This route is a kaleidoscope of natural landscapes, imposing cliffs, glens, mountains and waterfalls
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The Causeway Coastal Route between the Northern Ireland cities of Beflast and Derry~Londonderry is a kaleidoscope of natural landscapes, imposing cliffs, glens, mountains and waterfalls, not to mention buckets of charm.
This stunning slow coastal route starts in the hometown of the Titanic, Belfast, before taking you along a road peppered with highlights: from the Gobbins Cliff Path, through the Glens of Antrim, towards the famous Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, to Dunluce Castle and the magnificent Mussenden Temple before finishing up in the walled city of Derry. Nature, history, legend, jaw-dropping beauty, and one of the world’s top golf courses – according to Golf Digest – they’re all to be found on this easily driven road that’s a mere 154 miles long.
So if you want plenty of drama packed into a short and manageable road trip; if you want a destination where you can hop out of the car and spend more time exploring than driving; or a location that lets you stick around a while by staying in one of its pretty B&Bs, elegant guesthouses or even the odd haunted castle hotel in Ballygally, the Causeway Coastal Route has your needs sewn up.
Nowhere blurs history and myth like the Causeway Coastal Route, particularly at the jewel in its crown, the Giant's Causeway. The 40,000 eerie hexagonal basalt columns were either created by volcanoes, or by two warring giants – the choice of which to believe, as they say in the state-of-the-art Visitor Centre, is yours.
Further up the coast, a trip to Rathlin island reveals a story about Robert the Bruce. The Scottish king is said to have been inspired to fight for Scottish independence back in 1306… by a little spider. Its tenacious spirit shone through to the king while it attempted to spin a web from one side of a cave to another. The king’s epiphany at this random moment is also said to be the source of the phrase: “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
Moving on, its prehistoric legacy uncovered at nearby Mountsandel, which is believed to be the oldest archaeological site on the entire island of Ireland. The evidence of man settling here dates back to an incredible 7600 to 7900BC.
The extraordinary, fantastical landscape of Northern Ireland has fuelled the imaginations of writers and filmmakers for quite some time. Most recently it featured in HBO’s smash hit Game of Thrones. Fans of the show will recognise the Cushendun Caves straight away, see how Murlough Bay doubles as the Coast of Essos, and find out that The Iron Islands are usually known to locals as simply Ballintoy Harbour.
The crumbling Dunluce Castle inspired a far less contemporary storyteller, but by no means less creative wordsmith, when it sparked the imagination of CS Lewis’ Cair Paravel in The Chronicles of Narnia. The 14th-century castle remains teeter on a craggy headland – and on a clear day you can see all way across the sea to Islay.
Standing 120-feet above the white sands of Downhill Strand is Mussenden Temple, a folly built as a replica of the Temple of Vesta in Italy, and a place to simply admire and explore, or to get married in! This National Trust Demesne is what many happy couples would describe as the ultimate backdrop to their big day.
And if you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to live in a castle, then just ask the McDonnell family as you tour Glenarm Castle. They have owned it since the 1600s, and it still contains furniture and portraits dating back to the 17th century.
"The 40,000 eerie hexagonal basalt columns were either created by volcanoes, or by two warring giants - the choic of which to believe is yours."
After more than 100 years, the Gobbins Cliff Path has been given a new lease of life. Access is sometimes restricted, but this seaside gem is worth the wait as it’s probably the closest you can ever get to walking on water without getting wet!
The Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge might be a little too high to feel the sea spray on your face, as it hangs almost 100 feet above the crashing water, below. Once used by hardy salmon fishermen, the rope bridge has been around for 250 years – and is a magnet for people wishing to test their head for heights; or simply for those who adore the fresh sea air.
Twitchers will adore getting up close to the thousands of sea birds who flock to Rathlin Island – think puffins, kittiwakes and razorbils. A stroll through the wooded glens of Antrim will be filled with the scent of hawthorn and gorse. And a wander along Portstewart Strand’s dunes in the summer will reveal an amazing array of orchids, including the bee and pyramidal orchids – all this blossoming not far from the watersports and horseriding that takes place up and down the broad and beautiful Blue Flag beach.
Portstewart itself, and nearby Portrush, are beautiful seaside villages with lots to do – but both might be more famous worldwide for their golf courses – Royal Portrush, where The Open 2019 will take place, is one of the most challenging links courses in the world. With just four miles between them, Portstewart has come out of the shadow of its big hitter neighbour, and hosted the Irish Open 2017 in July.
If you need any more temptation to come and play a round at either of these beauties – most courses on the island are open to visitors – then whiskey might be the answer. The Causeway Coastal Route is home to Bushmills – the famous, 400-year-old whiskey – which you can see being made at the Old Bushmills Distillery. The pretty little town is filled with lovely eateries, too.
Bookended by two lively, beautiful cities – the Causeway Coastal Route is not one to race along, but to take slowly, savouring the delights that both nature and man have provided.