Belfast has got Tall Ships fever right now. On many billboards, you will find an advertisement for them. At many restaurants, you will find nautical themed menus. It’s difficult to walk down the street without seeing a child in a pirate or sailors hat.
The Tall Ships Races 2015 has been welcomed by the Lidl Belfast Titanic Maritime Festival. It is the third time Belfast has hosted this large event, first in 1991 and more recently in 2009, however, it is the first time I have visited. The event runs from 2-5 July with events for all the family, and there’s even an appearance from the Red Arrows on Sunday 5th. I was looking forward to attending the event with my parents.
Belfast City Council provided excellent transport options with Translink NI. For £2.50 each, we were able to ‘park’ at the Boucher Road Playing Fields ‘and ride’ to the Tall Ships. Buses run constantly and we were able to purchase an official programme for £5 here. There are also shuttles operating from Airport Road West and Wellington Place in Belfast city centre.
Don’t think it’s Captain Jack!
We arrived at the drop-off area in Pollock Dock at 12.30 and although the event was only open 15 minutes, there were already queues to get on all the ships (some of which did not open for another hour). I am not one to queue unnecessarily, so we walked across to the BBC experience. Here, there was an area where you could see how the Raspberry Pi is used to construct weather stations within schools. Barra Best was also on hand, explaining jet streams and weather fronts. We also found ourselves taking part in a nautical drama for radio.
Next up, we got to use some Viking paraphernalia. This is where Dad released his inner child, and I got to play with a sword without being told off.
The first ship we boarded was ‘Belle Poule’ a Class B ship from France. It is a naval schooner that launched in 1932. It was seized by the United Kingdom in 1940. It then served the Free French forces during the Second World War. The queue was short and moved quickly. The ship itself has some great opportunities for taking photographs and the crew were very friendly. They didn’t even laugh at my dodgy French.
Beside the Belle Poule was the HMS Northumberland. The queue was much longer and a bag search is required upon entry. This ship is a Type 23 Frigate in the Royal Navy and first entered service in 1994. It has been deployed to the Falklands, the Caribbean and has completed anti-piracy work in the Gulf of Aden. It’s fascinating to see all the guns. The Union Jack was flying at half mast today for the official day of mourning for victims of the terrible attack in Tunisia last week. This ship had great views of the other tall ships.
There are Translink shuttle buses which run between the two main areas Pollock Dock and Queen’s Quay, however, there are many events between these areas that I did not want to miss out. It is easy to walk these areas (it’s advisable to wear sensible shoes though). In York Dock, one will find Alexander von Humboldt II, a German ship in the Class A race. It was made to replace Alexander von Humboldt in 2011 and is a civilian square-rigger used primarily for sail training. This large ship took time to walk around and it offered great views of the Titanic Belfast.
The flow followed past Barrow Square where many children were playing Victorian games. More ships are docked at Donegall Quay. The area outside Belfast Harbour Commissioners was unrecognisable with an Artisan Market. Here we relaxed with a coffee and a muffin. A break was well deserved! The walk to Queen’s Quay was not a short one, but thousands of people were walking to and from there. The Lagan Weir (the bane of my geography GCSE) has never looked so busy and it was made more so by the buskers playing great music along the way.
A well-deserved break and the busy Lagan Weir Walkway
You could hear the activities before you could see them. The Heineken Sea Sounds was in full flow but took a break as I was walking by. Queen’s Quay was brimming with people. I found it to be a lot busier than Pollock Dock. The Odyssey/SSE Arena was thriving as well. The arena car park held the gem of the festival for me. Was it the stage with the live music and entertainment? No. The fairground with the thrilling rides? No. It was the Lidl tent. I have no pictures of the tent because we were all too busy devouring samples of local food. In a matter of minutes I had eaten chicken curry, apple pancake, black pepper sausage among others all washed down with a mixed berry smoothie. It was clear that Lidl is showcasing their Northern Irish produce.
After walking around the fairground, we realised our feet were hurting and it was probably best to call it a day. We used the Inter-Event shuttle to get back to the Park and Ride pick-up point. The Boucher Road pick up point is not where is says it is on the map. Marshals will guide you to the new pick up area. Again, buses were constantly running and we were back at the Boucher Road in no time.
I had a fantastic day, as did my parents (although they were getting cranky at points, but I fed them and they were fine). The one problem I had was that there was too much to do. I hope to rectify this by making another visit. The highlight of Saturday for me will be the firework display and how could I forget the Red Arrows.
Did you go to the Tall Ships? What was your favourite part of it?