We flew into Belfast and after a short shuttle ride (in the party bus!) to the Avis car rental, we drove 1.5 hours in the dark to The Smugglers Inn hotel near Bushmills which was our base for the next two nights. Despite arriving late, we were greeted very warmly and after a quick filling dinner, retired to bed to get some well needed rest.Thursday 14°CFriday 14°CSaturday 14°CSunday 15°C
The next morning we woke to the sound of swallows nesting under the roof outside of our window. And rain. Lots of rain. Nevertheless we kitted up in everything waterproof that we owned and set off towards the Giant’s Causeway visitor centre where we intended to get a bus to our furthest destination – the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Within minutes we had our hoods tightly wrapped around our faces and our rucksacks (and anything not in waterproof clothing) was completely drenched. It took us about 20 mins to walk to the bus stop but amazingly as we waited the rain stopped. The bus duly arrived and by the time we got to Carrick-a-Rede, the sun had come out! The bus time tables change frequently but there are several companies running the same route. Have a look online to find out the most up to date times – a good starting point is here.
After getting off the bus (and leaving a large puddle of water behind), we shook off our wet jackets and started the short stroll down to the bridge ticket office. They give you timed tickets to control the number of people on the bridge at any one time but in reality the bridge gate keepers simply control the numbers themselves. We only had to wait a short while on the way back but with the scenery around you, you could happily wait all day.
Walking down towards the bridge along the top of the coast path, you don’t really get to see much of the sea or cliffs until later on – but when it bursts out in front of you, the colour of the sea, the jaggedness of the rocks and the massive open sky is incredible. By this time the sun was in full shine mode and blue sky was everywhere – we couldn’t believe the difference in such a short time.
The rope bridge was first erected by salmon fishermen in 1755 and connects a small island to the mainland. There is still a small hut on the side of the island with a wooden crane which I believe is used to lower boats into the sea. The signs seemed to suggest that this was still in use but we didn’t see anyone and I suspect this is more of a story than truth.
The bridge itself is small, narrow and sways in the wind – especially when idiots like me stop to take photos. The view on all sides, especially looking back, is incredible though and definitely worth the visit and the entrance fee. It’s also worth noting that this was the busiest place we visited (lots of coaches here).
After walking to the top of the small island, we crossed back over, walked back past the entrance and began our proper hike along the coast path towards the Giant’s Causeway – about 30km away. The first part of the path was via a clearly visible wide track near to the sea before nipping inland slightly to follow the fence line of a field – just head in the direction of the church and you’ll be fine. After this point the whole walk is well sign posted, well maintained and had virtually no one on it! The first part can be seen here as well.
The path popped out on the road (the only section) and we followed it around the corner to see the impossibly cute Ballintoy harbour and village – lots of stone cottages painted white with a small stone harbour, blue sea and little rocky outcrops. We got an ice cream in the tiny shop/cafe along with some cold water (there is a toilet next to the car park at this point as well which is worth using – there aren’t many others!). After taking in the beautiful scenery (and laughing at some Game of Thrones cosplay fans), we pushed on passed two little white cottages and across the slightly soggy peat and grass. If in doubt at this point, just keep the sea to your right and head towards the wooden stiles at each fence line.
The path winds along for a bit before popping out on the very white White Park Bay – this is a 2km stretch of sand with grassy sand dunes behind. It’s worth noting that this isn’t accessible at high tide and you’ll need to follow the higher path behind the dunes when the tide is in. We were lucky and the tide was out (but turning – and turned fast) so we got to walk along the beach which included some sunbathing cows! They totally ignored us as we walked past – no idea what they were doing there or where they had come from!
The beach ends at the quaint Portbradden Harbour (which used to have one of the smallest churches in the world – it got knocked down though) and the path keeps following the coastline passed a few little houses surrounded by flowers. After ducking through a natural rock arch, the path starts climbing gradually until you are up on cliffs with the sea far below – the scenery suddenly becomes more dramatic. Keep an eye out for the ruined castle – there are signs as well.
The path continues for some time at this height during which we got hit by several small showers and the wind picked up strongly at one point. I was using the Dark Sky app to monitor the rain and it was incredibly accurate – quite literally to the minute. Finally we passed a sign announcing that we were now on the Giant’s Causeway section but you don’t get to see it until several KM further as the path winds along a few coves.
We arrived late afternoon at the Causeway so it was quieter than I expect it is during the daytime and it’s a large site so you can easily find some space to yourself. It’s quite an incredible site – the stones really are the shape you see online and it’s much bigger/taller than I expected. It’s easy to see how it could be a Giant’s path across the sea 😉
After clambering around and taking photos from all sorts of angles, I briefly flew my drone to get some bird eye views – check out my Instagram to see what that looked like! By this time, it was starting to get dark so we headed on to the visitors centre (now closed) and retraced our steps along the road back to The Smugglers Inn hotel.
A perfect day was completed by the arrival of two Irish musicians who played some great Irish tunes whilst we ate dinner in the pub bar.
Tips and Tricks:
- The totally free offline maps.me app has seemed to improve slightly recently and although it got a few places slightly wrong, it did get us to most places that we wanted to see without too much back tracking!
- We took most directions and the map from here: http://www.walkni.com/walks/186/causeway-coast-way/
- Remember to book everything you can via TopCashBack – even when booking via Hotels.com, Expedia etc or even direct with the hotel/car hire/carrier
- As mentioned, check the updated bus time tables as they seem to change often.
- Wear layers. The weather changed a lot during our day.
- Check the tide times for White Park Bay – a few surfing websites are the most accurate.
- There were a few path diversions due to cliff falls. Please follow them and don’t be tempted to jump over the fences.
- The Giant’s Causeway is free. You only have to pay to go inside the visitor centre.
- I only know about a toilet at Ballintoy and Carrick. There isn’t much in the way of bushes or trees to hide behind either.
- Take food & water. I only saw the tiny shop/cafe at Ballintoy.