Tuesday, 27 March 2012

A Giant with a Cause

Driving the scenic, breathtaking, Causeway Coastal Route in the most northern tip of Northern Ireland is a stunning experience & one not to be missed.  Not only littered with beautiful coast lines, but white sandy bays, cliff edge castles, golf courses & strange hexagonal columns.
Portrush, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland
Just 4.5km from Portrush heading north, Dunluce Castle perched precariously on the edge of a cliff, comes in to view.    Built 30 metres above the Atlantic and isolated from the mainland by a 6-metre chasm, Dunluce dates back to the 1200s although much of the castle was built after that time.

Dunluce Castle, Coastal Antrim, Northern Ireland
Dunluce Castle, Co. Antrim

Dunluce Castle, Co. Antrim
Every castle has a tale to tell it seems & one of this castles stories occurred in 1639 during dinnertime while a mighty storm raged outside it's thick walls.   Suddenly, part of the castle falls off the cliff & in to the ocean below, taking the kitchen quarters & the kitchen staff with it.  Yikes! 
Dunluce Castle, Northern Ireland

Dunluce Castle, Co. Antrim

Dunluce Castle, Co. Antrim
Antrim Coast, Northern Ireland

Just up the road from Dunluce, we come across Northern Ireland's most visited tourist attraction, the Giants Causeway. In New Zealand we have coastal shore phenomenons too, in the form of the Punakaiki Rocks & the Moeraki Boulders. Here in Ireland they have the Giants Causeway

The Giant's Causeway, Co. Antrim
Currently, the Causeway's Visitors Centre is undergoing major redevelopment [due open in July 2012] & car parks around the centre are limited to just a few.  We were directed to a carpark down the road & caught a shuttle bus back to the site.

Giants Causeway, Co. Antrim
From the Visitors centre we took the 20 minute walk down to the Causeway.  It was a popular option  & one not to be rushed as it was such a warm day, there was not a cloud in the sky & the scenery was beautiful.  Initially there is a steep downhill section but then it levels out to follow the coastline.   Mercifully, when we arrived at the Causeway, I see a bus picking up people to ferry them back up to the Visitors Centre.  That steep incline back, had been worrying me.  The bus trip will cost you £2. 
Giant's Causeway, Co. Antrim
The Causeway rocks really are spectacular & much more exciting up close than even the pictures I've seen of them in the past.  The Causeway consists of thousands of basalt rock pillars, mostly hexagonal in shape & its believed, up to 100 meters deep in places.
The hexagonal rock forms of the Giant's Causeway, Co. Antrim
Like our Maori Legends in New Zealand, which try to explain the creations of such strange & wonderful phenomenon, Ireland too, has a Causeway Legend.
Ireland's legend involves a warrior giant named Finn McCool who needed to get back to Scotland to his lady love. Lucky for him, there happened to be a path of hexagonal stones that crossed the sea. Although the path is now mostly washed away, the stones can still be seen in the sea all the way to Scotland apparently.  

Hexagonal shaped formations at the Causeway, Co. Antrim
However, the more likely evolutionary theory is that the Causeway was formed by volcanic activity resulting in seven separate lava flows.    Geologists traditionally date these lava flows to about 60 million years ago
Hexagonal pillars at the Giants Causeway, Antrim Coast, Northern Ireland
And for those who really want to wade into the debate about it's creation, there's always the Biblical explanation of what happened.
The sun was getting hotter & we still had another trek to do, this time to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, just a few kilometres up the road from the Causeway, situated between Ballycastle & Ballintoy. 
White Park Bay with Rathlin Island visible off the Coast, North Antrim Coast
We stopped briefly at White Park Bay to again marvel at the gorgeous coastal views & the bay's white sandy beach.  Rathlin Island, is clearly visible from the beach, with the distant shores of the Scottish islands of Jura and Islay beyond it.

The tiny settlement of Portbradden, White Park Bay, Co. Antrim
Portbradden, Co. Antrim
At the western end of White Park Bay is the small fishing hamlet of Portbradden. The village is home to St Gobbans, allegedly the smallest church on the island, although the building was originally built as a cow shed and used as such until the 1950s.  

Next stop, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.

The view back along coast trail from the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Antrim Coast

The walk to the bridge follows the cliff path for just over a kilometre & took us a good 30 minutes... ironically it was one of the hottest days experienced here at this time of the year for quite a while, so many stops along the way were had to catch our breath.  
The path is quite steep in some places with rough steps.  The spectacular views along the way made it all worthwhile. 

View of Elephant Island from the Carrick-a-Rede Coastal Pathway, North Antrim Coast

Local fishermen have kept a rope bridge here since the mid 1600s!  I am relieved to learn that the bridge we will cross is not the original.  The rope bridge is approx. 70ft across and 100ft above the sea.  It links the mainland with the tiny Carrick Island.

The Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, North Antrim Coast, Northern Ireland
Carrick a Rede Bridge, Co. Antrim
Around the final bend, your eyes catch sight of the bridge...   roped sides and 2 planks of wood.   To cross it or not, that is the question.... aww.. go on why wouldn't ya!
I have to say, it was just a little bit more scary than I was anticipating, but I made it gingerly across & then back again despite the bridge's precarious wobble.
The Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Carrick Island, Co. Antrim
The area really is beautiful.  The geology, flora and fauna have won Carrick-a-Rede many accolades.  For the bird watcher, it's a small paradise.

Birds resting on the rock face of Carrick Island nr. the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
The walk back was even more arduous as we'd both had, dare I say it, a tad too much sun by this stage - I arrived back to the car, red faced & panting like a puppy after rounding up a mob of sheep! 

On the drive back to Portrush we drove through Ballintoy as I'd heard of a Dolmen known as the Druid's Altar being near here but unfortunately, we just couldn't seem to find it, despite a couple of enquiries with local folk.  I later learned that it may have been on land some-where near White Park Bay. 

Bushmills Whiskey Distillery, Bushmills, Co. Antrim
We pass through Bushmills on the way back & decided to stop in at the famous Distillery for a look.  It was now too late for a guided tour, but we get to have a meander around the gift shop where a full range of the famous Bushmills Whiskey is on display for purchase.

It'd been a stunning day & when the sun is shining there is no place to compare to the north Antrim coast

Back in Portrush, we decide to have another meal at the Ramada Inn restaurant & retire for an early night.  There's only two more nights sleep left before we are winging our way back home to New Zealand & neither of us are looking forward to that long haul flight home again.

Small park across street from the Ramada Inn, Portrush, Co. Antrim
View from our accommodation at the Ramada Inn, Portrush, Co. Antrim

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