It isn’t possible to fit in sixty million years of history into a single day, but you can have a pretty good shot at it on the North Antrim coast. Several locations in this area are now enjoying renewed interest from visitors, having been used as the setting for Game of Thrones.
Hire cars and tour buses abound as we approach the Giant’s Causeway – though it’s easy enough to get here by bus from Belfast, and cheaper too. Before you’re allowed to see one of the biggest adverts for Geology degrees, the National Trust wants you to see it’s visitor centre, built into a mound at the top of the hill.
Thankfully I’ve done my reading. Because the National Trust charges £12.50. Not for the privilege of seeing one of nature’s greatest shows, but for the “visitor experience”. The cash also covers the rather extortionate cost of car parking; tales about of the roads around here being clogged up in the summer,and vehicles use every spare bit of road and grass verge to avoid the fees.
However, if you’re on foot it won’t cost you a penny. And even on a drizzle-laden day, the walk itself is stunning.
I’ve taken the “Red Route” to get to the stones, described on the signposts as involving tricky terrain. Yes, you’ll need a decent pair of walking boots and be able to descend a steep set of steps, but aside from that it’s not too taxing – and far more enjoyable than taking the tarmaced road below.
Once close up, this magical place is filled with scores of visitors and half a dozen languages. Even in late November, the Giant’s Causeway attracts hundreds every day – which is a little off putting. Given the chance of a return visit, I might well opt to stay in the nearby village of Bushmills and get an early start to avoid the crowds.
This tightly cropped photo doesn’t really give you a scale of how many are here – although there’s plenty of space either side to enjoy the surrounding coast and its relative tranquility.
Aside from the visitor centre, the Causeway Hotel and The Nook – a cafe cum pub – have a monopoly on refreshments, served at hugely inflated prices. So I head just a few miles along the coast to Portrush – a seaside favourite for thousands of Northern Ireland holidaymakers, and in 2019 it hosted the Golf Open on its famous links course. Around the town, some of the signs remain from the tournament, but the weather really has closed in now – and whole place is desolate. Even the lifeboat looks lonely.
As already mentioned, good transport links make travelling around this area easy enough – a day ticket covering the whole of Northern Ireland’s buses and trains costs just £17.
In the evening, a chance to visit another National Trust property where I don’t mind paying.
The Crown Bar is described as “Belfast’s most famous”, and while I might contend that point it’s difficult to argue with the sentiment. A bustling bar bursting with original Victorian features, this is a building worth preserving and protecting.