A Magical Few Days On The Causeway Coast

causeway coast

A land of magic and mystery, stunning scenery and seaviews. I enjoyed a magical few days on the Causeway Coast.

My family is originally from Kerry and my brother lives in Cork, so until recently most of my staycations were in the South of Ireland. The #WildAtlanticWay and #IrelandAncientEast are constantly cropping up in my newsfeed too, but the Causeway Coast was never really on my radar. I was asked by the kind folk at the Causeway Coast and Glens to pop up to Antrim to see the highlights. I always wanted to see the Giants Causeway but once I started googling (as you do) the first thing that struck me was how much there was to see, and how close together all the top attractions were. So off we went on a road tip to the Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland.

The Giants Causeway lives up to the hype, even in the rain! Although smaller than I thought, it is very dramatic. It is steeped in myth and mystery and although personally I am not a big folklore fan, it was pretty magical. Maybe we were lucky but it was not at all crowded, despite being a Saturday morning. We took the short 40 minute walking tour and heard all about the legend of Finn McCool. The kids enjoyed it, spotting the Giant’s boot and the Wishing Chair, but if that’s not your bag or you are under pressure for time, you can easily walk down and see it yourself, with or without the self guided audio tour. There are also great walking trails, so if you fancy spending the day there, try the 90 minute, 3km route.

I’m not sure if it is a reflection of the age we are living in, but there seemed to be an unwritten rule that once you climbed to the top of the rocky outcrop, you stepped out of the way for the next person. This meant that everyone could get the perfect instagram photo! The visitors centre and gift shop are worth a look too, stocked with high quality souvenirs, paintings and gifts – a big step up from what you would normally see at a tourist attraction. The visitor’s centre also has a 360 degree grass roof with views of the Causeway coastline and a substantial coffee shop too.

The Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge was another favourite. A bridge that was raised annually for 250 years to allow fishermen access their nets, now stays up all year round, and is a top Northern Ireland attraction. We were all a little anxious as we took the 20 minute walk towards the bridge. It was wet and windy so the conditions were far from ideal. However I found walking the bridge easier than I expected. It was shorter (20 metres) and less ‘wobbly’ than I had anticipated, as it is actually quite sheltered. The kids were not remotely phased, in fact my daughter (6) ran back across it!

My husband, Cormac, on the other hand, wasn’t very enthusiastic and vowed never to do it again as he is not one for heights! Regardless of nerves or excitement you can’t deny that the views are stunning – and that is coming from someone who did it in the rain! The colour of the sea and the dramatic scenery make it a ‘must do’ if visiting the Causeway Coast. In fact the weather cleared the next day and I wanted to go back to do it again, but I was over-ruled! TOP TIP: To get a bridge photo from a distance head to Portaneevey car park.

We decided to visit Dunluce Castle instead, this was another highlight. This 14th century Castle was the inspiration for the castle in C.S. Lewis’ tale of Narnia. When you see the dramatic cliff setting, you will understand why. Once again it was relatively quiet so the kids were able to run around and get up to mischief. They climbed up towers, explored caves and enjoyed listening to the stories about vikings, drawbridges and knights, and how, on a stormy night, the entire kitchen fell in to the sea during a party!

Although I am probably one of the few who hasn’t watched the Game of Thrones, I have seen lots of images of The Dark Hedges and considering it is only 15 minutes from Ballycastle – I just had to pop down for a look. I was told it would be packed with people and impossible to get a decent picture, but in fact, it was the opposite. With the exception of the odd car passing through and a few tourists like myself, it was relatively empty. I stood for a brief moment with my eyes closed imagining the sound of horses and marching soldiers. The beech trees were planted in the 18th century as the impressive entrance to the Stuart’s family house. 200 years later Bregagh Road is one of the most photographed roads in Northern Ireland. The Dark Hedges is moody and magnificent and is another must see! TOP TIP: Morning or evening are the quietest times and sunrise and sunset have the best light.

