Before the daily routine of the New Year properly takes hold and our seasonal gaieties lose their grip, let’s pause and ponder some pages from last year’s explorations.

The most widespread Christmas presence is nostalgia, and as the late, great, Pulitzer-nominated American journalist Doug Larson once wrote - “nostalgia is a file that removes the rough edges from the good old days.”

There were many ‘good old days’ on these pages last year, along with some intriguing life-stories (with and without rough edges!) and reports from local places-of-interest and further afield.

There was a highlight which I greatly cherished at the end of January, when top travel-writer Fionn Davenport was guest-speaker at Tourism NI’s ‘Journey of Rediscovery’ event in Belfast.

Besides abundant broadcasts, Davenport has written for The Lonely Planet for around two decades and compiled Northern Ireland’s nomination in the leading travel-guide organisation’s ‘Best in Travel 2018’.

“This has elevated Northern Ireland to the top of global travellers’ must-visit list this year” said Tourism NI’s Orla Farren in her introduction to ‘Journey of Rediscovery’.

The event, held to celebrate “the world’s best region to visit in 2018” was a showcase of the remarkable visitor attractions and cultural experiences that are on our own doorstep.

During his speech Fionn Davenport posed the most important question that can be asked of any destination - “Does it meet or exceed expectations?”

His answer “Northern Ireland exceeds expectations” was immediately followed by a commendation that made me feel extremely proud.

Along with the “delights of Belfast’s vibrant Titanic Quarter, home to a sensational museum”, and the Causeway Coast’s “timeless beauty and some of the world’s most famous rocks” Mr Davenport particularly stressed “I love the lakes of Fermanagh”!

Profound approval indeed from a greatly-respected, professional traveller who has written eloquently and authoritatively about top tourist locations and less-visited ‘hidden gems’ in every corner of the world!

Shortly after the January tourism event I followed Fermanagh to Birmingham, where Fionn’s words were admirably confirmed.

At the Heritage Railway Association’s prestigious annual awards ceremony in the city’s plush MacDonald Burlington Hotel, Whitehead’s well-established Railway Museum got the top prize but Enniskillen’s little Headhunters Railway Museum was runner-up in the Outstanding Achievement category.

“Unique for its barber shop venue” Headhunters was nominated “for marking the 60th anniversary of the closure of railways in Fermanagh.”

Regular readers of this column will recall my report in September 2017 about Headhunters’ evocative anniversary bus-tour of former railway stations in Tyrone, Leitrim, Fermanagh and Cavan, in memory of their closure in 1957.

It was a trip through history and scenery that are second to none!

Last April’s intriguing tale about Enniskillen being the first town in the whole of the UK and Ireland to celebrate WWI’s Armistice is now well-known following the recent Centenary Commemorations.

The historic accolade came after a vigilant wireless operator in the military barracks picked up a faint, pre-dawn Morse code signal from France stating that the Armistice had just been signed.

“Enniskillen First of All!” the Impartial Reporter announced back in 1918 - “the glad news of the signing of the Armistice was known three hours earlier in Enniskillen than Belfast, Derry, Dublin or even in London itself.”

My tour of Fermanagh’s unique railway heritage sites was in a modern, air-conditioned bus, unlike my ‘Awesome Walk on the Wild Side’ in May!

The 1.2-mile-long, spectacular, historic, Gobbins cliff-clinging coastal walk near Islandmagee, with its museum, visitor centre and café, had just been reopened following upgrades and extensions to the pathway.

The late, great, local travel-writer and thespian Richard Hayward swooned at the Gobbins - “whatever you do, don’t miss the mile of wonder.”

He described the rocky coastline “pierced and fretted by the tireless sea” and when the walkway was first chiselled from the cliffs in 1902, renowned traveller William J Fennell enthused about the “many strange fantastic forms beaten into deep recesses, worked out into islands and hollowed into caves. There is nothing, in short nothing, like the Gobbins,” stressed Fennell, “anywhere else in the world.”

This column focuses on exploring the three ‘p’s - people, places and the past, and along with visiting Greyabbey’s ancient Cistercian monastery and recounting Holywood’s fascinating military past in the town’s Palace Barracks, it was strangely enthralling to read about Rostrevor’s General Robert Ross in September, on a monument commemorating him erected in the town in 1826 - “he conquered in America…attacked and dispersed the American forces…victoriously entered Washington” …where he burned down the White House!

That was in August 1814, and there’s a twist in the tale to end my look-back at a year of exploring.

Irishman Ross burned down the White House, but it was designed and built in the late 1700s by architect James Hoban, from Kilkenny.

And following General Ross’s handiwork, Hoban was awarded the contract to rebuild it!