I’ve been very fortunate (and privileged) to have visited many places of interest all over the world: Machu Picchu in Peru; the temples of Tikal and Angkor Wat in Guatemala and Cambodia, respectively; some of the world’s iconic cities like New York, Sydney, and Hong Kong, to name just three; and many of the wonderful parks and monuments throughout the USA, such as the Grand Canyon, Devil’s Tower, or Crater Lake. I’ve written about these, and many others, in this blog.
But there is one place, much closer to home, that I wanted to see as long as I can remember. And that place is the Giant’s Causeway, on the north coast of Antrim in Northern Ireland. Last week I was finally able to tick the Giant’s Causeway on my travel bucket list.
Steph and I have just returned from a week-long road trip to Northern Ireland, mainly to visit most of the properties owned by the National Trust over there. We actually got to visit nine houses, one garden, and the Giant’s Causeway.
It took a little under two hours to drive north from our guesthouse in Ardboe, beside Lough Neagh, to the Visitor Centre – mainly because we decided to take back roads to avoid the expected early morning congestion around Coleraine, and also because we missed one turn and found ourselves heading east instead of north, delaying about 15 minutes as a consequence.
It must have been around 10:30 or so when we parked, and already the site was busy. The Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and attracts visitors—by the coach-load—from all over the world, most of whom (not being National Trust members) must handsomely boost the National Trust’s finances. I was surprised to note how many Chinese visitors we met at the Causeway.
The National Trust has built a fine Visitor Centre, with its gift shop and cafeteria, and many exhibits describing the geology and history of the site.
I was surprised how much limestone and chalk can be seen on the north Antrim coast, having been protected, as it were, by an overlay of volcanic rocks. Interesting geology!
It’s the volcanic history that we see at the Giant’s Causeway, an outcrop of beautiful pentagonal and hexagonal basalt columns, stretching from the shore northwards into the incoming tide.
You have to walk just under a mile from the Visitor Centre down the cliff face to reach the Causeway itself. Fortunately, the National Trust does provide a regular shuttle bus service back up, free to members. We were happy to take the bus after wandering over the Causeway for well over an hour.
But the Causeway is not the only landscape attraction. The spectacular cliff backdrop to the landscape just adds that extra grandeur and mystery. Old Irish myths spring to mind! We also took a walk on Runkerry Head (on the left of the map below) so that we could view the Causeway from a distance through a gap in the next headland east (between Portnaboe and Port Ganny). In the far distance the crags of The Amphitheatre just add to the drama.
With some clever angles and hiding behind various basalt columns I was able to take most photos without any tourists showing, despite there being several hundred or more there at the time. I was also a little surprised at how small an area the Giant’s Causeway covered, but I guess that as the tide was in (or coming in) more would be exposed at low tide. I’m quite happy with my photos, but I have seen several more spectacular photos of the Causeway taken at dawn or sunset.
The Giant’s Causeway is certainly an impressive landscape. If you do plan a visit, do check the weather forecasts carefully. Although mainly overcast, we did have some sunny weather. Half an hour after we left, heading further east and south on the Antrim coast, the heavens opened, and visitors to another National Trust site, the Rope Bridge (where we stopped for a picnic only) were probably soaked to the skin, with the weather turning in the bat of an eyelid. Further south, the chalk is exposed at a number of points including here at Garron Point (map).