Newest Review: ... (which now also holds the visitor centre) and the stones. There's also a dedicated bus service between Bushmills and the Giant's Causeway... more
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants..
Member Name: helencb
Advantages: Beautiful Scenery, Unique attraction, flora and fauna, crashing sea views
Disadvantages: None - although visitor numbers can be high so avoid peak times
The Giant's Causeway, on the Antrim Coast, probably needs very little introduction. It is one of UNESCO's World Heritage sites, and is one of the premier attractions in Northern Ireland. It has also been one of the main reasons that I have wanted to visit this area for some time now. The Giant's Causeway is currently under the care of the National Trust (NT), as is Carrick-a-Rede Bridge, and so if you take out membership you are already starting to recoup some of the costs in visiting this region. Thankfully this wonderful site has free entry, although you do need to pay for car parking, which is £6 - but free to members.
Entry to the Giant's Causeway is via the main ticket office. At the moment there is some building works going on, as a new visitor centre is being constructed, said to cost in the region of £18m. We did not find there was any significant disruption during our visit however. The usual National trust gift shop is located here, and adjoins the hotel next door, which houses a smaller shop.
Car parking is worth further explanation - if you visit during the busier periods of the year, then you may need to plan this in advance. It is most likely the site car park will be full, so you will need to make use of the park'n'ride options to the site, including the one at Bushmills, and this one is recommended during the period of the visitor centre works. There is a third car park nearer the attraction, which involves a steeper descent/ascent. We opted to go first thing and arrived before the attraction was technically "open" and so were able to park without problem. You have to pay for the park and ride services, again free for NT members however. The added bonus about going early was that there were very few people around initially we appeared to have the place to ourselves - we picked a Tuesday morning rather than a weekend to avoid the crowds.
There are two ways to get down to the actual causeway itself - either walk along the path for around 15 minutes or so, or take the NT passenger bus, for a nominal amount. Obviously walking is much better and gives you the opportunity to take in the overall view and take some photographs.
The causeway consists of around 40000 stone columns, many in a hexagonal form but this is not uniform as there are also plenty of columns with 5/7/8 sides. Legend has it that these were part of a stone path to Scotland, which was ripped up by the Scottish Giant Fingal to prevent Finn MacCool from reaching him. The great Finn MacCool was also thought to have created the Isle of Man and Lough Neagh by ripping out a great clump of earth and throwing it at his enemy.
Geologists however, confirm that the columns are part of an ancient lava flow, and were created by contracting of the lava and rapid cooling - think about the patterns formed when some mud dries and it starts to make more sense. The same formations are also visible at Staffa in Scotland - also under the care of the NT and the site there is known as Fingal's Cave (where he fled to - of course)
It's possible to spend a couple of hours or more down at the site, simply wandering across the many stones, or finding your own spot and simply observing them, listening and watching the waves crash along the shore. Although in places, the columns are several metres high, it is generally easy to walk over them, although care will be needed in the more uneven areas, and you do need to think of your route back. The stones which are most washed by the sea appear black and visitors are advised not to walk along these, as there is an obvious slip risk. There are several stones to look out for, including the rather bizarre Fingal's boot, the Organ, the Camel and the Wishing Seat.
Surprisingly, for a site which is so unusual, it was not documents until the late 17th century and it was designated a UNESCO site in 1986. Its protected status is crucial when you consider the diversity of the area - the cliffs, shores and marshlands surrounding are home to 200 species of plants and 50 different bird species.
If you can hold off on your visit until the new visitor centre is open, then you can look forward to enhanced trails, a well design visitor centre which will be sunken into the ground with grass roof and will display more information e.g. on erosion challenges, wildlife, and archive information from the site. Visit www.agiantcause.com for information, or if you want to sponsor a stone.
A magical place and one of the many highlights that make a trip to Northern Ireland very special indeed. The Causeway Coastal route has also been designated one of the world's great road journeys and is an extremely popular walking destination.
Summary: A fantastic and memorable place to visit
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