Today was day 13 on our road trip and we explored the length of the Antrim Coast before heading inland to our overnight stop back in the Republic of Ireland, in County Meath.
Our first stop was at Maghera Cross, which offers the best viewpoint of the eerie ruins of Dunluce castle on its vulnerable perch above the ocean. Dating back to the 13th century this castle served as the stronghold of the MacDonnell clan – that is until a particularly violent storm caused the kitchen to collapse into the sea!
We had purposefully started out early (8am) so that we were at the our next stop, Giants Causeway, by 9. Giants Causeway is Ireland’s only World Heritage Site and can get extremely busy once the tour busses roll in. We were the first people there and it was amazing to have the whole place all to ourselves as we rambled over the 37,000 basalt columns which extend from the cliffs down into the sea.
Geologists claim that the causeway was formed by volcanic eruptions, the result of cooling lava crystalizing into columns, but as you stand in this bizarre landscape it is easier to believe the legends that surround this unique geological phenomenon.
The story goes that Finn MacCool, the leader of the Fianna - an elite band of warriors sworn to protect Ireland from foreign invasion – laid the causeway as a bridge connecting with Scotland. His purpose was to spy on a rival across the water, but when he observed how large and fierce the Scottish warrior was he retreated back to Ireland. When the giant of a man came looking for him, he had his wife dress him up as a baby. Shocked at the size of the child (and considering how large the farther must be to produce such an infant), his rival fled in terror breaking up the causeway as he went. Today proof of this encounter exists in that the causeway extends under the sea, reappearing at the island of Staffa in Scotland.
From the Causeway we headed to Carrick-a-Rede, where a rope bridge traverses a 65-foot chasm, 80ft above the water, linking the mainland to a small island offshore. For 200 years salmon fishermen have hung a narrow bridge over this chasm to access their fishing grounds. And if the number of sea birds here are any indication of the amount of fish in these waters, then you can see why!
By this stage we were ready for lunch, then it was back on the road again as we headed to our final stop of the day at Glenariff Forest Park. As you head south from Ballycastle you pass through the Glens of Antrim. This spectacular 40 mile stretch traverses 9 Glens which have been carved by 9 Rivers as they flow through the Antrim mountains towards the sea. The park was a little disappointing and I wouldn't recommend going out of your way to visit it, even worse, we discovered that Rachael had left her purse (with her passport inside) at the restaurant in Ballycastle. There was nothing for it, but to drive the 23 miles back to retrieve it. This added an hours driving on to an already long driving day.
Purse retrieved we tackled the remaining 3 hour drive to Trim (with a quick stop at Lakeside Manor in Belfast - Rachael's home away from home for the past four months). The drive from Ballycastle to Trim was mostly on the M2, however I've found that while driving on a large highways does mean that you can drive much faster, it is far more tiring than our rambles down the narrow windy country lanes.
Viewpoint for Dunluce Castle, Giant's Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, Lakeside Manor (Belfast)