Continuing his countdown to City of Culture 2013, GARBHAN DOWNEY looks at the very best of what Derry and its hinterlands have to offer....
Our good friends at Derry Visitor and Convention Bureau have an annual presence at the World Travel Market in London.
And this week they invited Culture Company to share their stall at the Excel Centre and take part in what is possibly the planet’s biggest tourism gathering.
Those who’ve visited Excel will know I’m not exaggerating. For those who haven’t, suffice it to say that the capacity of the two halls is about 100,000 square metres and more than a quarter of a million people pass through the doors over the four-day event.
Anything remotely connected with travel is there – from tour operators to communications companies. And every brand has a table or shop front, from the smallest of hotels to the largest of countries.
There are, as I witnessed, many different ways to improve your pitch – from drafting in celebrities, like one Middle Eastern airline who jetted in Dannii Minogue and Patrick Vieira, to handing out free gifts, like the US who gave every visitor a free wallet and pen. (True story, Vieira was two or three stalls down from Miss Indonesia. There were maybe thirty photographers swarming around him fighting to get the best picture, while the Far East beauty queen was left looking at her nails.)
Many exhibitors used costumes to better make their point, some of which were very effective - such as the Belfast brand managers who dressed two models in Titanic-style nautical wear. Other livery, I have to say, wasn’t quite so successful – as in the case of the Cypriot delegation, who could only be approached wearing sunglasses, so garishly orange were their ties. And apologies, that should really read ‘ORANGE’.
DVCB are no slouches in the marketing stakes and use many tools of their own, from tailored brochures, to a slideshow showcasing Derry’s heritage offer, to the ‘Voices’ film with the Snow Patrol soundtrack, which was used as part of the City of Culture bid.
As a self-confessed list nerd, I have to say I was very taken by the number of stalls who offered 50 or 100 reasons you should sample their hospitality (personal favourite, ‘101 things to eat in Alabama before you die’). Though to be honest, when you examined them closely, none of them struck me as compelling as the reasons I’d visit here.
So, as soon as I got out the door, I sat on the Tube home with a scrap of paper and my free ‘Go USA!’ pen, starting my list for the Northwest.
Since then, a number of my colleagues have also joined in the fun – and as and from today, we’re throwing it open for all-comers on our Facebook page.
To get you started, here’s our first twenty – draft only, nothing set in stone. And when we get a hundred we’re happy with, we’ll publish a brochure or pamphlet of them for our international visitors.
1. Walk a mile-long lap of the finest old city walls in Europe. On your journey, you can visit the first Cathedral built after the reformation, numerous museums and arts centres, an Oscar-nominated multi-media complex, the pubs where the Undertones and D:Ream cut their teeth, and the public square which the US Navy marched through on their way to Normandy on D-Day.
2. Sample a bowl of stew at the Culturlann, home to the city’s Irish-speaking community and one of the most architectural significant buildings in Ireland, recently nominated for the Stirling Prize.
3. Pull a fresh salmon out of the River Faughan (but only after acquiring your fishing licence).
4. Get your photo taken at Free Derry Corner, arguably the most iconic revolutionary landmark in the world.
5. Take a ferry across Lough Swilly, home of world’s most expensive shipwreck, the SS Laurentic, which sank in 1917 carrying gold bullion worth £500m today. The Swilly was also the inspiration for the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’.
6. Nosedive into Amelia Earhart Country – visit the landing strip where the pilot completed the first solo transatlantic voyage, eighty years ago.
7. Drive off at Ballyliffin Golf Club, the first course Rory McIlroy visited after he won the US Open.
8. ‘Take a ghost-busting tour from Prehen House, where you might meet the spirit of Andrew Knox MP, to Slaghtaverty Dolmen, where the remains of Averty (Abhartach), the inspiration for Dracula are said to lie.’
9. Catch a live band or traditional seisiún – there’s music seven days a week in dozens of venues from Sandinos to Peadars to the Nerve Centre.
10. Cycle out ‘The Line’, the old railway track, which runs along the river from Derry to Letterkenny. (Bring your waterproofs as it sometimes rains over the border in Donegal.)
11. Throw a penny off the new Peace Bridge and make a wish.
12. Try the zipline slide at St Columb’s Park if you’re brave, or go squirrel and bird-spotting if you’re not. Athletes, rest assured, you have the choice of about fifty sports there as well.
13. Read the complete manuscript of James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’, handwritten onto the walls of the Verbal Arts Centre by Colin Dark and while you’re there admire the marble floor designed by Ireland’s greatest artist Louis Le Brocquy.
14. Take the youngsters for a train trip to Coleraine and back, through tunnels, along sea-cliffs and featuring views more spectacular than you’d get on the Hogwarts Express. Michael Palin has described it as one of the great train journeys of the world.
15. Meander through Ness Woods, and marvel at Ulster’s biggest waterfall and the world’s most dangerous long-jump – Shane’s Leap.
16. Put on your wetsuit and paddle a canoe around the lough at Creggan Country Park, or dip your fishing rod into the well-stocked waters there.
17. Check out the ancient stone at Long Tower Chapel, which bears the two knee-prints left from marathon prayer by our patron saint Colmcille.
18. Fly a kite on any one of a dozen unspoilt beaches within half-an-hour of the city centre. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, launch your surfboard into some of the biggest waves in Europe.
19. Visit the award-winning Tower Museum, which houses recovered wrecks from the Spanish Armada – and the coach in which the dissolute 18th century playboy John ‘Half-Hanged’ McNaughten shot and mortally wounded his fleeing lover Mary Anne Knox.
20. Read the Journal over brunch in Fiorentini’s Cafe, and finish off with their life-restoring ice-cream (secret recipe), perfect if the night before has been a little too late. Which it will have been.
·PS The Belfast contingent at World Travel Market were, needless to say, thrilled at the exposure the city had got from the MTV awards. Howard Hastings, chair of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, revealed that Bruno Mars had played piano in the Culloden Hotel (which HH owns) on the Thursday night before the ceremony. “Some people said he was even better than our usual pianist,” said Howard. “Though I’m not sure I could afford him on a residency...”