Retracing the steps of the Yardmen in east Belfast

By Robbie Meredith
BBC News NI Education Correspondent

image captionThe tour ventures along the lower Newtownards Road from CS Lewis Square.

Many aspects of east Belfast's history and heritage are well known.

Visitors come to see the birthplace of the Titanic, the childhood home of CS Lewis or Van Morrison's Cyprus Avenue.

But a new walking tour takes them into a less picturesque - but no less interesting - part of the east.

The Yardmen guided tour takes visitors right along the Lower Newtownards Road.

While its name is an obvious reference to the shipyards, it also takes in many other aspects of the area's working class life.

image captionTour guide Laura Spence says the tour is about the people who lived here, not just the iconic landmarks

The two and a half hour tour is led by guide Laura Spence.

"It was the people of Belfast who made it great, who turned us from a town into a city," she said.

"There's a story of what it was like to live and work in inner east Belfast which has largely been forgotten.

"There's all the story of Titanic, there's the story of CS Lewis, but the people who lived here and made this place their home, their story has to be told."

As a result the tour veered off the beaten track taking in locations like Connswater bridge, pubs, the two-up two-downs of McMaster Street and the old Templemore public baths.

"We'll be going through the wee alleys, up the side streets and through the short cuts," said Laura.

"We'll be walking in the paths and the steps and the loanins that people used.

image captionAlong the way the tour turns off the main thoroughfare to find the hidden gems

"We'll be comparing old and new and perhaps finding that today's Belfast is not always better."

On the day the BBC came along, the tour had sold out and even had to turn some people away.

The group of walkers was split between locals and visitors to the city.

All were very impressed.

"It lets people see the history and that there's more to us than the troubles," one local woman told me.

Meanwhile, a visitor from Scotland said it had shown him parts of the city he would not otherwise have seen.

image captionWatering holes were also on the tour route.

"You're getting into the actual heart of the existing communities and hearing about the communities from many years ago," he said.

"There are people on the tour who are from east Belfast and other parts of Belfast too and they're taking it all in and they're learning as well."

The Yardmen tour was a special event as part of the Eastside Arts Festival but Laura Spence said she would like to make it a regular event.

"The tours as part of the festival have all booked out, but hopefully this is something we're going to be running again and again and again to meet the interest from the people in the area," she said.

"Everybody knows someone who walked these streets and it's interesting for them to take a journey back in time and walk those steps themselves."

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