This is a review of the some of the resorts/villages/scenery along the Coast of Northern Ireland (the majority of which are in County Antrim, but some are also located in Country Londonderry) which combined form the 'Causeway Coastal Route', an approximately 80 mile trip of spectacular coastline, which has been placed 5th in a list of the world's most spectacular views.
The Causeway Coastal Route stretches from the city of Londonderry/Derry (on the edge of Lough Foyle) to the capital city of Belfast (at Belfast Lough), and by following the brown road sign labelled 'Causeway Coastal Route' you can't go too far off the beaten track.
If you choose to start at the western point of the route, you begin your journey at Northern Ireland's second city - that of Londonderry/Derry. This city is renowned for being a Walled City, and remains the only walled city in the British Isles. There are opportunities to stroll around these walls by yourself or by taking a guided tour, and there is plenty of history to be told! You can find out more about this city by visiting the new Derry tourism site www.derryvisitor.com.
If you are itching to see some of the beautiful scenery that this part of the country is famous for, then move on from the walled city. If time permits, you could spend a leisurely afternoon, by taking a slight detour off route and visiting the beautiful Roe Valley Country Park, near Limavady, where there are many relaxing riverside walks, historical trails and see the sight of Ulster's first hydro electric power station, where you can still see many of the original equipment. You could also stay at the lovely Radisson Hotel in Limavady, offering a superb golf course, spa and restaurant.
Driving on from Limavady, you approach your first taste of spectacular scenery. There are two choices here:
Firstly, you can follow the main road to Downhill, passing the beautiful beach at Benone, which offers a touring caravan site, 9 hole golf course, golf practice range, putting green, bowling green, tennis courts, outdoor heated pool (seasonal) and an activity area for children. As you get nearer Downhill, you will notice the high cliff walls on the left, where numerous waterfalls cascade down the cliff face. You also have the chance to drive towards Magillan point (watch out for the prisoners in Magilligan prison!) and get the little car ferry across to Greencastle in Donegal (do check the sailing times in advance). Information about these sailing times can be found at: www.loughfoyleferry.com
The alternative, is to take a slight detour (but well worth it), driving up the side of Binevenagh mountain, past the dark green forest, and along the mountain pass. Not to be missed is 'Gortmore Viewing Point'. The view is outstanding, offering panoramic views over Magillian, Lough Foyle, and if you are there on a clear day, you have a fine view of Donegal and even some of the Scottish islands. This is also a beautiful spot for a picnic. On the narrow descend from this mountain road, you travel down the steep and winding Bishop's road (named after Bishop Fredrick Hervey who used his money to fund the construction of this road linking Downhill with Limavady), where you are greeted with the most wonderful view of Downhill beach (which joins Benone beach) with the famous musseden temple in the background. The beach itself forms part of the longest beach in Ireland, strectching some 10km to Magillan Point (Benone too, is part of this stretch). Pottery painting and horse back riding are also available on request from the Downhill hostel at the website: http://thedownhillhostel.com/attract.html
As you drive up the steep climb from Downhill beach, you can spend some time in the Bishop's estate (the late Bishop of Derry who had the mountain road built as mentioned earlier). This estate is now run by the National Trust and they offer parking at both the Lion's Gate entrance and the Bishop's gate entrance, though admission is charged at both of these. There are several things to take in on this estate. Firstly, you can stroll through the late Bishop's mansion, that now lies in ruins (beware of droppings from the roaming sheep -wearing old footwear is a must!). You can then walk towards the much photographed 18th Century Mussenden Temple, the design of which was inspired by the Tivioli temple of Vesta in Italy, and built as a library for the Bishop's cousin Mrs Mussenden (hence the name) You can even hold your wedding in the temple, which is perched dangerously close to the edge of some extremely steep cliffs. You can then walk around the beautifully kept gardens and forest (which boasts its own hidden waterfalls) each with their own lake. More info can be obtained through the National Trust website at:
Beyond the Downhill Estate, you can, if you desire, take a turn off to the little retirement village of Castlerock, which offers its own beach. Continuing on you come to the large town of Coleraine, which offers some shopping to the visitor, as well as plenty of eateries and coffee shops. Coleraine houses its own University campus, as well as the Causeway Hospital.
