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Causeway coast: Breathtaking area where beauty walks closely with the beast


A view of the sea and cliffs below Dunluce Castle

A view of the sea and cliffs below Dunluce Castle

A view of the sea and cliffs below Dunluce Castle

There can hardly be a more beautiful place in the world than the north Atlantic coastline on a sunny day.

The stretch of the Causeway Coast, from Portrush to Ballycastle, boasts the Giant's Causeway, Ballintoy harbour, Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, plunging cliffs to sandy beaches and secluded coves, all ravished by the wild Atlantic ocean.

It's a Mecca for tourists, sightseers and thrillseekers keen to tackle the watersport challenges the coastline has to offer.

It's a breathtaking drive, but it's a place where beauty walks hand in hand with the beast.

Sitting in the car park above the ruins of Dunluce Castle, the mist is starting to roll in, shrouding the crumbling towers, wrapping itself around the coastline.

Five minutes before, on the drive out from Portrush, the sun had been shining. Now, though, the towers begin to disappear in the blink of an eye. The coastal mist thickens and in the space of just a few minutes the castle disappears completely.

That's what the conditions along this wonderfully wild stretch of coastline can do, and why those who know the area and the dangers that walk side by side with the stunning scenery always urge caution.

Dunluce Castle has stood in one form or another since the 13th century, a sentry on the cliff edge gazing out across the ocean, but it could hardly have witnessed such tragedy over the centuries as on Tuesday evening.

Four friends from Belfast, taking advantage of the fine weather. Three made it home, one body recovered from the sea below, a place known locally as The Lord's Prayer.

Today, the pathway leading down to the castle ruins remains closed, as do all our tourism attractions thanks to Covid-19 precautions.

But the temptation of sunny weather still draws. And while the waters below might look calm and serene on a fine June day, what lurks beneath the surface, even the rocks themselves, hold dangers for even the best prepared. An unforgiving landscape.

But it's a landscape that lends itself perfectly to the popular activity of coasteering, where groups make their way along the shoreline by swimming, climbing and jumping from rocks.

One wrong move can spell disaster.

Coastguard Alistair Simpson said one of the group was unconscious in the water and was taken to White Rocks beach where he was pronounced dead. It's understood the teenager who died hit his head on a rock.

"Coasteering around this coastline is a very popular pastime, but we would really encourage people to take part in an organised coasteering group," he said.

"There are groups here who organise it on a professional basis, they are properly equipped and carry our suitable risk assessments.

"We would always encourage anyone doing coasteering to wear suitable protective equipment - bare minimum a wetsuit, lifejacket and helmet."

Colleague Judith McNeice warned that even in the best of weather, the conditions can be treacherous.

"Although this was an absolutely beautiful day, the north coast is notorious for having a large swell, even in the most benign weather, so there is a risk, even on a lovely day, for people going swimming or jumping off rocks," she said.

Driving away from the sombre scene, car headlights remain useless as they only illuminate the fog. By the time you reach Ballintoy the sun is streaming through the windows, the temperature hits 20 degrees and it's a beautiful summer day again.

That's how quickly conditions can change and how suddenly lives can be put at risk.

Belfast Telegraph