of album covers and appears in a number of films.

Details: Dunluce Castle


A subterranean city of bones

The Left or south bank of the Seine in Paris contains large deposits of limestone. From the 12th century onwards, these deposits were mined to produce building materials for the expanding city of Paris. Mining activity was haphazard and mostly undocumented.

As the city expanded outwards, buildings were erected over the former mines. From the 17th century, the network of mines below the city began to cause problems for the buildings above. A Commission of Mines was appointed to investigate and shore up the myriad tunnels beneath the city.

At around the same time, the cemeteries within the city boundaries were under considerable pressure and it was decided to use a part of the old mine workings to store the contents of the city cemeteries. The whole process, taking place mostly under cover of darkness took approximately two years to empty the Paris cemeteries.

The catacombs contain the bones of over 6 million people.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the bone repository was converted to a visitable mausoleum or ossuary. A visit involves a small number of stairs and nearly 2 kms of walking.

The Catacombs are open daily except for Mondays and some holidays.

…and you will get your bags searched on the way out!

Details: Catacombs of Paris


The most photographed trees in Ireland

If you watch Game Of Thrones, you might recognise this impressive avenue of beech trees from series one. Aside from an appearance on the cult HBO show, this beautiful natural phenomena is one of the most photographed and painted attractions in Northern Ireland and is a favourite for wedding photographers.

Planted by the Stuart family in the eighteenth century to impress visitors to their home, Gracehill House, this magnificent site has become known as the Dark Hedges.

Legend has it that a mysterious Grey Lady appears at dusk amongst the trees. Silently gliding down the avenue, she disappears into thin air as she passes the last beech tree.

We didn’t see her ourselves, but this beautiful place certainly has an otherworldly atmosphere.

Details: The Dark Hedges


Black cab tour of Belfast

When you visit Belfast, you’ll meet plenty of friendly people and you certainly shouldn’t avoid the recent troublesome history of the region, it’s a major part of where the modern city of Belfast finds itself. The Belfast of today is a very safe and friendly destination for tourists, with excellent restaurants, a warm welcome and a good pint of cold Guinness as the icing on the cake.

But what to see and what to do?

Whatever else you decide on, it’s a cracking good idea to take a tour of some of the literally hundreds of murals that bring to life the struggles that have sculpted this often forgotten corner of the British Isles. And who better to guide you on that trip than someone who lived through those terrible times?

The history of the city is writ large on the houses and the kerbstones. During the ‘Troubles’, murals, flags and painted kerbstones all had significance to the residents of Belfast. Disregard the signs and the warnings and you could easily find yourself in the wrong part of town. Most of the violence and enmity between the different communities has disappeared now that the province is at peace, but the signs and more particularly the political murals remain.

Bobby Walsh was a taxi driver throughout the Troubles. Together with his business partner Paddy Kane, he runs the best Black Taxi tour company in Belfast. Bobby tells the story of Ireland and particularly Northern Ireland from the perspective of someone who has lived through a turbulent period of recent history. His depth of knowledge and his fascinating personal insights make this trip a must do.

I lived in the London area throughout those turbulent times and whilst I had a fairly good grasp on what had been going on, I am ashamed to admit that I didn’t realise that one of the major catalysts for the civil rights movement in 1969 was the fact that many adult members of the Northern Ireland community were not entitled to vote.

Paddy makes a serious subject interesting and engaging. Don’t miss out.

Details: Black Cab Tours