Coleraine, forms part of the triangle area, as the locals call it, linking Coleraine with Portstewart and Portrush. It is an approx 10-15 min drive to Portstewart from Coleraine. Portstewart is thriving in spring and summer, but is unfortunately rather ghost like in the winter months, since it is a favourite place to own a second home in. Portstewart has its own beach (cars can be taken on this beach for a small charge), and is a popular spot for surfers and bodyboaders. After visiting the beach, you could take in some golf, at the nearby golf club, or stroll down the 'Promenade', getting an ice cream in the famous Morelli's, or a coffee in one of the many coffee shops along this sea front.
Driving on from Portstewart to Portrush, the sea is a constant friend on your left, and several golf courses line the route, as well as caravan and camping sites. This road is also the heart of the 'North West 200' annual motorbike race, held every May, attracting fans from all over the world (available accommodation is rare that week).
You then come to the little town of Portrush, not in my opinion, half as nice as Portstewart, but worth a brief look, if only for the beaches it offers, and some great eateries. Portrush has its own little harbour, and there are several terrific restaurants to eat overlooking it, namely the Ramore Wine Bar - offering 3 seperate eateries -italian/pizza, oriental, and then standard fare, all tasting great!! You can drive round to Rammore Head carpark, take a walk up to Ramore Head (where fireworks are set up from every summer) and maybe even spot some marine animals. Unfortunately Portrush has also become a haven of bingo halls and amusements arcades which have slighted its look, and some parts are in dire need of upgrading.
Continuing on from Portrush, you will pass the impressive Royal Portrush Golf Club, which has hosted some major championships (one being the British Open) over the past few years. You can read more about this golf course at their website: www.royalportrushgolfclub.com
As you continue to drive you will pass the lovely Royal Court Hotel, offering excellent accommodation and cuisine, as well as great views, and then you will come across what I feel is the gem of all beaches along the coast - The White Rocks beach names after the unusual limestone cliffs that you can see stretching along the coastline. It is also home to the second largest sand dune in Ireland, and many an eager sportsman can be seen using these dunes to build up endurance. Cars are not permitted onto this beach, although a car park is situated at the entrance to it. If you are a fan of adventure, you can investigate the caves and arches, as long as the tide stays out. You can learn more about these caves at: http://www.northantrim.com/white_rocks.htm
Past the entrance to the White Rocks beach, you begin driving along some breathtaking scenery, on high cliff top roads, rivalling the famous California pacific highway road. You can stop along the way at some picnic areas with viewing points, before you come across the ruins of Dunluce Castle. Definitely worth a visit, although admission is charge. http://www.northantrim.com/dunluce_castle_information.htm
You then turn off to the little village of Portballintrae, which again, like many other villages in North Antrim, you can catch a round of golf, stroll round the little harbour, or walk along the railway line which runs from Bushmills to the Giants causeway, through Portballintrae. You can grab a bite to eat at the BayView Hotel, which allows great views over the bay, or if you are feelign energetic, you could even follow the well trodden trail aroudn the cliff head, heading to the Giant's causeway (before getting the train back).
Bushmills is the next town on route, and is home to the famous Old Bushmills distillery (the world's oldest licenced distillery), where you can sample some of their renowned irish malt whiskey on one of the tours they offer, those times for these should be checked in advance. Read more at: www2.bushmills.com/Pages/whiskeys. You could also stop for a bite to eat at the very popular Bushmills Inn, offering fine cuisine.
Beyond the village of Bushmills, you come upon the turn off for the Giant's Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is hardly surprisingly Ireland's top tourist attraction, due to the hexagonal shaped basalt columns that you can climb over. There are various walks that can be taken around the causeway, some have now been closed off due to falling rock debris, including the Port na Spaniagh, which holds the site of the Girona shipwreck, although this point can still be reached via an alternative route (see webiste below). You can also take a close up look at the 'organ' which rocks resembling organ pipes. These walks and more information about the formation and legends (like that of Finn McCool, taught widely to local school children) surrounding the giants causeway can be found at: http://www.giantscausewayofficialguide.com/
After spending the day at the Causeway, you could grab a bite to eat, or stay at the Smuggler's Inn, located at the turn off to the road leading to the Causeway, offering great food and lodging. The Causewau Hotel, located at the Causeway site, is also worth a stop for afternoon tea (offering free car parking unlike the giant's causeway).
