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Northern Ireland’s Coastal Causeway: one of the world’s most scenic road trips

Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, near Ballintoy in County Antrim, Northern Ireland
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Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, on the Coastal Causeway, near Ballintoy, in County Antrim, Northern Ireland

The  Coastal Causeway hugs the coast between Belfast and Londonderry. This 120 mile (190 km) runs between Londonderry and Belfast.

Panoramas change with each bend in the road. It is one of best and most beautiful road trips in the world.

stone pillars at bend of road, Coastal Causeway, Northern Ireland
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stone pillars at bend of road, Coastal Causeway, Northern Ireland

Allow enough time to enjoy the sites and adventures along the way. Although you can drive its length in a day, a week or more is ideal for exploring some of the nine loops that run from the Coastal Causeway.

And there is more to enjoy. You also can drive the Wild Atlantic Way from Londonderry and the Mourne Scenic Route from Belfast.

City Hall, Belfast, Northern Ireland
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City Hall, Belfast

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The Wall, Londonderry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adventures and legends

This is is a region of scenic walks and thrilling outdoor adventures. Colorful stories and legends of saints and fairies abound.

Saint Patrick was enslaved for six years and came to his spiritual calling here. He escaped and later returned as a Christian missionary.

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The Coastal Causeway, Northern Ireland

Water and Fire

This dramatic landscape has craggy windswept cliffs made of limestone that originated when the area was under the sea. Many cliffs are blackened by basalt from ancient volcanoes.

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limestone cliffs along the Coastal Causeway, Northern Ireland

Idyllic pastures

Flocks of sheep graze the pastures on the rolling green hills.

sheep on hillside, Coastal Causeway, Northern Ireland
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sheep on hillside, Coastal Causeway, Northern Ireland

Castles

There are cliff-top castles like the medieval Dunce Castle,  one of the most photographed in Northern Ireland. Legend has it the kitchen once fell down the steep slope and into the sea.

Dunluce Castle became the home of the MacDonnell clan and the first Earl of Antrim. At one time it was owned by Winston Churchill.

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Dunluce Castle, Northern Ireland

Harbors and islands

Harbors along the Coastal Causeway overlook sandy bays and little islands. The coast of Scotland can be sighted on a clear day.

White Bay Park Viewpoint overlooking Portbradden, Northern Ireland
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White Bay Park Viewpoint overlooking Portbradden, Northern Ireland

Major Golf Capital of the World

The area’s golf courses are world-renowned. Portrush is known as one of the world’s major golf capitals. It is home to the Royal Portrush Golf Club, one of the world’s most challenging courses.

The Game of Thrones

“Game of Thrones” filming sites are found throughout the Coastal Causeway area.

Game of Thrones filming site by the Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland
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Game of Thrones filming site by the Giant’s Causeway, Northern Irelan

Ballintoy, Northern Ireland, is an an area known as the Iron Islands, seat of House of Greyjoy, on the HBO “Game of Thrones” series. The harbor was first used in Season 2 for Lordsport on the island of Pyke.Here are just a few of the highlights.

Glenarm Castle

King John granted Glenarma municipal charter in the 13th century. It is said to be the oldest town in Ireland.

Glenarm, Northern Ireland
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Glenarm, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

Glenarm Castle has been the ancestral home of the MacDonnells, Earls of Antrim, for 400 years.

Glenarm Castle, in the Glens of Antrim, Northern Ireland
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Glenarm Castle, in the Glens of Antrim, Northern Ireland

Family portraits line a foyer with elegant chandeliers.

Glenarm Estate foyer, Glenarm, County Antrim, Northern Ireland
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Glenarm Estate foyer, Glenarm, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

foyer, Glenarm Castle, County Antrim, Northern Ireland
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foyer, Glenarm Castle, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

Glenarm Castle is still a working farm. The  walled garden is one of the oldest in Ireland. The lovely tea room is open seasonally.

Tea Room, Glenarm Castle, Coastal Causeway, Northern Ireland
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Tea Room, Glenarm Castle, Coastal Causeway, Northern Ireland

Guided tours of the castle are available occasionally throughout the year.  The grounds are used for special events, exhibitions, workshops, and corporate functions.

The estate and its woodlands, waterfalls and pastures are an idyllic film site.  “Five Minutes of Heaven” starring Liam Neeson is among the films made here.

The Castle and Coach House are available for wedding ceremonies. Receptions are held on the grounds.

