Hello and welcome to this weekend’s virtual walk. I took this trip in the summer before our 5km restrictions began,
I’m going to give our legs a bit of a rest, it’s going to be more of a road trip than a walk, as the places that I want to bring you are all a few miles apart.
So, come along with me to the North East corner of Ireland , we’re off to the Causeway coast .
The county of Antrim is one of the 6 counties that forms part of Northern Ireland, and within quite a small area there is a whole lot to see.
From my home in Dublin it’s about a three and a half hour drive to reach there, but boy is it worth the journey.
Let’s make our first stop in the village of Bushmills. It’s a pretty village, and is home to the world’s oldest licensed whiskey distillery. For over 400 years the famous whiskey – known in Irish as ” Uisce beatha ” – the water of life – has been distilled here in the old fashioned way. If we wish we can take a tour, and even buy a personalised bottle of Bushmills whiskey ; but I prefer to stop in the tea rooms for a refreshing cuppa and a scone after the long drive.
Now that we are refreshed lets head up the road for about three miles to one of the most amazing sites that mother nature has laid on for us – the Giants Causeway.
The Giant’s Causeway is an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic fissure eruption that happened about 60 million years ago. As the lava cooled, contraction occurred. Horizontal contraction fractured in a similar way to drying mud, leaving pillar like structures, which we can now see today.
It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986 and a national nature reserve in 1987 . Most of the columns form stepping stones that lead from the cliff foot and disappear under the sea. Most of the columns are hexagonal, although there are also some with four, five, seven or eight sides. The tallest are about 39 ft. high, and the solidified lava in the cliffs is 92 ft. thick in places.
According to legend, the columns are the remains of a causeway built by a giant. The story goes that the Irish giant Finn MacCool, was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Finn accepted the challenge and built the causeway across the North Channel so that the two giants could meet. In one version of the story, Finn defeats Benandonner. In another, Finn hides from Benandonner when he realises that his foe is much bigger than he is. Finn’s wife, Oonagh, disguises Finn as a baby and tucks him in a cradle. When Benandonner sees the size of the ‘baby’, he reckons that its father, Finn, must be a giant among giants. He flees back to Scotland in fright, destroying the causeway behind him so that Finn would be unable to chase him down.
We can spend an hour or two exploring this amazing landscape, and watching the mighty waves crash on the stones and listening to the cry of the sea birds.
Back into the car and lets head westwards for two miles to visit Dunluce castle. Perched high on the cliffs it’s a really impressive site .It was originally built in the 13th century, by Richard Óg de Burgh, 2nd Earl of Ulster, and has passed through many families since that time.
A local legend states that at one point, part of the kitchen next to the cliff face collapsed into the sea, after which the wife of the owner refused to live in the castle any longer. According to a legend, when the kitchen fell into the sea, only a kitchen boy survived, as he was sitting in the corner of the kitchen which did not collapse. However, the kitchen is still intact and next to the manor house. You can still see the oven, fireplace and entry ways into it. It wasn’t until some time in the 18th century that the north wall of the residence building collapsed into the sea. The east, west and south walls still stand.
Time for lunch and I can recommend the wee Cottage restaurant just beside the castle. I can promise you that Avril and her team will look after you – just mention my name !!
Now that our tummies are full after Avril’s lunch let’s re trace our route and head to yet another breathtaking site, the Carrick a Rede rope bridge. As we drive along the coastal route you can see the ocean to our north, and we might even get a glimpse of the Scottish highlands if we are lucky. Having parked our car it’s about a half mile walk down to the bridge; and if you think that you have had enough exercise by now – there is more to come – we will cross the rope bridge to Carrick island, and if it’s a bit breezy, oh boy what an adventure !!
The bridge links the mainland to the tiny island is 66 ft long and is 98 ft above the rocks below. It’s known that there has been some form of a bridge in this place for over 350 years to bring salmon fishermen to the island , and the bridge that we will use was built in 2008 . Hold the handrails tight as we sway across, and don’t forget that we have to come back too -there have been many instances where visitors, unable to face the walk back across the bridge, have had to be taken off the island by boat.
I have one more treat for you before we head home, lets visit the dark hedges. So, if you are a Game of Thrones fan you will know all about this ; and if you are like me and not a follower of this show, well it’s an amazing sight anyway.( By the way a LOT from the series was filmed in Northern Ireland ) .
Let’s drive down some winding roads for about two miles until we see this amazing row of ancient Beech trees. They were planted about 1775 by James Stuart built as part of a driveway to his new house, named Gracehill House after his wife Grace Lynd. Over 150 beech trees were planted along the entrance road to the estate, to create an imposing approach.
According to legend, the hedges are visited by a ghost called the Grey Lady, who travels the road and flits across it from tree to tree. She is claimed to be either the spirit of James Stuart’s daughter or one of the house’s maids who died mysteriously, or a spirit from an abandoned graveyard beneath the fields, who on Halloween is joined on her visitation by other spirits from the graveyard.
It’s now time to head home, and I hope that you have enjoyed visiting the amazing sites and historical landmarks that make this corner of Ireland very special.
Take care and until next time, Stephen