Northern Ireland – treasure hunting, cheerful people and fresh nature

I was in Northern Ireland in response to the invitation of George Toma, a Romanian settled in Portaferry. It seemed to me an unmissable opportunity to visit a geographical and cultural space that I have always felt attracted to. So I readily accepted when George issued an invitation to a mate detection party to visit him, detectors and all, in the small town on the strait at the entrance to Strangford Lough.

Incidentally, Strangford Lough comes from the Old Norse language, meaning strong gulf. The strait has the second strongest ebb tide in the world, it is said, being located in a region heavily anchored in the past of Viking invasions and colonization.

Put that alongside the gorgeous scenery, low prices, cheerful people and permissive UK metal detecting legislation and then the decision to go there is irresistible.

We found no treasure in Portaferry. The few coins picked up with the detector were close to the shore in the bay after low tide. I found common coins from 100-150 years ago, including a silver one, but very very dull and uninteresting. The treasure, however, was the trip itself.

I have the impression that trips where you go with a purpose other than visiting touristic sights are much more interesting. What do you think?

Estuary, view from our B&B

To be able to detect in the UK on public land you do not need a special permit. You just need a registration that you do online to detect metals on the shore. Britain has a very smart strategy, like many other things, when it comes to protecting cultural heritage. Amateur archaeologists in the UK have made enormous contributions to the enrichment of heritage as the discovery and reporting of treasures is encouraged.

If they discover a treasure, as defined by their specific law, the discoverer has an obligation to put up for sale to museums. If the museums think it is of interest then they buy it and the discoverer collects the benefit in case what he discovered is not on Crown land or another owner’s land. If it is another owner, share the loot with him according to the agreement.

We had the understanding of the locals, most of whom were friends with George – who by the way settled in very well in the small community, being even a local hero

Hailed as a hero

(firefighter in addition to his job in tourism. George Toma also has the advantage of a name easily understood by the British but also of a typical British aquiline nose.

That, combined with the fact that near Portaferry are some of the Games of Thrones studios, made George apply as an extra in the series. He also appeared in season 7 of the mega production as a Westerossi knight.

However, the locals asked us to have medical insurance in case something happens to us on their land. There were also a few signs with metal detecting prohibited on a certain land or another, a sign that the Irish are big fans of this sort of thing.

Besides, I knew this from home. Maybe that was the reason why I didn’t find anything of value. Even metal garbage is not so much in those landfills, as it is in Romania. Everything is nice and clean and wonderful.

An older gentleman even stopped to give us directions on where to go, past a castle, pointing out with a smile that his big brother is into this sort of thing and finds it a fascinating hobby.

4 people left Bucharest. Raul – a Rupean from Brasov near the citadel with red skin and blond hair, Adi – famous detectorist and accomplished cook, Cornel and me.

Adi is an interesting character because he chose not to work very much but to devote himself a lot to his hobbies.


He cooks more for pleasure, is available more all the time for friends and when he runs out of money he does some more but not too often in order not to spoil his zen. His skills were well liked in Portaferry. George put us in touch with a Polish man who manages a guesthouse almost for free right next to the ferry port – hence the name Portaferry.

Although we only had one room in that guesthouse, practically for 8 days, only in one was there someone else besides us, namely a group of children. For the rest of the time, I had the guesthouse at my disposal, complete with the huge kitchen and dining room. So Adi managed, helped by us, the meals of the day, hamburgers, steaks, soups and what not.. This aspect was very cool. It gave us the comfort we needed to fully enjoy all that Portaferry had to offer.

However, I didn’t eat all the meals at the guesthouse. We crossed by ferry to the other side of the town where we tasted delicious lobsters accompanied by Irish beer. BTW, Irish beer, let’s say Guinness, has nothing to do with Guinness sold in Romania. Ours is a kind of copy bent with water, left in the sun to spoil, then put in a bottle.

I landed in Dublin – Ireland and from there took a coach to Northern Ireland (UK). I thus admired the landscape, the cleanliness, the few mountains (hills) between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

We arrived in Belfast. George was waiting for us in the bus station with his car. We arrived in Portaferry, got our room (guesthouse) in reception.

The next day, a gorgeous sunrise, the sun lit up the castles across the strait. Brilliant. I went out with the detectors at low tide, on the shore. I don’t have much to say about the detection. I found some common coins of 100-150 years old but quite dull.

I also found a silver one, as I said earlier. Some coins could be seen with the naked eye among the shells, algae and endemic shore worms. They were some interesting algae with a very hard pulp (cushion) at the top filled with air I think that helped them float with the flow.

