I was recently given the opportunity to experience the VIP Legends of the North Ultimate Titanic Tour in Belfast, and to share the experience with my bloggy friends and readers.
I took along my husband and 10 year old son, and we had an amazing experience.
Colin was our expert guide – a self-confessed “titanorack”!
Most people in Northern Ireland have some connection to the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast (it employed over 15000 workers at the time of the building of the Titanic) or had family who emigrated on the White Star Line ships.
A number of my father’s uncles and aunts sailed to America at the beginning of the 20th Century, including my granny (Mary McEwen (nee Archer) and her sister Deborah Simpson Archer – they sailed on the Olympic (sister ship and identical design as the Titanic (with a few additional life boats and safety modifications!) in October 1924 to New York to join their sister Sarah who by that stage was living in Philadelphia – but were deported from Ellis Island and sent back! We plan to visit New York and Ellis Island this summer, so I want to do a bit more research into why they weren’t allowed into the US. My Aunt Deborah sailed back out a couple of years later, but my granny (Mary) met my grandfather and never did travel to America.
Anyway … on with the tour.
In the comfort of his warm Mercedes (it was a freezing cold day) Colin shared the history of the land around the River Lagan, and the early days of the ship building industry in Belfast.
We first ventured outside at the Drawing Offices – the original buildings, now abandoned but fortunately not flattened like most of the other parts of the shipyard from it’s heyday.
The side sections of these gates are the original ones the workers streamed through every morning.
Inside the vast Drawing Rooms, now eerily empty are a real treat – and the only way to experience them is through a tour such as the Legends of the North. 90% of all visitors who go to the Titanic Experience miss out on this amazing part of the Titanic history.
There are plans to restore this part and convert it into an hotel, but although I appreciate it needs investment to prevent further deterioration, I must say I do love the atmosphere of peeling paint, dusty windows and faded glory.
Our tour continued with the main entrance for the wealthy customers etc – marble floors, ornate ceilings and beautiful carved wood used to illustrate the level of luxury that could be expected in the ships.
One of the most poignant parts of the tour I found was the telegraph office – with the very window through which all telegrams were passed, including those announcing the tragedy as it unfolded back in Belfast. The curved glass is very unusual.
Further down the hall we were shown a tiled floor, and with photographs of the Titanic’s Smoking Room, we could see the very same floor was used in the Titanic and Olympic. The third ship, the Britannic, was fitted out as a hospital ship and therefore didn’t need such a decorative floor, so it was used instead in the Harland and Wolff headquarters.
This staircase was beautiful, and it was easy to imagine the many designers. tracers, bookkeepers etc going up and down these stairs in days gone by. Time as been frozen (for now) and it was a privilege to see it.
We were able to get up close to the drawing desks, my son was keen to check out the ink-stained drawers.
Even the light switches were fascinating!
Another drawing office and with the use of old photographs we could again imagine the men who worked here, some of whom went down with the ship. There was a team of 8 from the shipyard on the maiden voyage, so they could address any issues the new ship might develop.
Time to venture outside again – to see the outline of where the Olympic and Titanic were launched into the water, before going to the dry dock for final fitting.
I have visited the area several times but Colin was able to point out a particular line on the ground ….
which traced the route of the Titanic ….
to the point of impact with the iceberg…..
…and on to New York, the journey it never completed.
It was time to return to the car, and travel down past the film studios (where Game of Thrones is made) to the Edwardian Pump House which as well as the original pumps, now includes a lovely coffee shop – we filled up on delicious toasted sandwiches and soup there.
On with the tour – with the pump room and boilers, and the process of how the huge dry dock was emptied of water to enable the fittings / repairs to be completed.
The dry dock has to be seen to appreciate the vastness …. the original chain fence still there …. but with slightly more solid safety rails now in place too.
Again with the use of original photos Colin explained the processes of how the dry dock functioned, pointing out the many original features still there today.
We descended the stairs against the huge door that kept out the sea when the water was pumped out. It is made from the same steel, using the same rivets they used on the Titanic and Olympic. This huge door and dry dock were still in use at the beginning of the 21st century.
On the floor of the dry dock are the same iron keel blocks the huge ships rested on.
As we headed back up the staircase, I found the silhouettes of other visitors very striking against the rust, and wonder how many thousands of men worked down here over the years.
The tour concluded as we drove back out of Queens Island, and I don’t think I will drive past the huge cranes of the shipyard without remembering some of the history we had a unique glimpse of.
Thanks so much to Colin and Legends of the North tours. It is also possible to experience the Giants Causeway or some of the stunning locations used for Game of Thrones. Check out his website or find him on Facebook.
Whether you are a local or a visiting tourist, definitely give consideration to taking this tour. Colin will pick you up from your hotel, cruise ship, or in our case our very own front door, and gives a much more personal tour than would be possible when taking part in a larger bus tour, with amazing access to one of the most intact and authentic Titanic landmarks in the world.
If you would like to read another perspective of the tour, here is my husband’s blog post on it too
They do say why we are so proud of a ship which was famous for sinking ….. but here in Northern Ireland we like to point out that she was fine when she left Belfast!
Disclaimer : Legends of the North provided our family with a complimentary tour, but I promise all opinions expressed are entirely my own.
Are you fascinated by the Titanic or her sister ships? Do you know of any family connection? What part of the tour would interest you most? Do let me know.