If you go across the sea to Ireland…..

If you go across the sea to Ireland, then catch the Stena Superfast ferry from Cairnryan, in scenic south-west Scotland, across the North Channel, and right into bustling Belfast, a city that's much more than a ferry gateway to the Emerald Isle. 

I must have made the 2hours 45minutes voyage many times on my way to and from the ancestral homeland in Donegal, but it's a sail that never ceases to impress, right from the minute you step or drive aboard. for Loch Ryan Port is siuated at the head of sheltered and pretty Loch Ryan itself, and, as the boat casts off, comfortably filled with foot passengers, rail and bus transfer passengers, car drivers and their freight units by the score, the scenery opens out and you're on your way. 

Just out of the Loch, look up the rugged Scottish coast towards Girvan and Knock Dollian, which stands sentinel over the attractive village of Ballantrae, while, out at sea, agaisnt a background of the Mull of Kintyre, you'll see the stark volcanic plug of Ailsa Craig. 

Better known as "Paddy's Milestone", as it was roughly halfway to Glasgow for the Irish boats ofthe past, and marvel at this bird sanctuary and the source of curling stones used all over the world. 

As the ship slips past Corsewall Point lighthouse, which guards the starkly rocky, Galloway shore, it's time ti head down below and explore the shop, coffee bars, cinema and plush lounges. And, perhaps, time, too, to head for the restaurant, which offers a tasty and healthy menu to suit all palates, although, I have to confess that I am partial to the famous Stena Breakfast Bap, if I'm on an early sailing, for it's an Ulster Fry in a roll for a reasonable price. Now who could resist that?! 

Back up on deck, it's time to look west and to see the outline of the Antrim coast forming up. look north, as far at Fair Head at Ballycastle, while, to the south, you can see all the way down to Game of Thrones country, near the Mountains of Mourne. 

It's as if your Irish holiday has started already, and your rock-steady, Superfast ferry makes her way across the North Channel, the proximity of land on both sides, underscores the close links that have always tied Scotland and IReland together. 

Soon, it's into the mouth of Belfast Lough, past the Copeland Islands, whose lighthouse is clearly visible from the Galloway coast on clear nights, and on up the Lough to berth at Stena's modern terminal. Once off the boat, after a quick and easy unloading, I'll normally make for the M2, and drive straight to Donegal, via Derry. And, if you want to go south to Dublin, the Stena terminal's well connected, and a quick foray onto the Belfast moteroway system, and a riun down the Westlink, soon has you well on the way towards the fair city. 

It's the same with Northern Ireland's well-known attractions, such as the Giant's Causeway, the mystical and magic places where Games of Thrones is shot, the historic, walled city of Derry or the new Seamus Heaney heritage centre, up in the Sperrin Mountains: all are easily reachable from the ferry berth.

But, maybe you jsut want to stop off in Belfast itself. And you won't be disappointed. Visit the world-leading Titanic experience; visit the last White Star ship in existence, in the shape of SS Nomadic, essentially RMS Titanic's wee sister; climb aboard HMS Caroline, the last, surviving ship to have fought at the battle of jutland, or jsut soak up the atmosphere in the city's Titanic Quarter.

Shoppers will be delighted by a stroll down Royal Avenue, Belfast City Hall offer tours of its Victorian grandeur, while the Ulster Museum tells the story of the life and times of Belfast and Northern Ireland. The history of more recent times is graphically told oin the gable ends of houses in the Irish Nationalsit Falls and the British Loyalists Shankill road areas, and you can marvel at the sheer artistry on show, while reflecting on everything from the Hunger Strikers to today's ongoing peace process.

So, sail Stena from Cairnryan. On the return trip, I usually enjoy an excellent Stena fish and chips, the chef's signature dish, and, to help you relax, there's the ship's Pure Nordic Spa and sauna, for a piece of top dck personal pampering.

All too soon, it's time to disembark on the Scottish shore, but you take with you memories of your Irish trip and a promise to sail again soon. My next trip's booked already! 

(Hugh Dougherty sailed courtesy of Stena Line at: www.stenaline.co.uk)