Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Feel like a Giant as you explore the Causeway

It’s one of Northern Ireland’s most iconic walks — yet many never make it beyond the first glimpse of hexagonal rocks.

But it’s well worth making the extra effort to explore the full glory of the Giant’s Causeway and the startling geological structures adorning headland after headland along the North Antrim coast.

Renowned for its polygonal columns of layered basalt, the Giant’s Causeway is the only World Heritage Site in Northern Ireland and has attracted visitors for centuries.

Resulting from a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago, this is the focal point for a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and harbours a wealth of local and natural history.

Directions

By foot, the Giant’s Causeway is well signposted along the Causeway Coastal Route, both from Bushmills and Ballycastle. By car, the Causeway is situated just off the B146, two miles from Bushmills.

By bus, the site is served by the Causeway Rambler (Ulsterbus No 376) between Bushmills and Carrick-a-Rede which runs in the summer; or Ulsterbus No 252 is a circular route via the Antrim Glens from Belfast.

From the visitor centre, follow a tarred roadway and footpath until you arrive at ‘The Stookans’ or Windy Gap.

From here continue along the tarred roadway, always taking care to mind the popular tourist shuttle bus service, and the first signs of the hexagonal causeway stones will soon appear.

The Giant’s Causeway is made up of three promontories — the Little Causeway, the first feature the walker meets; the Middle Causeway, better known as the Honeycomb which has spectacularly precise hexagonal features; and the Grand Causeway.

In this immediate area, evocative place names and features abound — such as the Wishing Chair, Wishing Well and Giant’s Gate, all connected with Finn MacCool folklore.

Many tourists on strict time operator deadlines rarely make it beyond the stones, but for this walk negotiate the Giant’s Gate and continue into Port Noffer or ‘the bay of the giant’.

Here a different world exists, with marginally more sheltered conditions allowing more diverse maritime meadows and saltmarsh vegetation to establish. Watch for sea aster, yellow iris and other rich plant life.

Passing the Giant’s Boot, climb up the slope to what looks like a giant church organ. In geological terms, huge columns of basalt make the ‘organ pipes’, hence the local name of ‘The Organ’.

From here the cliff path continues past ‘The Organ’ for another 400 yards to the headland. At the point of the headland, there is a viewing platform which looks into the spectacularly named ‘Amphitheatre’. Here all manner of lava flows can be observed, as well as the dynamic nature of the cliffs. Look for the Giant’s Harp and Eyes.

At this point the cliff path is closed off for safety reasons, due to unstable cliffs. From here, return to The Organ and instead of retracing your steps to the stones, climb the steep path.

Known as the Shepherd’s Path, these 162 steps will take you to the cliff top and on to the North Antrim Cliff Path. At the top of the steps, turn right and after half a mile you’ll be at the visitor centre and car park.

The Backdrop

The Causeway formed 60 million years ago as a result of volcanic eruptions. The lava cooled and hardened to form layers of basalt rock, forming around 40,000 columns of basalt rock today.

Lava flowed into a depression in the ground and cooled, hardened, shrunk and cracked to form the hexagonal columns we see today. The Giant’s Causeway is made up of layers of rock. The bottom layer is known as ‘Lower Basalt’ and over two million years of warm, wet climate it weathered to form a deep red rock called ‘Laterite’.

With more volcanic eruptions, lava poured onto the red rock, cooling and hardening forming the ‘Causeway’ or ‘Middle Basalts’. The ‘Upper Basalts’ formed during a third period of volcanic eruptions, but most of this layer was lost to erosion during the last ice age, 15,000 years ago.

Other noteworthy items include a Spanish Armada shipwreck site where ‘La Girona’ foundered and many traces of the legendary giant Finn MacCool.

Further information

For further information on walking or any other outdoor activity, please contact Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN) at 028 9030 3930 or walkni.com

CAAN in association with Belfast Telegraph have provided this information. Every care has been taken to ensure accuracy of the information. CAAN and Belfast Telegraph, however, cannot accept responsibility for errors or omissions but where such are brought to our attention, the information for future publications will be amended accordingly.

Walk Name: Giant’s Causeway.

Area: Causeway Coast.

Nearest big town to start point: Bushmills.

Distance: 2 miles (3.2km).

Terrain: Some steep slopes, gravel paths.

Access restrictions: Care must be taken when walking close to cliff edges and, as a further safety |precaution, you are advised to inform someone of your intended route before you leave.

Refreshments: The Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre has a tea room, toilets and wheelchair access.

There is also an educational presentation in five European languages, a Bureau de Change and Souvenir Shop.

Publications: Giant’s Causeway Guide Book.

Walk Developed By: National Trust and Moyle District Council.

Map: Sheets 4 of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discoverer Series, available from Land & Property Services ( www.lpsni.gov.uk ).

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