The Causeway Coast in County Antrim has to one of the most spectacular stretches of coastline anywhere in these islands. I’d wanted to visit the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede for some time, and with the walk between them being somewhere in the region of 10 miles, it seemed a good plan to walk from the one to the other, using the helpful bus service to make the journey in the opposite direction. Things didn’t look too promising when we alighted from the bus at the Causeway; the rain was heavier and more persistent than the forecast had suggested and didn’t seem to be in too much of a hurry to move on. Undaunted, we headed down to the Causeway itself, telling ourselves that it was better to come on a wet and windy day, as this would keep some of the tourists away, and make the sea more dramatic. The Giant’s Causeway seems to divide opinion – I’d been told by some people that it was disappointing, while others had said it was one of the most spectacular sights they’d seen. I suppose it all depends on what you’re expecting. Personally, I thought it was amazing. It may be relatively small, but what really impresses is the regularity of the formations. Legend has it that the Causeway was created by the Celtic giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (or Finn MacCool), so that he could fight his Scottish counterpart, Benandonner. Perhaps this story was inspired by the presence of very similar formations on Staffa in the Inner Hebrides. After all, at that time, it would have been much easier for the people of Antrim to travel to the Hebrides than to the rest of Ireland. However, scientists now tell us that the 40 000 hexagonal columns are the result of a vertical breakage pattern in a cooling basaltic lava flow.
Although the Causeway is the highlight of this stretch of coastline, there are many fascinating formations to be found elsewhere. Just beyond the Causeway is the Giant’s Boot, and beyond that, the Organ Pipes and the Chimney Tops.
Unfortunately, the exciting traverse path (visible on the above photo) is closed from a point just before the Chimney Tops are reached, due to land slippage. We therefore had to turn around and ascend to the clifftops via the Shepherds Steps. The cliff path is still a fantastic walk, though the lower path looks even better, and it’s sufficiently obvious that I think some daredevils must disregard the signs and barriers and use it regardless.
Luckily, the weather improved considerably shortly after we set out along the clifftops, and sun even began to shine! Not so luckily, a couple of wet spots went unnoticed on the camera lens for a while, so some of the pictures are slightly spoiled by this.
The visibility even improved enough at time to allow us glimpses of Islay, with Rathlin was also being in view for much of the route.
The whole route is so spectacular that it was hard to know when to stop taking photographs. Here is just a selection from the next section, as we headed for Dunseverick Castle. There isn’t much left of Dunseverick Castle these days, but the setting is impressive enough.
Beyond Dunseverick Harbour, another section of the route has had to be re-routed due to land slippage. Rather foolishly, we mistook the new path for the road-walking diversion that had been in place during its construction, and so ended up on the old path which although passable, was certainly rather awkward. Shortly after this point, the path passes through a natural tunnel, which gives a lovely view of the wide sandy sweep of White Park Bay.
The next stage of the walk is a rather awkward clamber across slippery rocks, before crossing the full length of White Park Bay to reach Ballintoy. Beyond Ballintoy, the coast coast is left (though only briefly) for the only time in the entire route, before rejoining it for the last half mile to Carrick-a-Rede.
We arrived at Carrick-a-Rede to discover that the rope bridge had already closed for the day, which was a shame as this would have made a fantastic finale to the walk. Luckily, all was not lost as we were able to return the next morning, which at least meant that we were able to devote the time it deserved.
The rope bridge was originally constructed to allow salmon fishermen to access the tiny island of Carrick-a-Rede, which lies on the migration route for Atlantic salmon (hence the name, which means ‘rock in the road’ in Scottish Gaelic). It has now been in use for around 300 years. It certainly makes a wonderful end point for this magnificent and varied walk along the north Antrim coast.
Some photos by Georgina Collins.