The family, Randal, Viscount Dunluce, son of the 14th Earl of Antrim, his wife Aurora, their son Alexander and daughter Helena live at Glenarm Castle part of the year, especially during school holidays. Prince Charles and Camilla visited recently.

Ballygally Castle

Ballygally Castle, Ballygally, County Antrim, Northern Ireland
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Ballygally Castle, Ballygally, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

This castle on the scenic Antrim Coast Road in County Antrim overlooks the Irish Sea and Scotland. It is Northern Ireland’s only 17th century building still used as a residence. Its defense wall now surrounds a beautiful garden and there is a riverside walk.  It is an enchanting place, whether for an overnight stay or as a wedding venue.

The castle was built on land rented from the Earl of Antrim. It is now a Hastings Hotel.

They say it is haunted…

Many say Ballygally Castle is the most haunted place in Ulster. An inscription above the turret door dates to 1625, the year castle was completed by Lord James Shaw.

Ballygally Castle, Ballygally, County Antrim, Northern Ireland
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Ballygally Castle, Ballygally, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

Lord Shaw wanted a male heir and was not pleased when his wife, Lady Isabella Shaw, gave birth to a daughter. A door leads to the Ghost Room, which is said to be the last place she was seen alive.

haunted room, Ballygally Castle, Coastal Causeway, Northern Ireland
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haunted room, Ballygally Castle, Coastal Causeway, Northern Ireland

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haunted room, Ballygally Castle

A door from fallen trees at the Dark Hedges leads to the dining room. It was intricately carved for an episode of the “Game of Thrones.”

Dramatic landscapes featured in the series, like Cairncastle and the Glens of Antrim are nearby.

Game of Thrones Door, Ballygally Castle, Coastal Causeway, Northern Ireland
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“Game of Thrones” Door, Ballygally Castle, Coastal Causeway, Northern Ireland

Menu items in the restaurant are prepared from locally sourced foods like Glenarm Organic Salmon and Carnbrooke Northern Irish Salt Aged Cannon Steak.

seafood chowder, a meal in itself, Ballygally Castle, Northern Ireland
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seafood chowder, a meal in itself, Ballygally Castle, Northern Ireland

salmon at Ballygally Castle, Northern Ireland
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Glenarm Organic Salmon at Ballygally Castle, Northern Ireland

The morning’s buffet includes the finest makings of an Irish cooked breakfast.

tomatoes and beans, Ballygally Castle, Coastal Causeway, Northern Ireland
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tomatoes and beans, Ballygally Castle

breakfast bacon and sausage, Ballygally Castle, Northern Ireland
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bacon and sausage, Ballygally Castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

White's Porridge Oats, Ballygally Castle, Northern Ireland
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White’s Porridge Oats, Ballygally Castle, Northern Ireland

White's Porridge Oats, Ballygally Castle, Northern Ireland
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Bushmills whiskey and honey for porridge, Ballygally Castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

scrambled eggs, Ballygally Castle, Northern Ireland
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scrambled eggs, Ballygally Castle

black and white puddings and mushrooms, , Ballygally Castle, Northern Ireland
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black and white puddings and mushrooms

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

soda bread, Ballygally Castle, Northern Ireland
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soda bread, Ballygally Castle, Northern Ireland

Guinness bread, Ballygally Castle, Northern Ireland
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Guinness bread, Ballygally Castle, Northern Ireland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A wee book on the breakfast table tells the tales of these and other local foods like yogurt from the Marchioness of Dufferin’s estate, Guinness Wholegrain Bread, and White’s Porridge Oats served with Waggle Dance honey and Bushmills Whiskey.

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breakfast book

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Clandeboye Yoghurt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gracehill Black and White Puddings

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Get Fresh Tomatoes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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White’s Porridge Oats

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Bushmill’s Whiskey,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gobbins: the most dramatic walk in Europe

Adventure-seekers find thrills along the Gobbins Cliff Path. This 2 1/2 hour guided coastal walk runs along a narrow 100 year old hand-chiseled path that clings to the rock face. The restored walk is an engineering marvel that reopened in 2015.

A good level of fitness is required. Discover Ireland’s video of the Gobbins Path shows what to expect and whether you are up to it. If you go, be sure to wear sturdy shoes and to bring rainwear.

Cross the iconic Tubular Bridge that hovers 33’ above the sea. Feel the ocean breeze and taste salt air from the Irish Sea. Hear the crashing waves as you maneuver through hidden tunnels.

