Sunday was a day when I had deliberately not planned much. Not that I am a Sabbatarian or anything, I always prefer Sunday to be a quieter day, partly because my other day off (Friday) tends to get monopolised a lot of the time. When I was away was no exception. I woke up, had breakfast, sat in the Botanic Gardens for a bit then spent a wonderful morning in the Ulster Museum as written about here.
After that, the day was up for grabs. I had thought about going on a road trip, possibly to Derry-Londonderry or maybe the Giant’s Causeway but realised that since I was going to be travelling to Dublin the next day then home the day after, it was probably worth not going so far. So, I went to Cultra instead, about 7 miles outside Belfast or as my friend put it, like going from Edinburgh to Prestonpans. To get there required using the Northern Ireland railway network, like most parts of transport run by Translink (state-owned, people), which I had never done before. I rocked up to Botanic Station and got a return for about £3.60 on a small strip of paper. None of this printed on orange and yellow card nonsense. I sat on the platform and watched the world go by then realised that the PA announcements for NI Railways, at least the stations, are done in a London accent, in fact by the same voice you hear in big stations in the UK. The rendering of words like Cultra and Bangor was hilarious. (In Scotland’s big railway stations, we have a Glaswegian voice whose pronunciation of Morpeth, in Northumberland, makes me cringe.) Anyway, I boarded a clean and snazzy train (where the announcements were done by the wonderful (and Belfast-born) Kathy Clugston, who is a continuity announcer on Radio 4. You should hear her do the Shipping Forecast) and headed out to Cultra.
Cultra houses the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum and I had hoped to do both. Unfortunately I only got there at 2pm and the woman at the ticket desk said I would only have time for one. Thinking on my feet, I said ‘Transport’, paid the admission fee and walked in. She was right. I was in the Transport Museum until shutting time. The first thing you see as you enter on a raised walkway is a massive train shed, full of trains. Trains! The train geek in me came out with my camera as I walked around the place, reading the panels and climbing onto some of the locomotives. It was excellent, really something else.
But that wasn’t all. The building was on three levels, starting with trains then working through buses and vans then finally cars. The second level was reached through an exhibition about the Titanic, though I gave that a bye since it’s kind of everywhere in Belfast. Buses and trams sat on an old street, which was pretty fabulous, as was the third level, which featured a Volkswagen Beetle (I was nearly born in one of those but that’s another story) and a DeLorean, known to most of the visitors as ‘the car out of Back to the Future‘, which still looks cool and space-age. This level also featured a recreated old mechanics’ garage, in 1920s style, which was full of details. I am not a car person but I thought it was very well done.
Down the road a bit was one final building, which featured a gallimaufry of different bits, including racing cars, a cool traveller’s caravan and a set of sedan chairs, which in Belfast were used in the 19th century to convey folk to parties, shows at the feature and, get this, church. Those Ulster Protestants never fail to surprise you, just as the church near where I was staying, the Fisherwick Presbyterian, had no less than a Facebook page and an app. An app! 21st century living, right enough.
Even though I only saw the Transport bit of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, I was thoroughly impressed. There was a great range of people cutting about, including tourists and local people complete with local accents, including one little boy who was getting a telling-off from his dad for telling the storyteller ‘I like boobies’. Child psychology right there.
I am sometimes guilty of comparing places to other places. That’s a natural part of thinking since it is often said that we learn by comparison and putting things in perspective as part of a wider picture. I expected the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum to be like Beamish, the vast open-air museum in County Durham, though really it was like itself, proudly showing off the history of the place and its collection, bringing up memories and capturing a bygone age. Plus it has a DeLorean so the future’s covered too.