The Giant Causeway is a magnificent natural beauty that lies in the County Antrim on the north coast of Northern Ireland. The basalt columns were formed as the result of an ancient volcanic fissure eruption. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986.
According to legend, the columns are the remains of a causeway built by a giant. An Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill was challenged to a fight by a Scottish giant Benandonner. Fionn accepted the challenge and built the causeway across the North Channel and the two giants can meet.
Later, Fionn hides from Benandonner when he realizes that the foe is much bigger than him. He asked his wife, Sadhbh to disguise him as a baby and tucks him in a cradle.
When Benandonner notices the size of the “baby” he thought its father, Fionn, is the giant of the giants. He destroys the causeway behind him and flees back to Scotland, avoids Fionn from chasing him. There are the same basalt columns across the sea at Fingal’s Cave on the Scottish Isle of Staffa across the sea. It is believed that the story is somehow connected with the Giant Causeway.
The Giant Causeway is one of the most favorite destinations in Northern Ireland. Many tourists would take a day tour from Belfast that is the closest city to the causeway. Visitors also come all the way from Dublin, but is less preferable due to the long distance and the lesser time spent there and its surrounding attractions.
Guided tours usually leave from the famous Europa Hotel on Great Victoria Street and you can also visit other sites, including Dunluce Castle, Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge, and the Old Bushmills Distillery. The local guided tour that I joined was Irish Tour Tickets Limited was really reliable and the staff are friendly too. There are other tour operators such as Paddywagon which has good reviews from their customers.
The Fun Journey Begins
Today I will begin my adventure to the Giant Causeway, a must-visit tourist attraction in Northern Ireland by joining one of the local tour company called the Irish Tour Ticket Limited. I arrive at their office to collect the visitor ticket at Great Victoria Street, just right opposite Belfast Opera House.
Around 9 am, I meet up with the guide, Frank, who will also be the driver of this trip. There are another 36 tourists who joined the tour as well. We drove along the Causeway Coastal Route and the journey takes about 75 minutes. I always love the scenic view of the countryside, passing through farmlands and small towns.
The Giant Causeway
Once arrived at the causeway, we get to enter the visitor center which has some exhibits, cafes, and gift shop. The causeway is about half a mile away from the visitor center, but the pathway is relatively easy to walk that takes me only 20 minutes.
Alternatively, there is a shuttle bus running frequently and just the ride costs £1 one way. Getting down there on foot allows me to take plenty of photos and enjoy the scenic view of nature and cool breeze.
The causeway was declared 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 shape, but there are some with four, five, and seven-sided which I find them very fascinating. The tallest columns stand 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, but soon later will just hang on to it.
As we are waiting for our bus driver to pick us up, I saw a few groups of people had just arrived in buses and the crowd started to come in. Fortunately, we do not need to join the pack.
Travel tips: It is advisable to go early in the morning or late evening. You can avoid the large crowd and enjoy discounted rate. Always keep a distance from the water all the time because the tide can be strong and dangerous.
We continue our journey through the coastline of Antrim heading to Bushmills. On our way there, we made a 10-minute stop to see the ruin of Dunluce Castle from a near distance. The castle was built by the MacQuillan family around the 1500s that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. It was seized under the leadership of the famous warrior chieftain Sorely Boy MacDonnell during the era of violence, intrigue, and rebellion in the 1550s.
This Irish castle 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 who belonged to one of the cooks was the sole survivor of the tragedy.
The castle was used to shoot the popular TV series Game of Thrones as one of the Great Houses of Westeros. The Castle’s dramatic history of violence and rebellion matches the scandal and betrayal committed by the Greyjoys
Old Bushmills Distillery
This famous Old Bushmills Distillery in Bushmills town 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. However, 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 lunch. They sell a range of whiskeys here and have to say the prices are quite expensive with the price 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.
I had the crispy chicken tender served with fresh salad and potato wedges and Whiskey cheesecake for dessert. Yup, feeling so hungry and greedy too.
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.
Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge
After lunch, we visit the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge, about a kilometer from the parking area of the distillery. Back in the day, the rope bridge was made only with a single hand rope, swinging 100 feet above sea level. Yet, the fishermen crossed this 60-feet rope bridge to carry their salmons and fishing gears without fear with the use of only one hand to guide them over.
During the summer, they will raise up the bridge in preparation for the fishing activities, and a hundred men were hired 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 fish each day.
Right below the bridge is the mouth of an ancient volcano that erupted over 60 million years ago. The dark rock is basalt, 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.
Travel tips: Entry is free to enter the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge, but you need to pay £8 to cross the bridge.
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 a small coastal village of Cushendun 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, we make a stop at Carnlough town. 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, which connects with a mineral tramway network. There is a bridge over the two parallel streets of the village that remains intact today. Many locals enjoy angling along the shores.
We take a glimpse of 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 as it plays an important military role until 1928. It remains one of the best preserved medieval structures in Northern Ireland.
Traveling Elsewhere in United Kingdom
If you are planning for a long adventure in United Kingdom, you can check out some of my other posts: