After Donegal our route took us north and west towards the town of Ballycastle in Northern Ireland. Our apartment, Molly’s Loft, was 10 minutes south of Ballycastle surrounded by quiet farmlands with fabulous views of the hills, and close to many attractions on the coast of Northern Ireland. Our weather improved during the week and we had less rain so we were able to get out sightseeing more often.
GIANTS CAUSEWAY ( Clochán an Aifir) was the most anticipated site we had on our list of places to visit, and it did not disappoint. We dashed off early in the morning and headed to the Giants Causeway and Bushmills Railway parking lot. I had read that parking here cost £10 (USD $12.70) while the visitor center was asking £15 (USD $19.00) per person which included a hand held audio guide. When we arrived shortly after 9am there were only 3 other cars in the lot, so we paid our fee and set off on the 10 min walk to the visitor center. From the visitor center it’s another 20 minute walk down the cliff to reach the dramatic basalt columns of the Giants Causeway. The causeway is an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic fissure eruption. I gotta say, it’s pretty amazing here and we loved the opportunity to walk on the tops of the stones towards the ocean. There are legends about the stones being the remains of a causeway built across the North Channel to Scotland by the giant Finn MacCool. Across the sea there are identical basalt columns on the Scottish Isle of Staffia, which probably influenced the creation of the legend. Being married to a geologist, I am going with the volcanic eruption story 😊 As we expected, busload upon busload of visitors began streaming down the walkway and the stones began to look like an anthill…time to leave!! It was absolutely worth visiting here and a do not miss if you are coming to Northern Ireland, but definitely get here early.
DUNLUCE CASTLE (Dún Libhse) is one of the most picturesque and romantic of Irish castles. The first castle was built on this site in the 13th century by the 2nd Earl of Ulster. The present castle ruins date mainly from the 16th and 17th centuries, when Dunluce became the seat of Clan McDonnell, who overthrew their rivals, the McQuillans. Dunluce served as the seat of the Earls of Antrim until the family’s fortunes changed in the 1680’s when money dwindled and the castle was left to ruin. Parts of it fell into the sea, while other stones were scavenged as building materials. The site was passed down over the centuries, eventually coming into part ownership by Winston Churchill who gave his share of the castle to the Northern Irish government in 1928. The castle recently shot to fame as the seat of House Greyjoy, the castle of Pyke, in Game of Thrones.
MUSSENDEN TEMPLE is an iconic landmark perched on the cliff edge at the Downhill estate. The temple was built in 1783 and it’s design was based on the Temple of Vesta in Italy. The temple was originally built as a library, and wedding gift, for the Earl Bishop’s niece and when she died in 1785 it became her memorial. On the hillside above the Temple sits DOWNHILL CASTLE, once a grand Italian-inspired building and home to the Earl Bishop. Built in 1780 the house was devastated by fire in 1851 and almost completely gutted. The family rebuilt the house but during WWII the RAF took it over and when they left, the house was dismantled, the roof removed and it was left in ruins.
CARRICK-A-REDE (Carraig a’Ráid) rope bridge links the mainland to the tiny island of Carrickarede. The bridge is 20 meters (66 ft) long and 30 meters (98 ft) above the rocks below. There has been a bridge here in some form or another since 1755, originally used by fisherman, but this edition built in 2008 is a tourist attraction. From the parking lot it is just over a kilometer walk along the cliffs to reach the gate to the bridge. We visited on Saturday of a long weekend and tickets to cross the bridge were sold out and the lineups were huge, not only to get on the island but to get back off again. Growing up in the Canadian Rockies and having seen similar bridges around the world, this one was a little underwhelming, and in our opinion expensive at £15 (USD $19.15) per person. We were quite happy enjoying the walk to the bridge and back.
THE DARK HEDGES (Na Fálta Dorcha) is an avenue of intertwining beech trees in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Planted by the Stuart family in the 18th century to impress visitors as they approached Gracehill House, the Dark Hedges were used in Season 2 of the Game of Thrones as King’s Road. The hedges are a very popular tourist destination so we headed there at 7 am one morning and were rewarded with a visit all to ourselves 😁 I converted my images into B&W because they look much more dramatic, don’t you think!!
BUSHMILLS DISTILLERY was just 20 minutes from our apartment so a tour was in order. Neither of us is a huge fan of Irish Whiskey but we find the tours informative, plus the tastings at the end are fun. Bushmills is home to the world’s oldest licensed whiskey distillery. Official records stretch back to 1608, when the area was granted its license to distil, and over 400 years later, whiskey is still being made in Bushmills. Bushmills Whiskey can only be made here because their key ingredient is water from the nearby River Bush which flows over beds of basalt rock, infusing the water with minerals. Plus, in order to be called Bushmills the whiskey must age in barrels on-site for a minimum of 3 years. Photographs were not allowed during the tour due to the alcohol fumes in the air, in fact they asked that all cell phones be turned off as well. During the tour someone asked what they did during covid and the answer was, the whiskey slept, which is what it does for a minimum of 5 and up to 30 years. Our guide was funny and informative and we thoroughly enjoyed our 1 hour tour. Seniors tickets cost £12 (USD $15.30) each and can be booked online here.
We had an enjoyable week near Ballycastle with some relaxing days at home and some fun sightseeing days when the sun was shining. We found a nice gym in town and good grocery stores so we were well sorted for the week. We had light rain on 5 of our 7 days but it did not last long and was certainly an improvement from the constant rain we had for all of July. Next up, a couple of days in Belfast…..
An té a bhíónn siúlach, bíonn scéalach
He who travels has stories to tell