There are tales of smugglers and privateers who inhabited the caves. This area is now known for seabirds, bottlenose dolphins and whales.

Carrick-a-Rede 

Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, near Ballintoy in County Antrim, Northern Ireland
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Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, near Ballintoy in County Antrim, Northern Ireland

A scenic and invigorating walk runs between the sea and coastal farmlands, passing fields of flowers and grazing sheep along the way. Fishermen built a single hand rope bridge to the island in 1755 to check their summertime salmon nets.

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pathway to Carrick-A-Rede

Today’s rope bridge takes visitors from around the world to the island, Carrick-A-Rede. The bridge crosses over a 60’ chasm that is the mouth of a 60 million year old volcano.

Waves rage 100′ beneath the bridge and break against the rocks. The stronger the wind the more the bridge swings and sways.

On a calm and sunny day the water on the west side of Carrick-A-Rede is a crystal clear blue. Seaweed grows in the east side, which is green, deeper and shadowy.

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bird at Carrick-A-Rede

May through July is best for bird sightings. Kittiwakes and guillemots crowd into the cliff’s ledges. Fulmars prefer higher sites, and razorbills find little nooks and crannies.

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birds at Carrick-A-Rede

Farther out, you might spot cormorants, a basking shark, porpoises and dolphins, or grey seals on the rocks below Sheep Island. Puffins breed nearby.

Back on the mainland a vertical black column cuts vertically through the white limestone. It is basalt, the cooled lava from the eruption 60 million years ago.

Bushmills 

Bushmills is the gateway to the Giant’s Causeway and home to Bushmills Whiskey Distillery, the world’s oldest licensed distillery.

Banners along Bushmill’s Main Street feature well-known people with links to the local area, including President William McKinley, Samuel Clemens, John Wayne, Dolly Parton and Guglielmo Marconi.

banner in Bushmills, Northern Ireland
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banner in Bushmills, NI

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William McKinley banner, Bushmills, NI

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Union flag banner, Bushmills, Northern Ireland

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Dolly Parton banner, Bushmills, Northern Ireland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another banner notes that the first emigration from Ulster was just 16 years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.

The French Huguenot refugees who came here seeking religious freedom in the 17th century were instrumental in developing the linen industry, using the flax grown nearby.

The Bushmills Inn, Bushmills, Northern Ireland
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The Bushmills Inn, Bushmills, Northern Ireland

Peat burns in a cozy nook at the Bushmills Inn, which flies the flag of the guest whose home is the farthest away.

peat fire at the Bushmills Inn, Bushmills, Northern Ireland
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peat fire at the Bushmills Inn, Bushmills, Northern Ireland

Bushmills is a charming place to stop for a meal at a café like The French Rooms, where  locally sourced ingredients are used to create cuisine in the style of Provence. The gift shop and accommodations also reflect the Provençal style.

restaurant, Bushmills, Northern Ireland
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restaurant, Bushmills, Northern Ireland

The Giant’s Causeway: in the footsteps of giants

The Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and nominee for the Eighth Wonder of the World.

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The Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

The best way to experience this World Heritage Site is with a stop at the Visitor Centre. It is built of basalt columns, with walls of glass and a grass roof in a design that blends into the landscape.

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Giant’s Causeway Visitor Center

The folklore and science of the area are brought to life, making for a richer experience. An audio guide is worthwhile for a self-paced exploration of the area, which includes unique wildlife habitats.

The gift shop features good quality local crafts.

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overlooking the legendary camel at the Giant’s Causeway

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The Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

Over 40,000 exposed vertical hexagonal basalt columns soar as high as 200’ above sea level. Scientists see it as the result of the ocean’s pounding against a 60 million year old volcanic rock formations.

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They note that the fine-grained basalt is lava that spread slowly over the area and cooled. Look around and you will also see tuff, formed of ash and rock after a volcanic explosion. The rust-colored rock is laterite, rich in iron and from the headlands.

Local legend has the landscape as the work of warring giants.

It is said that Scottish giant Benandonner insults angered local giant Finn McCool, who threw chunks from the Irish cliffs into the sea as a pathway for a confrontation. When Finn  realized Benendonner was bigger and stronger he ran home to avoid his foe.

Finn’s clever wife dressed him as a baby. When Benandonner arrived she told him that Finn was out tending the cows. Fearing the size of a father of so enormous a baby Benandonner ran home quickly, destroying the path so he could not be followed. Visit the island of Staffa on the Outer Hebrides Islands and you can see the other end of the causeway.

