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Best of Northern Ireland: The iconic cliffs of Fairhead

The cliffs of Fairhead, near Ballycastle.
The cliffs of Fairhead, near Ballycastle.

The north coast of Northern Ireland is well known for its scenic views and now a new walking route at Fairhead, near Ballycastle is certain to bring even more visitors to the Causeway Coast.

Known as Northern Ireland’s tallest cliff face, the impressive and iconic Fairhead rises 600 feet above sea level. Highly regarded as an outstanding rock-climbing location, it’s believed to be the biggest expanse of climbable rock in Britain or Ireland.

The walking route

Walkers can enjoy the breathtakingly beautiful views from the top to Ballycastle, Murlough Bay, Rathlin Island and the Scottish isles. The challenging route – which requires good walking boots, a map and caution near the cliff edge - gives walkers a sense of how fire, ice and volcanic activity shaped the unique formation of the headland some 60 million years ago.

There is car-parking available on your approach to the headland. The trailhead panel in the car park will offer you a number of route choices with loops from 1.5 to 3.4 miles.  Whichever walk you choose to do, take time to read the hidden interpretation information at some of the waymarkers pointing out important sites of historic and geological interest along the way.

Discover the history

There are early housing settlement villages, known as clachans, to be discovered. The area was once an important industrial site for coal mining and the kelp industry. It’s also steeped in mystic mythology; legend has it the Children of Lir were put under an evil spell, transforming them into swans to spend 900 years in exile from humanity in the Sea of Moyle.  From the Dalriadian Kingdom period, there once stood in all its mighty, Dunmore Fort.

Local wildlife

Wild goats roam the rocks beneath the clifftops, as you wind along the rugged coastline. From the road, a manmade Iron Age island or crannóg can be seen in the middle of a lake, Lough na Cranagh. The lakes are stocked with trout and can be fished during the summer months.

Take a trip to Rathlin Island

May is the best time to combine a trip to Fairhead and the seaside town of Ballycastle with a ferry crossing to Rathlin Island. Orchid carpets appear on hillsides and the air is filled with birdsong as the island’s famous seabirds - guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, puffins, fulmars, shags and gannets - compete to establish territories and attract a mate.

The RSPB Seabird Centre has just re-opened for the year, with binoculars and telescopes on a viewing platform where staff are available to help identify birds. Wildlife is in abundance on Rathlin, where only about 100 people live today. Its rugged terrain, a dramatic patchwork of idyllic green fields, towering sea-cliffs and sensational sea- views, make it an inspirational retreat from the mainland.

Nearby attractions

Rathlin West Lighthouse

Known as Ireland’s only ‘upside down’ lighthouse, visitors can now explore the unique Rathlin West Lighthouse as part of Irish Lights’ Great Lighthouses of Ireland trail. Take a tour to learn about its history and the people that lived and worked there.

RSPB Seabird Centre on Rathlin Island.
RSPB Seabird Centre on Rathlin Island.

Aquaholics Dive Centre

The Antrim coast is prime wreck-diving territory, with a multitude of boats, ships and a WWII German sub to be found under the sea. This PADI certified centre offers ‘Try a Dive’ sessions in the sea for complete beginners - and can take the more experienced to some fascinating finds. Explore the ancient wrecks and reefs of Rathlin Island, swim with seals along the Causeway Coast or discover caves under the island at Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge.

Ursa Minor Bakehouse

Ursa Minor Bakehouse in Ballycastle.
Ursa Minor Bakehouse in Ballycastle.

See behind the scenes at this artisan bakehouse, part of the Économusée, or ‘working museum’, network. Founders Ciara and Dara O hArtghaile discovered delights like sourdough loaves and friands while living for a year in New Zealand and returned home to Ballycastle where they use traditional techniques to hand-mould loaves.

Place to stay

Marine Hotel

The 3* Marine Hotel sits in a prime location, overlooking the picturesque marina and harbour in the seaside town of Ballycastle and only a stone’s throw away from the golden Ballycastle Beach.


Morton's Fish & Chips

This unassuming little hut on the water’s edge attracts huge queues in the summer months. Go now for delicious cod, haddock, sea bass, scallops or scampi that are freshly unloaded in Ballycastle Harbour.

If you would like to enjoy a short break, there is a wide range of excellent accommodation available across the area ranging from luxurious hotels, to B&Bs full of character and charm, and self-catering options as a home from home.

There is an option to suit all needs and pockets with many great offers available at this time so check out for further information.

Rathlin Island is an island off the coast of County Antrim in Northern Ireland, and is the northernmost point of the region.
Rathlin Island is an island off the coast of County Antrim in Northern Ireland, and is the northernmost point of the region.

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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