Ballintory to Giants Causeway

Northern Ireland, Causeway Coast, United Kingdom

William Mackesy’s account of this walk

Heading west from the delightful Ballintory harbor, we meander just behind the stacks and reefs of this rocky shoreline, enjoying strange formations, narrow inlets and the slightly other-worldly feel. The early cloud has cleared and it is now a bright day, with the sea sparkling between the rocks. The path climbs into fields behind the coast, then we round a sheer headland, to meet a huge view across rock-strewn shallows, down the long, golden expanse of White Park Beach, 2km of firm sand and joyous walking, with surprisingly few people to share it with given it is only 14th September. At the far end, a few white cottages nestle below the ridge which lead out to Gid point with its natural door through the cliff.


We climb a grassy slope and walk through the rock arch to the next inlet. We wind through more strange formations behind the sea, climbing to fields a bit higher up: a new, airy world, meandering just behind the cliff-top for the next three hours or so, with reefs and grassy little coves below and a beautiful but implacable sea beyond. The hills of the Mull of Kintyre mark the horizon to the north; to our east is the long Rathlin Island, a renowned bird reserve. Behind us are rough grassy fields, with ridges and valleys, farms and villages further off.


As we head westward, the cliffs display increasingly clear layers of old basalt lava flows, including elegant, fluted pipes and columns with rough layers above and below: early harbingers of the marvels of the Giant’s Causeway, our  destination. A really beautiful, spirit-soaring stretch of walking. And the path is good, a level route along flattish hilltops, although with regular drops into valleys and climbs back out.


Round the back of a little bay we meet a flat, shallow stream dropping down little shelves towards its junction with the sea. Beyond is a little ridge of grass and rock where we sit to attack our picnic above an active sea swirling around the rocks of the shore.


Beyond this, the cliffs get higher and the views ever grander. We pass behind the scanty remnants of Viking-wrecked Dunseverick Castle on a perfect green promontory. Time is looking a bit short, so we press on rather than exploring this wonderful site, which would have been a joy. The views back down the coast across a series of flat rocky fingers towards Ballinory are beautiful.


The layerings become ever more thrilling and outlandish as we approach the Giant’s Causeway, the drops to the sea ever more giddy. This is world class walking. We pass the cove in which the Spanish Armada galleon Girona was dashed to pieces, and fabulous treasure found by divers in the 1960s. The green is so lush that it almost feels like we are in the tropics.


We meet the blocked-off top of a steep path down a notch in the cliffs to the shoreside meadow far below. We climb over and descend. It is actually easy and clear, although it is implied as dangerous.


A short stroll gets us to the beautiful, extraordinary upright basalt columns, some 40,000 of them, which form the Giant's Causeway. It is a weird and atmospheric, a true freak of nature, although I’d say slightly oversold. They are mainly hexagonal, closely fitting into each other as if carefully chiseled and slid into place. They match the amazing column-cliffs and cave at Staffa island off Mull, far to the north. They get something like a million visitors a year, and can be overwhelmed in the summer, but in mid September, there are not enough to spoil the atmosphere.


We walk on round to the visitor centre, and then down beside the little railway track which leads inland through fields to Bushmills. A nice enough finish to the walk, but we are quite tired by the end (20 km on our first day) and glad to get to the end.

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