The Giants Causeway – A Must See in Northern Ireland
Up on the rugged coast of Northern Ireland about two hours north of Belfast is a geological wonder and a World Heritage Site named The Giants Causeway. The unusual formation was born of natural processes 65 million years ago, when Northern Ireland was subjected to major volcanic activity. During this period, molten basalt came into contact with chalk beds, forming a lava plateau. Because the lava cooled quickly, the plateau contracted and cracked, forming about 40,000 similar sized hexagonal columns of varying heights that look like giant stepping stones much like someone constructed them. The largest pilers stand over 35 feet tall.
The site is really spectacular and we weren’t disappointed in making the trip even though the weather could have been a whole lot better. There is a good visitors center, a well paved road down to the Causeway, a bus shuttle and a number of food and refreshment venues near the site.
According to Irish legend, the columns are the remains of a causeway built by a giant. The legend goes that the Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill, of Gaelic mythology, was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Fionn accepted the challenge and built the causeway across the sea so that the two giants could fight. In one version of the story, Fionn defeats Benandonner. In another, Fionn hides from Benandonner when he realizes that his foe is much bigger than he is. To save him Fionn’s wife, Oonagh, disguises Fionn as a baby and tucks him into a giant cradle. When Benandonner sees the size of the “baby”, he realizes that its father, Fionn, must be a giant among giants. He flees back to Scotland in fright, destroying the causeway behind him so that Fionn would be unable to chase him down. Across the sea, there are identical basalt columns (a part of the same ancient lava flow) at Fingal’s Cave on the Scottish isle of Staffa, adding additional confirmation to the legend.
We visited the Giants Causeway in May and the weather was a balmy 42° and clouds were gathering quickly. From the visitors center down to the shore is a good steep walk and while there is a shuttle bus, on a busy day the wait in line for the ride is probably much longer than the actual walk – so off we hiked. Our thinking was that we would walk downhill and ride back. Once we got to the bottom it started a light rain with wind picking up to 40 or 50 mph. Unfortunately we weren’t the only ones thinking about riding back and the wait was almost an hour for the return bus. Soon the temperature seemed to plummet and we started back climbing up the hill. I swear there was sleet stinging my face and at one point the wind got inside my hood and I swear it lifted me off my feet.
Once we reached the top we sought refuge in the bar of the Causeway Inn. It was a cozy place and much less congested than other options. We and our travel companions all had coffee and scones, spending a long time thawing out in the comfort of the lounge. Sitting next to us was a local family and we got to talking. Asking if they had hiked down yet they replied “Oddly no, and we live here. We’re waiting here keeping cozy while our guests freeze their noses off.” I understood but if we lived here we’d hike the area regularly but maybe not on a chilly and windy day. While it is an amazing place and we would recommend a visit, if we had the option of waiting for a warm and sunny day?!
One of the biggest issues to a planned itinerary with a limited amount of time is you don’t get to make many changes and you are stuck with the weather that fate deals you.
We could also see the ruins of Dunluce Castle not far from The Giants Causeway. We were told that this area was also used in a number of Game of Thrones episodes. We seem to keep running into Game of Thrones locations everywhere from Dubrovnik to Iceland here in Northern Ireland and Spain and we’re beginning to think that we are either just lucky or perhaps they film everywhere?