What Makes Us Want To Travel & Why A Motorhome?

Having lived the vast majority of our lives in Northern Ireland, it is only when you travel even a tiny bit that you realize just how isolated we feel here – especially having lived through 30 years of “The Troubles”.

The troubles started on my 5th birthday in August 1969, so during most of my life we felt confined to this small corner of the UK. The linked article contains a gallery of 200 images of The Troubles.

To venture into the remainder of Ireland meant driving across a heavily militarised border with numerous checkpoints and searches, and travelling through a part of the country known as “bandit country” and the “killing zone”. This was enough to put most people off making that journey.

border crossing
One of the main border crossings into Republic of Ireland

To travel to the mainland UK was almost as traumatic an experience and prohibitively expensive. Although the closest point between Northern Ireland and Scotland is only 12 miles, it must be one of the most expensive stretches of water per mile to cross in the world.

As a comparison, it costs about 3 times as much to take your car on a ferry from Belfast to Stranraer in Scotland, which is a shorter crossing, than it does from Dover to Calais.

stena ferry

And once on the mainland, you have a 100 mile drive on single carriageway road to reach the end of the M6 before entering England at Carlisle.

Before some improvements were made to the road, it used to go through the middle of every hole in the hedge village on the way.

Add to this that it is the major route for 40 foot lorries carrying supplies to the ferries to travel on to Northern Ireland and it made that 100 mile stretch seem to last a lifetime.

belfast_-_carlise

As a child, taking on this journey with our parents to visit relatives in England for a week was as close as we ever got to a holiday – allowing us to take day trips to different Lancashire coastal resorts.

We were used to getting searched on a daily basis, so additional security (whilst annoying) was a way of life. The city centre retail zone was a major target for terrorist bombs to strike at the heart of business life.

So a ring of steel was erected around Belfast City Centre. To get to the shops in the city centre, you had to go through these barriers to be searched and have your bags x-rayed. Then once inside the security zone you were searched again and metal scanned at the entrance of every shop.

The search point was divided into separate queues for Men & Women, but at least they had the grace to install a roof to keep us dry whilst queuing. After 6pm the gates were locked all night with no access through the heart of the city possible. Christmas shopping was an experience.

belfast security cordon 2
All civilians being searched before entering Belfast city centre retail security zone

On a side note, here was another entrance at a different part of the city centre. Not everything in Northern Ireland  had negative connotations. If you look at the shop sign on the left of the picture, you will notice “Primark”, Northern Ireland is actually the birth place of Primark in the 1970’s, with stores all around the province for a good 25 years before they ever ventured to the mainland. Now spreading its wings further into mainland Europe, I am sure they have been popular with many motorhomers for their inexpensive clothing 🙂

The group of searchers on the left were deployed to search buses as they approached the barriers before they drove through the controlled security area. Buses and delivery vans/lorries were the the only vehicles allowed inside the city centre security cordon.

belfast security cordon

Travelling by air was not much better. We went through security screening that makes today’s checks look like piece of cake.

There was a full security cordon with all roads around the airport permanently closed except for a single route in and out. There was a dedicated security checkpoint 2 miles outside the airport manned by police and army where your car was searched, with no stopping allowed once within this “Control Zone“.

There were luggage x-ray machines, metal detectors and full body frisk searches before you even got to enter the terminal building!

airport

Return air travel was not a walk in the park either, but was a walk all the same! Northern Ireland flights did not leave from the same part of the airport as other domestic flights.

Oh no, we had special Northern Ireland gates, usually located at the furthest end of the terminal out through an extension tunnel which felt you had already walked half way to Belfast before boarding the plane! These “special gates” had their own extra security measures in place with more x-ray machines.

Safe to say that travelling was not an enjoyable experience,

Therefore we found ourselves trapped in this little corner, and most of your free time was spent cooped up in your house with the doors locked. For many years you daren’t leave the house after dark.

Yes, we have some beautiful parts of the country to explore, but even that was ill advised during the troubles as you were not always sure what another part of the country was like for terrorism. Strangers to an area were always looked upon with great suspicion.

NI scenery
Some of the landmark sights around Northern Ireland

Added to that you have to realise why Ireland is referred to as the Emerald Isle. Being the first land mass encountered by the Gulf Stream after its journey across the Atlantic Ocean, it rains here…… a lot! Mostly you live with a thick grey permanent ceiling above you.

You are likely to head off on a beautiful sunny morning only to experience freezing driving rain just 20 miles along the road, making that picnic idea seem not so appealing. The old saying of 4 seasons in one day – we can experience that within a few hours!

So Northern Ireland is a very parochial province. People tend not to travel very much at all. We tend to live within a small geographical radius all our lives, never moving very far from were we were originally brought up, from our parents, brothers, sisters or even from our place of work. Any more than a 10 mile commute to work is a major headache.

We live in a small town about 10 miles outside Belfast and know people who have never even ventured as far as the city in their life!

For me the cycle was eventually broken by annual holidays abroad. I was 21 before I ever made it outside the UK and the annual holiday made it feel worth it to brave the airport security. Then we would lie in the sun for 2 weeks like prawns on a grill, never venture too far outside the complex then return home again and back to work.

Television and the internet have now brought the rest of the world into our living rooms, but this has also made us realise how much we have missed.

Having lived such a parochial existence it is time to get out there and experience some of the world, alternative cultures and geographical beauty, and we can think of no better way than in a motorhome to undertake economical long-term slow travel to soak up those experiences. The bucket list is growing daily including areas like the breathtaking Cappadocia in Turkey.

cappadocia

But first we will have to undertake that expensive sea crossing and grueling drive to England even to get us within reach of mainland Europe. This time though “bring it on”…..

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We are Alan and Michelle - Going Nomad. A 52 year old couple from Northern Ireland who have simplified their lives and have hit the road in their motorhome. We are sharing our travels in the hope to inspire others to find their own travel adventure.

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