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Giant's Causeway - May 2018

Giant's Causeway, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to visit the Giant’s Causeway for the first time. One of Northern Ireland’s most popular attractions, it regularly graces the ubiquitous travel bucket lists that have come to fuel our drive to explore in the internet age. The ancient tessellation of rising and falling columns against the spectacular backdrop of the North Atlantic Ocean is a photographer’s dream. The undulating pathways of hexagonal basalt, seeming to move almost like an extension of the waves themselves, are, of course, selfie-central, with tourists posing for the perfect profile pic on every perch. And why not? Why wouldn’t you want to capture your visit to this phenomenal place? Who wouldn’t be just a little bit tempted to show off? But, once you’ve got the perfect shot, don’t forget to put your phone in your pocket, take a deep breath, and really appreciate this amazing piece of natural history.

Close up of the Giant's Causeway stones

Formed by the cooling of an ancient lava flow around 50-60 million years ago, the Giant’s Causeway gets its name from a story of local legend. The tale goes that the Irish giant Fion mac Cumaill (Finn MacCool) built a bridge across the sea (corresponding geometric stones can be found on the Isle of Staffa off the west coast of Scotland) so that he could fight the Scottish giant, Benandonner. However, when Finn saw the great size of his opponent, he swiftly turned tail, pursued by the massive giant. When Benandonner arrived on the coast of Ireland, he found only Fionn’s wife, Oonagh, and her baby (Fion in disguise). Thinking that the father of this ‘baby’ must be a giant among giants, Benandonner thought better of his disagreement with Fion Mac Cumaill and returned home, destroying the bridge behind him so that his enemy would be unable to follow behind.

Tourists explore the rock formations at the Giant's Causeway

Just over an hour’s drive from the centre of Belfast, the Giant’s Causeway is the perfect day-trip if you’re staying in the capital. We set off at about 11am after a leisurely breakfast, to arrive just after midday. (NB: For the best breakfast in Belfast head to the French Village Café-Bistro, just a short walk from the Botanic Gardens and the beautiful buildings of Queen’s University.) The earlier you arrive, the smaller the crowds will be so if you’re a morning person, I’d advise getting up with the larks and heading out to the coast as soon as you’ve wiped the sleep from your eyes.

Path leading away from the Causeway

Once at the Causeway we wandered down to the rocks, enjoying the lovely scenery on the way, and spent some time climbing up and down the formation, exploring all the nooks and crannies, before taking a leisurely stroll back up to the top of the cliffs. There are a number of routes available for varying abilities, the red route is the shortest path back to the car park but has a steep climb with lots of steps. A gentler path winds its way around the side of the cliff and back. The views from up here were absolutely breathtaking and we were lucky enough to visit on a sunny day in late spring which made every colour even more vibrant – I was particularly blown away by how brilliantly blue the sea was, it could have been the Mediterranean! We spent a couple of hours here in total but you could easily take longer to explore the basalt steps and the cliff path.

View from the cliffs above the Giant's Causeway

You may be in need of some sustenance after clambering over the causeway and battling the bracing Atlantic winds on your walk along the coastal path. I can highly recommend a pit stop at The Nook, a fantastic little pub right by the entrance to the Causeway visitor centre. Housed in a converted Victorian school house, The Nook is surprisingly spacious inside and the staff run a fine-tuned and wonderfully efficient operation. We managed to get a table during the heaving lunch service but my heart sank when I saw the queue of people at the bar, all ordering food before us. However, I and my rumbling stomach were delighted to find that the food came flying out of the kitchen and was none the poorer for its rapid arrival. We all enjoyed our food, from simple but delicious sandwiches to hearty home-made chowder and beefy burgers, but the real star of the show was The Nook’s scampi: the big, juicy pieces of prawn freshly battered and fried to crispy, golden perfection had one member of our party in absolute raptures!

Clockwise from top left: Dunluce Castle, Belfast Botanic Gardens, Carrick-a-rede, Titanic experience.

Whiskey-lovers (it’s whisky without the ‘e’ in Scotland) should book in a tour at the Bushmills Distillery which is just few minutes from the Giant’s Causeway. The vertigo-inducing Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge is also close by, as are the romantic ruins of Dunluce Castle, perched on a cliff-edge right above the sea. Blackrock House is a great option for those who’d prefer to stay out of the city, with gorgeous accommodation in a charming seaside location and perfectly placed to enjoy a round or two at the famous Royal Portrush Golf Club. With so much to do in Belfast (for history enthusiasts the Titanic experience is a must) and around, from the gorgeous Glens of Antrim and all along the Causeway Coast, a trip to County Antrim, whether as part of a larger tour or just a weekend break, won’t disappoint.

Read more about my travels in Northern Ireland or take a look at our inspirational itineraries for more ideas. Give us a call on 0344 847 5004 or send an email to destinations@travelb.co.uk to discuss your travel plans.

 

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