A visit to the nearby Bushmills Old Whiskey distillery was in order after our busy morning, but unfortunately children are not allowed to do the tour. This meant Cormac had to take one for the team and do the whiskey tour alone. Needless to say he was heartbroken – a full hour alone, drinking whiskey! He really enjoyed the tour and recommends it for anyone even remotely interested in ‘the water of life’. Make sure you buy the smooth 12 year old ‘Distillery Reserve’ single malt Irish whiskey, that is only available to purchase at the store – the perfect gift for any whiskey lover, you can even have the label personalised. In our case, it was a nice souvenir to bring home, to remind us of our trip to the Causeway Coast. Top Tip: You might want to nominate a designated driver!

causeway coast

On our last day, the sun came out and we had clear blue skies! We decided to take a quick spin around the coast before our drive home. The drive around Fair Head and Murlough Bay is just a few miles outside Ballycastle. The scenery is spectacular. I turned into the passenger from hell, asking to stop every few minutes for photos, and the quick spin turned out to be a few hours… I only wish we were able to drive the whole causeway coastline but time was against us. The Causeway Coast has to be one of best places in Ireland for a road trip.

Our visit was only three nights but if traveling in the summer time, I would say stay longer. Try a sea safari around the coast with Aquaholics – we had planned on doing this but our trip was cancelled due to the poor weather. Adrenaline junkies might enjoy some coasteering (a combination of rock climbing and jumping into the sea) or the Gobbins cliff path walk which is due to reopen in the summer time. There are some great adventure parks for families and if you fancy a break from outdoor pursuits, indulge in a seaweed bath at Sea Haven therapy in Ballycastle or try the Ballycastle Food Tour (more info on that below). Of course you can always combine your stay with a visit to the Titanic Museum in Belfast.  What ever you do, make sure you allow time to drive the full Coastal Route because the small amount we saw was incredible. So the only thing left to say is – the Wild Atlantic what?

Where to stay:

We stayed in Ballycastle, a town I knew nothing about, but it was ideal for us. It is only 20 minutes from the Giant’s Causeway and Bushmills and 10 minutes from the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Bushmills is also a great town to stay in but I like that Ballycastle is a seaside town and it is halfway along the Causeway Coastal Route. You can stroll along the beach, or enjoy cliff walks with stunning seaviews. It was voted the best place to live in Northern Ireland for the past two years and it is not difficult to see why. There is a great community spirit in the town. The residents refused to let Tesco or any large chainstores in, so what remains is local shops, bars and restaurants all supporting each other. I know this might sound a bit cheesy but it was actually quite heart warming.

The fact that we stayed in a fabulous three storey, three bedroom house through Airbnb, may have helped endear me to Ballycastle too! We were greeted on arrival by the owners Esther and Paul and given a large welcome pack including clove and jelly jam made by her sister – it was delicious! The house was recently renovated and the décor and attention to detail is superb. It is excellently situated at the harbour and the bedroom has perfect seaviews. There is also a garden with a BBQ if you are lucky enough to get the weather! Sign up to Airbnb here and save €35 off your first stay.

causeway coast

Where to eat:

We went on a morning food tour of Ballycastle from North Coast Walking Tours and the variety of high quality food was excellent. Caroline, our guide, educated us about Ballycastle and the surrounding area, all while eating local produce. She was also great with the kids and made sure there was something in each stop that they would like. Ballycastle and the Causeway Coast in general is becoming renowned as ‘foodie’ destination. We started with the ‘wee’ Ulster fry in the Bay Café, then tasted delicious pear, vanilla and almond homemade scones in Thyme and Co. She saved the best for last though – the seafood chowder in the Central Bar is superb! In fact we loved the food in the Central Bar so much we had dinner there too. The food, service and atmosphere was excellent and the kids really enjoyed it. Scott, the Manager happened to be a massive Star Wars fan, which went down well with Luke, my 9 year old Star Wars fanatic! After our meal we popped downstairs for some live music. Another must try when in Ballycastle are the local craft beers. The Rathlin Red ale from O’Connors, traditional Irish pub, was one of our favourites.

The Bushmills Inn is a must visit. This cosy pub has a great atmosphere and great food to match, perfect for lunch after a morning at the Giants Causeway. It is a boutique hotel so if travelling as a couple it is also a great choice to stay in. Tartine at the Distillers Arms is excellent for dinner. My son loved the steak and chips on the kids menu. If you fancy a night in you can curl up in front of the fire with a take-away from Morton’s fish and chip shop in Ballycastle. The best fish and chips in Northern Ireland!

 

For more info visit CausewayCoastandGlens.com

 

Sarah

 

1 Comment

  • I’ve always wanted to make a trip up North to the Giant’s Causeway and you have just sold it to me! Getting the planning hat on now.

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