I didn’t really have an increase in treasures found, but yes to amazing landscapes.

The people were the icing on the cake of the Northern Ireland trip. Portaferry is a small town where if you go into the pub people greet you and ask where you’re from. All the people almost constantly had a satisfied smile on their faces. A small town with a baker, with a butcher, with heroes, with a postwoman, with working grannies who serve you cakes in the pub or hamburgers just because they like to do it.

George is one of the local heroes. She was adopted by the community and paid her debt to it. Although he mainly works at a hotel, he had started volunteering at the fire department. Now he’s around, paid, always has a pager with him. George saved a person from a burning house in his spare time, and on the first occasion when Prince Charles visited the area, George was one of those who met and greeted him.

Irish drunks are just like in the movies, red-faced, smiling and jovial. A fight between 2 drunks, in the evening in an alley looks like a movie from old black and white movies. They were holding their fists like in 1800 and swearing politely. I saw a drunk at the bar who was attending a folk music concert, still falling asleep but still waking up to greet the singers with a pint.

Never have I heard better and more spontaneous music than the various local bands playing in the small pubs of the small town on the banks of the Strangford estuary.

The girls didn’t shy away from talking to us. On the contrary. As we walked into the pub a bunch of girls started giggling and waving at us. The postwoman was especially eager to meet us. One evening, in the pub, I woke up with an elbow from a girl, blonde, who asked me what I was doing, where I was from, if I wanted to bump into her. She was with her mother in the pub, they both ended up under the table at the end of the evening.

I fell in love not necessarily with the girls (but yes) but with the general atmosphere of rural Northern Ireland. I don’t think such cheerful and decent people exist anywhere else in the world.

Next to Portaferry there are many houses, mansions, villas, with several hectares of land each, where people (retirees or families) manage themselves with super fine machines.

From local families, usually half of the children go to higher schools in Belfast, Dublin or the UK, half stay with the family.

I would remain home, if I was in their place.

They are small and round hills, without much vegetation, with great views of the strait.

Where the grass is greener.

The grass is green in Romania too. But in Ireland, green is on the flag, it’s on the cultural symbols and it’s everywhere.

Talking about Northern Ireland, nature knows no borders.

In Ireland, weed is on steroids. We trudged through and on the grass mats, so thick and deep that if you fell from 50m you wouldn’t be hurt.

Looking for places to hunt for Irish treasures we drove along country roads full of raspberry bushes.

But probably, the stingier sun in Ireland does not bring as much sugar to the taste of raspberries as in Romania, but these bushes stretched for miles along suburban and rural lanes and roads.

A special experience was visiting the ruins of an 18th/19th century Irish church.

The gravestones in particular had a special patina. I noticed several tombstones with masonic signs. All in all it was a great place for pictures.

We were also stopped by the police on such a road because the driver was driving slowly and stopped on the right instead of the left. In the UK insurance is for the driver, I didn’t have insurance so the police made sure the car wasn’t stolen by driving it to the owner. They were good and I didn’t get fined for it.

Of course we had to go visit the famous Games of Thrones studios. I saw pieces of Winterfell. But much more interesting are the real castles.

We also reached a cemetery on a hill, with a Gothic basilica, about which the pictures speak for themselves.

Some plates had Masonic insignia. Super mega interesting.

I visited Belfast and Dublin in the last few days, before returning to Romania.

I visited the Titanic museum in Belfast, extremely well thought out and organized. It’s worth it, it’s worth it.

It’s right in the docks where they were part of the Titanic.

I then went to Dublin, where I wandered around the city, drank Guinness until my stomach swelled.

I missed the entrance to the Guinness museum, it was too late. Anyway, I heard it’s not who knows what. Better. In the museum they show you more pictures, I heard..

But then, I have been in Dublin dozens of time after this first trip and I had the chance to visit everything I missed that time and more.

Guiness Museum

Dublin’s Antenna in the CentreBut I took several pubs in a row, enough to feel Ireland as intensely as possible and as much of the Irish air as possible to remain in my mind because it is so cool.

In Dublin the world is very relaxed. There are not so many Maghreb or Arab immigrants. I witnessed an exceptional theater play on the street, a play that addressed various topics, from Catholicism, royalism, terrorism, worldly topics.

On the streets of Dublin people are so relaxed.. Let me give you an example, in Dublin the girls are the ones who joke with you not the other way around. That, in my opinion, says a lot about the laid back and attitude of the Irish.