Go amblin’ along Antrim’s stunning coast

by Shane Dillon

DESPITE being an Ulsterman hailing from beautiful (if rain-blasted) Donegal, I probably have about as much – or as little – experience of the rest of Ulster as most of our readers.
That’s doing Ulster a disservice, particularly her topmost counties, as the northern province is home to some of the island of Ireland’s most stunning scenery and historic sites, with the Causeway Coastal Route along the north Antrim coast seeing travellers and tourists alike threading one spectacular location after another together into a trip to remember.
I hit the road a few weeks ago to explore the route for myself, noting that many of the names scattered along the way and about the coast evoke the region’s rugged past (such as Greysteel, Castlerock, Waterfoot, and Windyhill), as well as more familiar names like, um, Ringsend, or my quirky favourite, Blagh, which some might say at the thought of heading all the way up to the top of our island – but how wrong they’d be, given the sights that await.
Many of these old names sound a bit mythical, but they suit the ancient spots that they typically adorn, with several of these rugged places proving perfect for Game of Thrones’s well-publicised use as Westeros locations in the hit show.
Despite this auspicious link to such a well-known show, the well-signposted Causeway Coastal Route is more than worth the trip in its own right, without the need to detour to any Thrones location.
Loosely speaking, it’s an arc that loops up and around the headland from Derry over towards Larne, with the western side sending you on to the delights of Donegal through the nearby gateway town of Letterkenny, while to the east, you’re just a skip away from bustling Belfast.
However, city life will be the last thing on your mind as you drift along the relaxing route, which has several gems laid out along the way to spur you along to the next memorable destination.
The journey takes you through well-tended farmland, up and across rolling hills, alongside quiet shores lapped by the Atlantic Ocean, and across flat plains with rising walls of distant blue hills framing the views perfectly, reminding you that, with a little lick of sun, our island can be very beautiful indeed.
The landscape here is dotted with pretty towns and villages, such as Castlerock, which has the luck to face onto a long, long golden strand (top), where some of the coast’s many dark cliffs dip their feet into the cool ocean.
Further along, past busy Coleraine and back on track along the northern coast near Portrush, the scenery starts to become ever more rugged, with the dramatic silhouette of ruined Dunluce Castle perched precariously on a crumbling cliff edge hinting that you’re drawing near to the ancient heart of the route – The Giant’s Causeway (left).
As Northern Ireland’s sole UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s a place that’s absolutely swarming with visitors, all year round.
It’s here that you’ll start to think of all the battle-inspired names you’ve passed as you fight hordes of other tourists for a parking space – you may even need to park in nearby Bushmills, home to the famous distillery, and avail of the free shuttle bus up to the causeway.
However, the world-famous site is worth any initial aggravation (but heed the boxout below), as you’ll be happy to tick it off the bucket list once you’ve surveyed its unique columns, and the equally striking hills and ridges which sweep around it.
Last but not least, the steady of foot and brave of heart can also step lively across the nearby Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, just a few kilometres away up the coast, and another tourist magnet.
These are just some of the many treasures along the route, but whether you travel east-west, or west-east, just be sure to head north for a terrific trip.

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