The coast road that runs northwest from Belfast is striking as it hugs the edge of the land and runs through towns and villages.
The castle at Carrickfergus appears on the skyline as you approach the town. A stone fortress overlooking Belfast Lough as it opens to the Irish Sea. The castle has 800 years of history up to WWII, besieged over time by the Scots, Irish, English and French. Beside the castle is a pretty harbour and marina. It was all very quiet and sleepy, not much happens on a Sunday here.
The road runs inland for a while but between Larne and Cushendall it is right on the edge of the land, with alternative meadows, rocks, cliffs on one side and sea on the other side. The views of the coast ahead are stunning, with headlands, coves, some small beaches, villages on the way. Galloway and the Mull of Kintyre are visible across The Straits of Moyle. I hadn’t realised just how close Scotland is to Ireland. The road cuts across the moors to Ballycastle, a nice little town with park overlooking river and beach, with more stunning views back along the coast.
Carrick-a-Rede was an unexpected delight. A rope bridge links Carrick Island to the mainland. Atlantic salmon have been fished in this region for over three hundred years and fisherman strung a rope bridge thirty meters above the sea and rocks to get to the migrating salmon. Access is via a section of coastal path, with lookout points, wildlife, plants and some steep steps along the way.
For someone who does not like walking on piers, slatted steps, or anything see-through, the rope bridge was a challenge but worth the effort for the views. I followed the oldies rather than the group of lads who were happy to lark about, jump and sway the bridge as much as possible. The northern coastline is spectacular and we were lucky to have good weather so the blues of the sea and sky were vivid contrast to the rocks, fields and heathland. The most northerly part of Ireland is actually in Southern Ireland, the Republic, in County Donegal.
The Giant’s Causeway was one of our main reasons to visit Northern Island and it surpassed our expectations. Entrance to the causeway is through an informative visitors center. The audio guides provided history, background and myth as we walked the sloping winding road down to the causeway itself. It is hidden for much to the approach, and is simply stunning once you do get there.
The causeway is made up of thousands of basalt columns, mostly hexagonal but some with more or fewer edges. These basalt rocks formed from molten lava that cooled slowly, cracked on the surface but also through the depth of the columns. The columns are at various heights, some with convex surface, others concave. It is just fascinating to walk across the causeway, climb the different angles and columns that make up this natural pavement.
There are similar basalt columns at Fingal’s Cave on the Scottish island of Staffa. Legend tells the story of the Irish giant Finn and his Scottish rival Benandonner, how Finn built the causeway so he could step across the sea without getting his feet wet. However, when Finn saw the other giant he hurried back home afraid and hid, disguised as a baby. Benandonner gave chase, but on seeing the size of the baby, he assumed the father must be a gigantic giant, so he fled back to Scotland in terror, ripping up the causeway as he went.
Our final stop on this northern section of coastline was the ruins of Dunluce Castle. The castle sits precariously on a headland, has medieval history before it was abandoned in the seventeenth century when part of the castle fell into the sea during a storm.