Having tackled the north of Scotland, York's 'Three Men in a Camper Van' needed a new challenge. They decided to circumnavigate the entire Irish coast. But they'd forgotten about Game of Thrones. BOB ADAMS reports

Last year, we tackled the Scottish 500 - a 516-mile scenic road route around the north cost of Scotland. So what should the Three Men in a Camper Van (myself and friends Richard Mannion and Andrew Barlow) do next? What better than an entire circumnavigation of the Irish coast?

That's too big a challenge to tackle in one go, perhaps. But why not do it in stages?

That's why, early this May, we set off on the first leg, aiming to start at Larne (just north of Belfast) and finish at County Donegal, the northern bit of Eire.

To do that, we first had to get our van to Ireland. That meant driving from York to Cairnryan (224 miles) then taking the ferry crossing to Larne (around two hours). Only then could we finally set off up the beautiful east coast, transected by a series of glaciated valleys known as the Glens of Antrim.

Our first stop was Carnlough Harbour. This is where we came across Game of Thrones for the first time. In fact this whole area turned out to be a GoT fest, with notice boards marking filming locations and coaches packed with Europeans and Japanese. Andrew, who hasn’t seen GoT yet, was made to re-enact some of the scenes.

Heading north to Cushendall and Cushendun we soon arrived at the top corner of Ireland and turned west to head for Ballycastle.

From Torr Head we could clearly see the Mull of Kintyre, just twelve miles away in Scotland, and got our first view of Rathlin Island. We planned to stay at Ballycastle for two nights so we could visit the island, famous for seabirds and lighthouses. We found a birth for two nights at the friendly Colliers Hall B&B. They let me sleep in the van in the yard.

You would think it would be safe living on Rathlin Island but this wasn’t the case in the past. Several massacres took place perpetrated by Vikings, English (I’m sorry to say) and Scots. The island is also the site of over forty shipwrecks.

We spent a memorable day struggling to cycle up steep hills and spotting seabirds and seals. It is a strangely beautiful place, with an eerie white light shimmering off alabaster sands. We visited the ‘upside-down’ lighthouse and RSPB centre.

Excitement was not over for the day as we had time left to visit the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, originally set up by fishermen and now teaming with tourists, some on GoT tours. Then there was the Dark Hedges, originally laid out as an avenue of beech trees leading to a country house and now famous for being the site of the Kings Road in, guess what, GoT.

The next day we set off west along the ‘causeway coast’ stopping first at Ballintoy Harbour. This turned out to be another strangely beautiful place, a land of abandoned limekilns, green hillocks and swirling seas, home to eider ducks and oyster catchers. And home to the Iron Islands in GoT.

Next up was the Giant’s Causeway. We parked at the visitor’s centre (National Trust) and walked down to view these rare rock formations, some like organ pipes, others hexagonal protrusions emerging from the waves. They were apparently formed sixty million years ago when basalt lava cracked as it cooled.

After stopping to pick up essential supplies of whiskey at the Bushmills distillery (Est. 1608) we journeyed on through Portrush (which was even then preparing to host The Open golf championships) and then on to Downhill. The ruins of the Downhill Demense were definitely worth a visit; a ruined eighteenth century mansion set on top of high cliffs complete with a temple and wonderful views of the beach far below.

The rain set in as we got back to the van and carried on to Derry and an apartment right in the old city, within the walls.

Derry turned out to be surprisingly attractive. It is set on a bend of the River Foyle and is packed with history, from a seventeenth century siege right up to the more recent ‘troubles’.

Staying within the old city, surrounded by walls nine metres thick, did feel rather odd. To get our bearings we took a walk around the walls, just under a mile long. Down below we could see the murals on the terraced houses of the Bogside, site of the ‘no-go’ area and the march on Bloody Sunday, 1972. We walked across the new Peace Bridge to Ebrington Square, where the huge barracks was closed in 2003.

Northern Ireland is a place of contrasts. It was almost a relief next morning to leave the city behind and head out into the beautiful countryside of the Inishowen Peninsula. But first we had to cross the border at Muff, barely noticeable apart from a change in speed-limit signs (in Eire they use kilometres).

We were ready for a coffee when we finally arrived at Malin Head, famous from the shipping forecast and being the most northerly point of Ireland. Travelling back to the ‘mainland’ we climbed the steep Gap of Mamore and visited the old British Fort at Dunree.

The next day we headed further into Donegal following what is now known as the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’. This well-signposted route follows the coast of Ireland for over 1500 miles from Muff to Cork.

It was still raining as we drove along the shores of Lough Swilly to Fanad Head. Because of the poor weather we headed straight for our destination that night, the small town of Dunfanaghy. At Arnold’s Hotel, a family-run establishment, a blazing fire welcomed us. Because of the weather I gratefully accepted the ‘coach-driver’s room’ at a reduced rate. I know my place.

In the evening the rain finally stopped and we visited the spectacular Horn Head, set on rising land ending at sheer 500-foot cliffs.

The forecast was good the next day, just as well as we planned to climb Mount Errigal. This 2,500 foot peak dominates the landscape from all directions south of Dunfanaghy. Just before getting to the start of the trail we turned off to look at the sublime Poisoned Glen. Its name originates from an English cartographer’s error, rather than anything more sinister.

After the climb we continued on, stopping at the West End Café in Ardara for a late lunch. The place was packed with locals. We had fish chowder with soda bread. It was here that we got recognition at last. The waitress called us ‘The Men’ and thought our choice was ‘100 per cent’. When I asked whether she had made the chowder, she said, ‘No, but I’ll take the credit’.

Next was a small detour to visit Maghera Strand, a beautiful estuary culminating in a stunning beach. Then it was on to to our destination that night, the tiny village of Malinbeg.

In the evening we walked down sixty steps to Silverstrand Beach. I fully intended to sleep in the van that night, but the hostel had plenty of spare rooms and the cost of a bed (fifteen euros) and the promise of a roaring fire beckoned.

Our final day in Donegal was spent exploring the cliffs of Slieve League. We followed the path to the summit. It became increasingly narrow and precipitous towards the end when you have to traverse the aptly named One Man’s Pass. My vertigo only just held off. Then the sun came out and we topped off a spectacular day by viewing the cliffs from below on a boat trip from Teelin.

The next day we headed east through a valley stripped bare by the peat-cutting industry. Think twice before you buy Irish Peat from your local garden centre. We then set course for Belfast, heading along the shores of Loch Erne to Enniskillen, then the fast road east and our ferry back to Cairnryan.

Next year we plan to take the next stage of our journey through Connemara to Galway. We can’t wait.