The next stop along route is 'Whitepark Bay'. This is a small, but beautiful beach, covered in perfectly shaped pebbles, and allow visitors to get a closer look at the little houses in the fishing village of Portbradden, a beautiful spot for a picnic. You can even walk a little out of the village, to an arch formed in the cliffs. One of the buildings is also home to one of the smallest churches in Ireland, although the remains of an even smaller one, remain on the cliff above the village.
You could also stop at the harbour of Ballintoy, following the twisty road down to the small front. A little ahead of this village, is another very much photographed site - that of Carrick a rede rope bridge (not for the faint hearted!) This rope bridge is put up every Spring time by salmon fishermen and is usually taken down in November before the winter sets in. The bridge crosses a 24m deep chasm, giving access to a salmon fishery.
Continuing on the Causeway Coastal route, you then come to the quaint little town of Ballycastle, a popular place in the summer, and for those wishing to visit the 'ould lammas fair' held every year in ths town, taking place on the last Monday and Tuesday in August. You can follow the locals by eating the traditional 'Yellow Man' and 'Dulse' at the fair. You could also get the ferry travelling six miles across the water to Raitlin Island, home to around 70 people and the RSPB Seabird Centre, as well a a colony of seals. It is also possible to detour from the route to spend time exploring the headland of Fairhead, and Murlough Bay.
Driving on from this area, you eventually come to the village of Cushendall, with its own local history, before coming to Waterfoot, at the mouth of the Glenariff River, where you can stop at the picnic area. You can then follow the signs leading to the beautfiul Glenariff Forest. Glenariff, is the most famous of all the glens of Antrim, and is now entirely a forest park. There are plenty of tracks to walk, allowing you to take in the beautiful waterfalls in the depths of the forest park.
Getting back onto the main Causeway Coastal route, after Waterfoot, you then come across the little harbour town of Carnlough, on the shores of Carnlough Bay, and at the foot of another of the Glens of Antrim, Glencloy. You can then, if you wish, take a little detour to Slemish Mountain, with its links to the famour saint Patrick, since it is said, that he looked after his sheep on the sides of Slemish. You can read more about this special place at:
Glenarm, is the last of the Glens that you come across on the Coastal Route, and is dominated by the Glenarm Castle Estate, with its walled garden, open to visitors from May to September, and host to some highland games!
As you press on towards the larger town of Larne, you will encounter three must sees. The first being the Ballygally Castle Hotel, on the main route, looking out onto more sandy beaches, though staying here is only recommended if you aren't afraid of ghosts, since one of the rooms is reportedly haunted! The second site is one you cannot miss, since you will be driving through it - the black arch (engineered by William Bald in 1832) is an arch cut into the rock to allow traffic to pass through. The third site worth stopping at is Carnfunnock Country Park, with a vast range of activities such as a miniture railway, mimi golf, laser clay pigeon shooting and even remote control lorries. The country park itself boasts 473 acres of mixed woodland, as well as a walled garden displaying some exotic plants, a maze in the shape of Northern Ireland, and even an orienteering course...enough to keep everyone amused for the day!
Larne itself, unfortunately, is nothing to write home about, and is merely a town to pass through. Some refer to it as the gateway to the causeway coastal route, but in actual fact, it does start/finish at Belfast Lough. Many pass through this town because it offers a port for regular ferry crossings to Scotland.
Without lingering too long in Larne, move on towards the town of Carrickfergus, with its well preserved Norman castle dating back to 12th century. Carrickfergus also offers a pretty marina, and holds the 5 Gold Anchor and European Blue Flag Status, which would be of interest to many boaters.
Continue on through busy Newtonabbey, until you arrive at your final destination - Belfast, on the shores of Belfast Lough. Belfast itself has many attractions - Stormont (Northern Ireland Parliament), the Belfast Wheel, City Hall, Odyssey Arena, Queens University to name a few.
One of the best websites to find out more about this beautiful coastal route is
This site provides maps, highlights particular spots of interest, and provides some great photo's giving the visitor a flavour of what they will see.
There are many more things to do along this route, and there are many more detours that the avid traveller can take, I could not possibly go into all of them.
