Today I will begin my adventure to the Giant Causeway, a must-visit tourist attraction in Northern Ireland. Joining one of the local tour company in Belfast city called Irish Tour Tickets Limited. I arrive at their office to collect the visitor ticket at Great Victoria Street, just right opposite Belfast Opera House.
At 9 a.m., I meet up with the guide, Frank who will also be the driver of this trip with other 36 tourists outside the opera house. Depart from the city as schedule while making our way to the Giant Causeway. The journey takes about one hour and 15 minutes. I always love the scenic view of the countryside, pass through farmlands and small towns.
Once arrive at its entrance, we will first enter its visitor center which was rebuilt in 2012 and has exhibits, cafes and gifts shop inside. The causeway is about half a mile from the center but the pathway is relatively easy to walk and only takes me 20 minutes. Alternatively, there is a shuttle bus running frequently and just cost £1 per way. Getting down there by foot allows me to take plenty of photos and can enjoy the scenic view of nature and cool breeze.
The causeway was declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, a national nature reserve and the fourth greatest natural wonder in the United Kingdom. There are about 40,000 basalt columns caused by intense volcanic activity some 50-60 million years ago. The tops of the columns from the stepping stones lead from the cliff foot and disappear into the sea.
Most of the columns are hexagonal but there are some with four, five, seven and sides which I find them very fascinating. The tallest are about 12 meters high and the most solid lava in the cliffs is about 28 meters thick. Climbing and walking on the columns may seem scary and dangerous at first, soon later will just hang on to it.
According to legend, the columns are the remains of a causeway built by an Irish giant named Fionn mac Cumhaill, from the Fenian Cycle of Gaelic mythology. The Scottish giant Benandonner ask to challenge a fight with Fionn and he accepted it. Fionn built the causeway across the North Channel so both of them can meet. However, Fionn went into hiding when he noticed his size is much smaller than Benandonner. Fionn’s wife, Oonagh disguise Fionn as a baby and tucks him in a cradle.
When Benandonner sees the size of the ‘baby’, he thought that its father, Fionn must be a giant among giants. He quickly flees back to Scotland and destroyed the causeway so he can’t be chased. Across the sea, there are identical basalt columns at Fingal’s Cave on the Scottish Isle of Staffa and that story was influenced by this.
As we are waiting for our bus driver to pick us up, I was few groups of people had just arrived by buses and the crowd started to increase. Luckily we do not need to join the pack too. We continue our journey through the coastline of Antrim heading to Bushmills. We make a 10-minutes stop to see the ruin of Dunluce Castle from a near distance. It was built by the MacQuillan family around 1500s. It was seized under the leadership of the famous warrior chieftain Sorely Boy MacDonnell during the era of violence, intrigue and rebellion in the 1550’s.
Dunluce was the seat of the earls of this county and a small town was established in 1608. A tragic incident occurred when the castle kitchens fell into the sea during one stormy night in 1639. A boy belonged to one of the cooks was the sole survivor in the tragedy.
Bushmills town lies its famous Old Bushmills Distillery. It was been established in 1608 and its whiskey is made only in small batches on its site. Bushmills was one of the first distilleries in the world to produce both single malts and blended whiskeys in copper pot stills. Unfortunately, there is not enough time to spend and see the process of the whiskey making which is an hour tour.
During our break time, I walk into the Gift and Whiskey Shop to get some souvenirs before getting my lunch. They sell a range of whiskeys here and have to say the prices are quite expensive and starting around £200 per bottle. When I enter the Distillery Kitchen Restaurant, the essence of whiskey was so strong that can be smelled in the entire place.
Crispy chicken tender is my lunch that served with fresh salad and potato wedges and also Whiskey cheesecake as my dessert. Yup, feeling so hungry and greedy too. Have to admit that my stomach is almost full, but after tasting this delicious cake, I could continue eating till finishing it. Unlike any cake with whiskey taste, this is one of the best I ever had for a very long time. The whiskey has been blended smoothly into the cake and each bite I take can get the taste of the great whiskey. The meals just cost £14.50 (£8 for the chicken tender and £6.50 for the cake) which find it reasonable.
After lunch, we visit the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge. The distance is about one kilometer from the parking area and takes about 15 minutes walk. Back in the day, there was made only with a single handrope, swinging 100 feet above the sea. Yet, the fishermen crossed this 60 feet rope bridge and carried their salmons and fishing gears without any fear with the use of only one hand to guide them over.
During the summer, they will raise up the bridge in preparation of the fishing activities and a hundred men were hired to for the fisheries. Nets were originally set by boat, while one end attached to the land and the rest spread out in an arc to trap the Atlantic salmons. The fishermen are able to catch up to 300 fishes each day.
Right below the bridge is the mouth of an ancient volcano that was erupted over 60 million years ago. The dark rock is basalt, a cooled lava forming a wide, vertical pillar up through the white chalk.
I brave my heart out to cross the bridge to the island. Turns out, it is not scary as I thought and is worth the challenge. Nonetheless when I make my way back from the island, there is a group of three ladies who take almost 10 minutes to walk across to our side of the bridge. I am thinking: ‘Oh my Gosh! Seriously how long are you ladies going to take?’ Ended up, a family of three from my tour group and I need to rush back to the bus and cause us to depart slightly late.
Soon after leaving the site, we drive through a few small villages and towns in the Causeway Coast and Glens districts, namely Cushendall, Glenariff and Cushendun. This Glens of Antrim has many stunning sceneries with untouched nature and only small settlements with less than 1,500 people.
Firstly, we arrive at Cushendun, a small coastal village that lies at the mouth of the River Dun and Glendun. The weather is pretty clear and Scotland is just across the North Channel, about 25 kilometers from here which is visible to my eyes.
Within a short distance are Cushendall and Glenariff, a historic town once a settlement in the 19th century on the north bank of River Dall. The town has four original streets with Irish Georgian buildings built around it.
After taking a long route through the villages of the Glens, finally making a stop at Carnlough town for 15 minutes to get our legs stretch and take a toilet break. I quickly get across the road to the harbor to take some photos and its view is wonderful. The harbor was built by the owners of the quarries west and was connected with a mineral tramway network include a bridge over two parallel street of the village, now still remain today. The harbor was recently used by small fishing boats and see many locals enjoy angling along the shores.
We take a glimpse at the last tourist attraction of the tour at Carrickfergus Castle before heading back to Belfast. This Norman Irish castle was built in 1177 and has been occupied by the Scottish, Irish, English and French, playing an important military role until 1928. It remains one of the best preserved medieval structures in Northern Ireland.
- If you are visiting the Giant Causeway by yourself or in a small group, it is advisable to go early in the morning or late evening. You can avoid the large crowd and enjoy discounted rate.
- The ocean tide at the causeway can be strong, so always keep a distance from the water all the time.
- You can walk along the path of Carrick-a-Rede for free, but need to pay an entrance fee of £8 to cross the rope bridge to the island.
- The Giant Causeway is located in Northern Ireland which is part of the United Kingdom. The currency used is Pound sterling, not Euro.
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