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
One Giant's Step for Mankind
Member Name: fizzywizzy
Advantages: Free; simply stunning; out of this world scenery; plenty of potions for getting there
Disadvantages: Not fully accessible for all; children need to be carefully watched
Before long the Giant's Causeway was a tourist attraction; in the nineteenth century a tramway was built to bring in the many thousands of visitors who wanted to see this breathtaking and in some ways mind-boggling sight. The local area prospered with the tourist trade but in the 1960s when the National Trust took over the management of the Giant's Causeway and a less blatantly commercial and environmentally unfriendly strategy was pursued. Today there are some concessions to tourism but the Giant's Causeway is largely unspoilt, leaving this dramatically beautifully and mysterious phenomenon to speak for itself. It has been a World Heritage Site since 1986.
There are several ways to access the site. We were staying in Ballintoy and took the Bushmills/Portrush bus, getting off at the Causeway Hotel. From the hotel it's about half a mile to the Giant's Causeway; we walked but you can jump on the little shuttle bus that ferries visitors back and forth between the hotel (which now also holds the visitor centre) and the stones. There's also a dedicated bus service between Bushmills and the Giant's Causeway which drops off at the hotel.
If you've come by car there's a car-park near the hotel and another near the cliff top path. If you park there, though, it's a steep path and a number of steep steps down to the Giant's Causeway. The walk from the visitor centre site is much easier to negotiate.
Although this is a National Trust run attraction there's no admission charge. The visitor centre has been housed in part of the hotel since a fire destroyed the previous centre in 2006. A new one is under construction. We didn't stop at the visitor centre but, if you do, there's an exhibition that explains how the "causeway" (it's not a causeway at all) was created. Alternatively there are a few information boards with good illustrations down by the causeway and beside the path: I'm by no means a geologist but these boards explain in easy to understand terms why the landscape here looks like it does.
Maybe because there were lots of cagouled tourists sitting on the basalt columns I was a little underwhelmed by my first view of the Giant's Causeway and I felt I should really be more overcome by it all. After a while, once I'd blocked out what was going on around me, and found a sheltered place to sit, and a lovely slightly concave column end to perch on, I was able to look out at the (mainly) hexagonal tiles of the basalt carpet in front of me, disappearing into the sea.
There are numerous legends attached to the Giant's Causeway and most revolve around Finn MacCool, an Irish warrior. One of the stories claims that Finn built the causeway to enable him to walk to Scotland to defeat his Scottish counterpart, Benandonner. On the west coast of Scotland the stories around Fingal's Cave echo this idea and there is some basalt there too. When you stand on the stones looking out with the columns tapering away in front of you, it does feel like the path is leading out towards Scotland.
The different textures of the top of the columns are fascinating. Some are slightly concave, just having a gentle hollow worn away by the tides; others are slightly curved the other way like a plump stone cushion and some are slightly pitted with hundreds of tiny pockmarks. Here and there tiny plants were growing between the columns, their delicate little flowers a stark contrast to the charcoal coloured stone.
The section furthest away from the water rises up higher than the rest forming an outer wall if you like; this section is the best palce to see exactly how the causeway is formed from these individual columns and looks like the pipes of an enormous church organ (further along the cliff path there's actually a smaller formation of columns known as the organ pipes, or something similar). In all there are around 40,000 columns, the tallest measuring about 12 metres high.
Rock pools form at the lowest part of the causeway and this is where the younger visitors were having the most fun, splashing around and peering into the pools looking for signs of sealife. While some parts of the stones are easy to access, the differing heights of the columns means that some steps are higher than others so very young children need to be watched at all times. A column can appear low on one side but have a deep drop on the other. People with mobility problems could perhaps use the minibus (which is wheelchair accesssible) to get to the stones and still be able to appreciate the causeway from the outer path.
As well as being such an important geological site, the Giant's Causeway is a stop on what is a really wonderful walking route. We returned to Ballintoy on foot, taking most of the day to cover the ten or so miles (you do need to be quite fit for this walk as there are loads of stiles, some steeps hills and uneven ground and, in some parts, a lot of clambering on rocks) , stopping all the time to take in the stunning views. It's a great place for bird watchers as a number of varieties of seabirds can be seen.
I feel a little ashamed that it's taken me almost to the age of 40 to see the Giant's Causeway, especially when I've travelled quite extensively outside the UK and I can fly to Northern Ireland in thirty minutes. The Giant's Causeway is an unforgettable site, situated on a breathtaking and hauntingly beautiful coast. Who needs Disneyland when you have this free of charge on the doorstep?
Summary: Northern Ireland's most visited tourist attraction
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