Being from Northern Ireland I have my own personal favourites including:
*Gortmore viewing point (one of my favourite places in the whole country - particularly on a beautiful day)
*The White Rocks beach just outside Portrush.
*Waterfoot - such a beautiful setting.
*Glenariff Forest - impressive waterfalls in terrific surroundings.
It is hard to describe how impressive the scenery is until you drive along this route, stopping at the various villages and towns, as well as the numerous view points to get a better look at the beautiful coastal scenery. On clear days, you can often see some of the Scottish islands. I would thoroughly recommend visiting the Causeway coast and following this route, you certainly won't be bored, and you certainly won't be disappointed.
My family still talk about the day in Waterfoot when my aunt took my sister and myself onto the beach for the day and brought us home 'burnt to a frazzle' - this of course was in the days before we knew about the hole in the ozone layer. Getting sunburnt then just meant you suffered all night, couldn't bear bedclothes on your legs and weren't allowed near the sun for two or three more days. Another favourite story my family love to relate (sad, aren't we), is the day we were going to the Lammas Fair in Ballycastle which we had never been to but had heard you could get huge candy-floss, never mind the yellow man and dulse. To our great dismay, on the day in question, we all woke up with chicken pox and no amount of crying would convince our parents to take us. We cried all day until dad was dispatched for ice cream because nothing else would shut us up. I could go on and on with these ancient family tales of holidays spent in various parts of Co. Antrim that have made my family what we are today - Antrimophiles! Now, some 30 plus years later (I'd love to have said ten but then that would be a lie), I am bringing my own children back to their holiday roots. Not a year has passed that at some point we have spent some wonderful and crazy times in the scenes of my childhood holidays and they love every minute and have listened endlessly to every story. Our favourite haunts would have to be Ballycastle and Cushendall. Then again we adore the continental type beach at Waterfoot and of course it's hard top beat the walk round Cave House in Cushendun, through the fairy cave where, when I was young, I thought fairies actually lived - strangely enough my children never fell for that yarn. It's hard to beat County Antrim; I just love the near and far of it. Maybe I should explain that one! You see, my children can only take so much breathtaking scenery and isolated picnic areas whereas I tend
to seek out both like a bloodhound (not that it's difficult to find either on the North Coast). So, just as I am winding my way down a cliff path to an idyllic bay and they are reaching scenery overload and want - no, need - shops and swing boats and dodgem cars, then they can be reached within minutes, which makes life easier all round. One of my favourite holidays was when myself and three other friends, with all our nine children, stayed in my brothers cottage in Ballycastle. I find it hard to believe now as it only had two bedrooms. But we managed admirably and had the time of our lives. In three cars we explored every nook and cranny of the North Antrim Coast and believe me there are a million nooks and crannys. Having experienced that particular trip, I feel myself somewhat of an expert on the Do's and Don'ts of such an adventure so my recommendations would be worth noting. For instance, do not choose the top of the tower ar Ballintoy to have your picnic. If you do, do what our children did and eat your picnic in the car. Don't do what us intrepid mothers did braving the elements rather than admitting we'd made a big mistake. I wouldn't like to see the same thing happen to any other poor parent! Do see the Giants Causway but only walk down and take the bus back up, especially with several buggies and several small toddlers in toe. Do have a go at getting twelve people into the smallest church in Ireland but don't let the inhabitants of Port Bradon see you try! Do be prepared for rain, not that it rains a lot, only when I am out and about without coats, umbrellas or any form of shelter close by, but do go to Waterworld in Portrush when this happens and do be prepared to be there for some time - kids adore it. Don't miss the Glenariff Waterfall walk - it's truly magical - but don't go with two six year olds who believe they are Tarzan unless you can put them on leads. D
o get fish and chips on the way home and eat them on any seafront you care to; Carnlough Harbour wall, Balycastle beach, Cushendun bridge, Dalriada Larne park, Portstewart Strand, Portrush promenade, to name just a few. I feel privileged to have spent so much of my life on the Antrim Coast and will probably be telling the same old stories for years to come. I hope that my children will someday carry on the family tradition but until they are old enough to appreciate all that it has to offer I suppose I'll have to continue to listen to: "Shut up and drive Mum, we've heard it all before!"