Derry-Londonderry: The Walled City

Londonderry, Northern Ireland
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Londonderry, Northern Ireland

 

Called Derry or Londonderry, depending on political persuasion, this was where Ireland’s last walled city was built.

When the Crown seized power, control was given to the London Guilds.

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Guild Hall, Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Massive stone walls were built between 1613 and 1618. The streets were laid out in latest continental Europe style.

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Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Industry surged, with rope works, four mills, tanneries, and distilleries. By the early 1900s, there were forty shirt factories alone. A few remain.

The walls were never breached and now serve as a lofty 30’ wide promenade dividing the old and new parts of the city.

Our guide picked up an oak leaf and told us that the early monastic center here was known as ‘Doire’, the Irish term for ‘Oak Grove’.

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Our guide, Garvin, with an oak leaf, the symbol of Derry or Londonderry, Northern Ireland

St. Columb’s Cathedral is named for the Irish saint who founded a monastery here in 545 A.D., making it a center of Christianity. The Cathedral (1633) is one of first built after Protestant Reformation. A Siege Mound on its grounds covers the remains of people who died during the Siege of 1688-89.

First Derry Presbyterian Church building, Londonderry, Northern Ireland
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First Derry Presbyterian Church building, Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Queen Victoria gave the Scots who settled here the money to build the First Derry Presbyterian Church in appreciation for their bravery during the Siege.  There are strong links between several American cities and Derry as a result of the many area Scots who emigrated to America and settled in cities like Philadelphia.

The Bluecoats School was established here in 1773, and is named for the color of the school uniform. The male students led singing in church in exchange for clothing, shoes, and an education.

 

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The Craft Village, Londonderry, Northern Ireland

The Craft Village, with its thatched cottage and 18th and 19th century square and streets, seems right out of Dickens. Recycled bricks were used to build the shops, cafés, restaurants and apartments of this gathering place.

Sweet tooth? Try some Yellow Man candy at Aunt Sandra’s. his toffee honeycomb Northern Ireland confection is traditionally sold at the “Oul’ Lammas Fair” in Ballycastle, Ireland’s oldest traditional market fair along with another special, dulse, a dried seaweed popular along the Coastal Causeway.

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dulse, Northern Ireland

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Yellow Man candy, Londonderry, Northern Ireland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The nearby Nerve Centre is a creative media arts centre where many musicians got their start. There are music classes, creative media courses and live events.

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nervecentre, Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Bishop’s Gate is one of the city’s four gates, each built with a portcullis and a drawbridge over a dry ditch. It was named for the Bishop’s Palace that was within the city walls. The Bishop’s Gate Hotel, which is part of the prestigious Hasting’s Hotel group, is near the gate

The building was built in 1902 with a library, billiards room, and catering facility for the Northern Counties Club, a group of the landed gentry who served in the Crimean War. It became a place for businessmen and intellectuals to discuss the development of the city’s industries. Notable guests include Winston Churchill, W. B. Yeats, Field Marshalls Montgomery and Alexander.

The original and adjacent buildings have been restored with this legacy in mind for the B-1 listed Bishop’s Gate Hotel. The Wig Champagne Bar features the original fireplace. Its decor and signature cocktails feature a legal theme.

Bishop's Gate Hotel, Londonderry, Northern Ireland
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Bishop’s Gate Hotel, Londonderry, Northern Ireland

The Tourist Information Center is in the magnificent Guild Hall (1889). It reopened in 2013 after a £9 million renovation. There are information panels throughout and impressive stained glass windows that were rebuilt during the restoration.

The Guild Hall is also home to the Derry City Council chamber. It is Ireland’s only surviving guild hall still in civic use.

stained glass windows in the Guild Hall, Londonderry, Northern Ireland
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stained glass windows in the Guild Hall, Londonderry, Northern Ireland

The Peace Flame across the road. On May 19, 2013 the flame was switched on by students from the city’s two traditions in the presence of Martin Luther King III. Children designed the peace-themed ceramic tiles that line the walkways

Peace Monument across from Guild hall, Londonderry, Northern Ireland
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Peace Monument across from Guild hall, Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Another symbol of Northern Ireland’s reconciliation, the Peace Bridge, spans the River Foyle. This pedestrian and cycling bridge unites the two parts of the city.

With favorable exchange rates and bargain flights being offered by airlines like Norwegian Air it is a great time to plan a visit to Northern Ireland and its Coastal Causeway.

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