The North Coast
The North Coast is one of the most spectacular sights in the world and what better way to admire the harbours, castles and stunning landscapes along this beautiful coastline than from the sea?
The Skerries are a small group of islands scattered just off the Portrush coast, formed from cooled volcanic lava. They are the natural nesting environment for a variety of seabirds and have a resident seal colony.
Stretching from Curran Strand to Dunluce Castle are limestone cliffs, with caves and arches, only accessible from the sea. Home to sea birds and the hunting ground for hawks, the cliffs are best viewed from a boat where the true beauty and the arches can be appreciated. The second largest sand dune in Ireland is located a few hundred yards up the beach (the largest is at Ballyness, Donegal). There are numerous caves and arches to enjoy, all of different sizes. Cathedral cave is the most impressive, with three arches. Other caves along the way include the Heart Cave, Teardrop Cave, Lord Antrim’s Parlor and many more.
Boats from Portrush would bring Victorian holidaymakers round to view the caves from the sea, while up above the tramway went from the ‘Port’ to the Giant’s Causeway.
Between Portballintrae and Portrush, the medieval ruins of Dunluce Castle reach right to the very edge of the basalt cliffs. Built on the site of an ancient Irish fort, the Scottish style castle was occupied by the MacDonnells of Antrim and the MacDonalds of Dunnyveg, Scotland. The wreck of the Girona lies nearby, a victim of the storms of 1588. Her cannon was recovered and placed in the castle's gatehouse, and other items of cargo were sold to fund restoration of the castle. When part of the kitchen fell into the sea in 1690, taking all but the kitchen boy, the castle was abandoned and then deteriorated. Material was then taken from the site to maintain others nearby. Today, the silhouette of Dunluce castle is a familiar sight to those passing along the north coast.
The Giant's Causeway
The Giant’s Causeway has a unique geographical make up. It is an area of outstanding beauty and is a delight for walkers and bird watchers. It is the result of volcanic activity 60 million years ago with 38 000 basalt columns. They are hexagonal in shape and some are 12m tall.
Of course, the real story is that Finn MacCool, our local giant, was carrying on life as normal when a Scottish Giant called Benandonner started shouting and ridiculing Finn’s fighting prowess. Finn lost his temper and threw a lump of earth at him in Scotland as a challenge. Benandonner threw a rock back and said that Finn was lucky he couldn’t swim or he would be in trouble. So Finn tore large pieces from the cliffs and made a causeway to Scotland. When he was finished he shouted "Now, you’ll have no excuse”. The Scottish giant had no alternative but to go across the causeway. Finn was tired, having spent a week building the causeway and didn’t feel strong enough for a fight. He disguised himself as a baby and waited. The Scottish Giant arrived looking for Finn but his wife said he was away and made him a cup of tea with cake. Finn’s wife had put stones into the cake, and when the giant took a bite he broke some teeth. Then he noticed the baby in the cot and when he saw the baby he got scared because if this was the size of the baby, what size was his father? He reached his hand into the cot and Finn bit off his finger. Benandoner was shocked and thought "if the baby can do this what could the father do?" so he ran as fast as he could back to Scotland, destroying the causeway as he went.
The hamlet of Portbraddon is made up of a few cottages nestled at the bottom of cliffs once quarried for limestone. Home to the smallest chapel in Ireland, this ancient salmon fishing station lies at the west end of White Park Bay.
White Park Bay
White Park Bay has been in the care of the National Trust since 1938. The beach is backed by ancient dunes and species-rich chalk grasslands that are carpeted in rare plants, including many orchids. It is a half-moon shaped beach strewn with shells, fossils and flint.
Whitepark Bay was one of the first settlements of man in Ireland. Axes and arrowheads were manufactured and exported from here the limestone cliffs providing flint nodules. There are still items being discovered that prove that Neolithic man lived here. It has rip tides and so can be dangerous for swimmers and surfers.
The harbour at Ballintoy is about a mile from the village which lies further inland between Bushmills and Ballycastle. It s distinctive white church stands up on the headland above. The small fishing harbour lies at the eastern end of the beach at White Park Bay and is a beautiful part of the Causeway Coastal Route. The harbour is afforded natural protection from the waves that sometimes dash Ballintoy's shoreline by numerous huge rocks scattered just off the sandy beach.
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
The geology, flora and fauna have won Carrick-a-Rede recognition as an area of special scientific interest. Traditionally fishermen erected the bridge to Carrick-a-Rede Island over a 23m-deep and 20m-wide chasm to check their salmon nets. The rope bridge originally consisted of a single rope hand rail which has been replaced by a two hand railed bridge by the National Trust. You will see Carrick Island from the boat, which is an area of special interest and it is in this area that fulmars, kittywakes, guillemots and razorbills breed.
The area is exceptional in it's natural beauty. To the left of the rope bridge is Larrybane headland, which once stretched out towards Sheep Island and had a promontory fort on the top dating to 800AD. Its name is because the sheep were taken out to the island by boat and grazed there. Underneath large caves once served as home to boat builders and a safe resting place from winter storms. The water here is clear and it is possible to see dogfish, seals and diving birds.
Kinbane Castle (also known as Kenbane, meaning White Headland) was partially destroyed by an English cannon in 1555. It is at the bottom of a steep cliff face and so is difficult to approach and get away. Fires were lit on the headland by the MacDonnells to signal for help from Scotland during the attack, and it is known by locals as “Hell’s hill”, because of the English soldiers who were trapped and slaughtered here. It is situated near Ballintoy. Rumour has it that it was used as a smuggling post because of its remote location.
In the harbour is the Boathouse, where visitors can discover some of the exciting history, learn about present day island life and see some artefacts from shipwrecks around the island. At the west of the island is the renowned RSPB Seabird Centre, where puffins, guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes can be viewed during the summer months. It is also home to some magnificent views - on clear days Donegal, the North Antrim coastline, the island of Islay and the Mull of Kintyre can be seen.
There are many tales of myth and mystery surrounding Rathlin. The most famous tells of Robert the Bruce. In 1306, the Scottish King was driven from Scotland by Edward I of England and took refuge on Rathlin. While he was on Rathlin, it is said that he watched a spider persevering again and again to bridge a gap with its web. Eventually it succeeded. Robert the Bruce took heart from the spider's efforts, raised fresh forces and returned to Scotland to fight for his kingdom. He too, eventually succeeded and in 1314, regained the crown of Scotland.