Giant’s Causeway: 10 Miles of Rugged Beauty

On November 13, 2013 by Oren and Cassie

Giant’s Causeway had been on our itinerary since Day 1. We always knew we wanted to hike the most northern part of Northern Ireland, regardless of the time of year or the weather. We’re glad we did. Although it took a few days until our legs stopped aching, the hike is spectacular.

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One of the amazing views

GET AN EARLY START

The hike stretches for 10 miles between Bushmills and Ballintoy. We stayed at Finn McCool’s Giant’s Causeway hostel – right next to the Visitor Centre near Bushmills – so the path was very close by. We hiked east, although it’s just as easy to stay near Ballintoy and hike west. Skip the Visitor Centre and save the admission fee for something else (like Bushmill’s Distillery!). The hike itself is free and the path is very well marked.

We grabbed a quick breakfast of eggs, toast, and the specific brand of instant coffee that is ubiquitous to hostels in all of Ireland and headed out. Fifteen minutes into our hike, we had already made two wrong turns before finally getting on track. It was windy and cold – TV weathermen would have undoubtedly used the word “balmy” – but at least the rain held off. We were treated to our first wonderful views almost instantly. Every turn around a corner or climb up a cliff led to a spot more beautiful than the last.

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The Causeway stones

THE LEGEND OF GIANT’S CAUSEWAY

The entire hike is called the Causeway Coastal Route. Its most famous section is the more common moniker: Giant’s Causeway. Legend has it that Irish giant Finn McCool accepted a challenge to fight Scottish giant Benandonner. Finn built the Causeway so the two giants could meet. Who won the fight depends on whether the storyteller is Irish or Scottish.

The official Giant’s Causeway is a small stretch of the whole hike, where molten volcanic basalt cooled and hardened into all kinds of squares and pentagons and hexagons. It is a geometry teacher’s heaven. Or hell. I’m not sure which one, since I never was and don’t ever plan on being a geometry teacher. Either way, it’s very cool to see.

giant's-causeway-oren-cassie

It felt like the right thing to do.

THE CLIFFS OF THE CAUSEWAY

Almost immediately after leaving Giant’s Causeway, we began our climb up the cliffs. Most of the remaining hike – a good 6 or 7 miles at least – was on the edge of the cliffs, staring down at the swirling ocean below. The ground was soaked from rain the day before. By the end of the hike, so were our shoes. When they finally dried, we had to wash them again to remove the mud. Totally worth it though.

BALLINTOY AND A BEER

Our map of the hike showed a few places to eat along the way, but when we reached these points, they were either closed or nonexistent. We hadn’t packed a lunch, so we had to hike about 9 miles before we came to our first town large enough to have a pub, Ballintoy. I drank a lot of beer in 2 weeks on the Emerald Isle. The pint I had in Ballintoy may have been the best one. We were exhausted and wet after 6 hours of hiking. Make sure to pack a few granola bars or some sort of snack for the hike just to keep you fueled up. The meal was decent pub food, but it tasted excellent given our current state. We had one final stop after our late lunch.

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Nearing the end

THE CARRICK-A-REDE ROPE BRIDGE

For many people, the Giant’s Causeway hike ends at the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. In pictures, the bridge looks like a few cords of yarn strung together over a bottomless ravine, stretching on for miles before it reaches the island of Carrick-a-Rede. Only the bravest of humans would attempt to cross. In reality, the bridge is very short, quite sturdy, and not too high. It is the very definition of a tourist trap. You could cross it in 15 seconds. Still, we had to try it.

I say “could” for a very specific reason. We got to the bridge at about 3:45 in the afternoon. It had closed 15 minutes before we got there. There was still plenty of sunlight left, but winter hours were already in effect. There would be no crossing the bridge for us. Our Giant’s Causeway hike ended at the locked gate with the empty bridge taunting us only a few feet away. Cassie was not pleased. Do what we didn’t do: check the bridge hours here.

THE RIDE BACK

We had to wait about 30 minutes for the next bus to take us back to our hostel. A hot shower felt absolutely amazing after Giant’s Causeway. One of the other guys at the hostel had missed the last bus the day before and had to walk back from Ballycastle – about 5 miles farther than Carrick-a-Rede. Word of advice: DO NOT MISS THE LAST BUS.

It was a long, tiring day, but the Giant’s Causeway hike was absolutely worth the time and effort it required. If you have a day to spare in Ireland and want to get some fresh sea air, this is the perfect place.

Check out our Giant’s Causeway photo gallery.

-O.L.

3 Responses to “Giant’s Causeway: 10 Miles of Rugged Beauty”

  • I have always wanter to visit – I only made it to Shannon and the Cliffs of Moher – before heading to Dublin for WAY to much beer đŸ˜‰

    • Dublin tends to have that effect on people! You’ll just have to hit Giant’s Causeway the next time you’re in town. The hike is stunningly beautiful. In winter, it was definitely cold, but empty. We thought that was great – to do the hike without interruption.

  • The view of Giant’s Causeway from the cliffs is remarkable. Some of my favorite travel photos.

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