The Giant's Causeway
and the north Antrim coast
For those who haven’t seen it, the Giant's Causeway is a must-visit. This mind boggling natural phenomenon is beautiful, intimidating and generally a laugh to muck about on. It is a natural rock formation produced by ye olde volcanic activity that solidified into the shape of thousands of perfectly tessellating hexagonal pillars. It is in a remote and fairly difficult to reach part of Ireland, that happens to be riddled with some interesting sights so it is definitely worth the trip. That said – the causeway itself is not a full day's worth of activity.
The biggest mistake you can make at the causeway, is to go into the visitors centre. Oh my word, it is such a money sucking waste of time. (unless you desperately want to know the ins and outs of the types of rocks and bird species of the area). My advice is to just skip it. That will save you some time on your day trip and also £10 per person (£10 I know right!?) There is a parking charge if you drive to the causeway, but it is only a couple of pounds and the money is well earned with all of the bog land up there (seriously though, never trust your car to a muddy field in Ireland). From the car park there is a short walk or a shuttle bus to the actual rock formations, unless you have a serious physical impairment just take the walk, saves you a lot of hassle and it is only ten minutes.
The causeway itself is relatively unmarked by routes and officials so you are free to clamber around the rocks as far out as the tide allows, though I strongly advise caution as it isn’t unknown for people to be swept out to sea. If you visit in the winter, the sea is at its fiercest and also its most impressive with spectacular waves smashing against the stone providing incredible photo opportunities if you are brave enough. There are several cliff walks around the coast here that are quite scenic if you fancy a bit more exercise.
Carrick-a-rede rope bridge is an odd spot. It is a quiet little adrenalin rush that you don’t expect. It is exactly what it says it is, a rope bridge, from the mainland to a small shattered piece of island used by fishermen in bygone days. A hundred feet in the air, you walk a rather narrow, single file plank suspended on rope, honestly it’s a lot more stable than it sounds, it is carefully monitored and has been updated in recent years to be less Indiana Jones-esque. This one isn’t for those that have difficulties getting around, there is no wheelchair access as there are a lot of steps to and from the bridge. The sea comes in and out with the tides underneath the bridge and is spectacularly beautiful. The island the bridge leads to provides a taste of how life was in the not so distant past in Ireland. Be warned though, the bridge closes during more extreme weather and for most of winter.
Dunluce is a crumbling, imposing ruin half swept into the sea, half buried by grass. Weathered by time and wind and sea, it sits stubbornly perched on a cliff defying the Atlantic Ocean even after all this time. This place is a photographers dream and provides ample dramatic potential as a subject or backdrop and would be an excellent place to play with a drone. The castle was built in the 13th century and was the seat of the earls of Antrim in the 17th century and of course the history of this place is long and violent and got more ghost stories than one cares to recount.
The charm of these three attractions is their close proximity as they line up along the coast on the drive from Belfast. Also a notable stop on the drive north is Ballintoy harbour, just a low key, but rather pretty harbour, located in just the right way to the sunset. Recently it's better known as the filming location of the Iron Islands in the popular Game of Thrones series.