Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 10 July 2014

Walk of the Week: Giant’s Causeway

The Giant’s Causeway is renowned for its polygonal columns of layered basalt and is the only World Heritage Site in Northern Ireland.

Resulting from a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago, the attraction is the focal point for a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and has attracted visitors for centuries.

The spectacular site harbours a wealth of local and natural history. Other noteworthy attractions include the shipwreck site of the Spanish Armada vessel La Girona, and many ‘traces’ of the legendary giant Finn MacCool.

Directions

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

From the visitor centre, follow a tarred roadway and footpath that descends a steep slope, until you arrive at The Stookans, or Windy Gap as locals refer to it — aptly named, as here the walker is exposed to the wild Atlantic elements.

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

The Giant’s Causeway is made up of three promontories — the Little Causeway, the Middle Causeway, better known as the ‘Honeycomb’ and which has spectacularly precise hexagonal features, followed by the Grand Causeway.

Evocative place names and features abound — Wishing Chair, Wishing Well and Giant’s Gate, all connected with the Finn MacCool folklore.

For this walk, negotiate the Giant’s Gate and proceed into Port Noffer, ‘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.

Meadow pipits and many warblers can be found in summer, with sedge warblers and grasshopper warbler not uncommon. High amongst the crags the dominant birds are nesting fulmars and an occasional lone pair of ravens.

Passing the Giant’s Boot, climb up the slope to what looks like a giant church 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 that looks into the spectacular 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 — a number of significant rockfalls occurred here in 1994.

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 will be back at the visitor centre and car park.

The Backdrop

It was probably molten lava a few million years ago, cooled into some 40,000 hexagonals of dark stone steps, that gave us our famous basalt columns — but that’s not the only version of events. There is also one about a Celtic warrior who got too big for his boots and went knocking on the wrong giant’s island.

Legend goes that Finn MacCool built the basalt highway to Scotland to challenge rival giant Benandonner to a fight.

But Finn’s wide-eyed glimpse of the enormous Scot sent him scurrying back to Ireland and to his quick-witted wife Oonagh. As Benandonner thundered down the highway after him, Oonagh disguised the quavering Finn as an infant.

“Don’t wake the baby!” she scolded the giant Scot as he came bursting through the door.

“If that’s the kid, I don’t want to meet the father,” thought Benandonner, turning tail for Scotland and ripping up the basalt paving stones behind him.

Further information

For further information on walking or any other outdoor activity, please contact Outdoor Recreation NI (formerly CAAN) at, tel: 028 9030 3930 or walkni.com.

Outdoor Recreation NI (formerly CAAN) in association with Belfast Telegraph have provided this information. Every care has been taken to ensure accuracy of the information. Outdoor Recreation NI 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), circular.

Time: You should leave approximately 45 minutes to complete this walk.

Terrain: Some steep slopes, gravel paths.

Facilities: Come to the brand new Giant’s Causeway Visitor Experience and explore the science, myth and legends that surround this magical place. Inside the eco-friendly centre is a grab-and-go-style cafe where you can pick up a few tasty refreshments after you’ve finished exploring the hexagonal columns. Outside, you can follow the coastal walks and trails surrounding the World Heritage Site using a portable audio guide.

Walk Developed By: National Trust and Moyle District Council.

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

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