First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A balmy day on Bushfoot Strand, a day of sun and smoky autumn light. Atlantic breakers curved inshore in three lines of creamy foam, and surfers were defying the ‘Don’t Swim’ notices to catch themselves a wave to remember. Runkerry House sprawled under the far headland with outflung wings and twin towers, its hedges thick with gleaming scarlet rosehips the size of cherry tomatoes.
At the outer tip of Runkerry Point, where a welter of black basalt lay like a spilt brain at the feet of the cliffs, we looked back round the pristine arc of Bushfoot Strand and on along the jutting green cliffs, westward to the distant hills of Donegal. Then we turned east and followed the cliff tops through drifts of harebells and the white rococo trumpets of convolvulus. The path skirted Leckilroy Cove with its dark slit of a cave and toy slipway, and led across the flat grass-grown roof of the futuristic Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre. We tiptoed gingerly over the skylight windows like cat burglars, and joined the people thronging down the roadway to the Causeway itself.
The Giant’s Causeway, so heavily promoted in tourist literature, is a bird’s-beak of basalt dipping into the sea. It can seem an awful disappointment if you come on it from the wrong angle. ‘Where are the pipes?’ an American visitor was asking everyone in sight. ‘I thought there were enormous pipes rising up…’ and he flung up a hand to indicate a sky-high phenomenon.
If he’d walked beyond the crowded Causeway and on along the mountain path round the next bay, he’d have seen natural wonders to make him gasp – mighty basalt columns fifty feet high, packed together like organ pipes or fossilised monster teeth in a landslip coast of rugged magnificence. Seen from this steep cliffside path, the Giant’s Causeway lay revealed in all its proper enormity, backed by a Dante-esque headland.
We couldn’t resist a ride in the rattletrap old Causeway tram, trundling tick-tack! tick-tack! along its grassy track through the dunes to Bushmills at not many miles an hour, emitting banshee wails as it went. A crunchy return path beside the track, a saunter through the dunes, and we were back on the broad sands of Bushfoot Strand once more.
Start: Beach Road car park (free), Portballintrae, BT57 8RT (OSNI ref C929424)
Getting there: Bus service 172 (Coleraine-Ballycastle); 252 (Belfast-Coleraine)
Road – A2 to Bushmills, B145 to Portballintrae
Walk (6½ miles, easy/moderate, OSNI Discoverer 1:50,000 Sheet 4; ‘Portballintrae Causeway Loop’ instructions/map at walkni.com; online map, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk): Path to beach; cross footbridge; along beach to path below Runkerry House and on to Causeway Hotel and Visitor Centre (944438). Down steps; road to Giant’s Causeway (947447). Follow Blue Trail past Causeway, under ‘The Organ’ formation (952449), round next corner to path’s end in The Amphitheatre (952452). Back to fingerpost; fork left uphill (‘Red Trail’). Up steep Shepherd’s Steps to top (951445). Return to Visitor Centre and tramway station below. Option 1: Follow path beside tramway; fork right just before river bridge (937426) on dunes boardwalk back to Portballintrae. Option 2: Tramway to Bushmills; path returns beside tramway for 1 mile to cross river (937425); in 100m, left on dunes boardwalk back to Portballintrae.
Lunch: Picnic; Causeway Hotel (028-2073-1210, thecausewayhotel.com) or Giants Causeway Visitor Centre.
Accommodation: Bayview Hotel, Portballintrae, Co. Antrim BT57 8RZ (028-2073-4100; bayviewhotelni.com)
Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre: 028-2073-1855, nationaltrust.org.uk/giants-causeway
Giant’s Causeway & Bushmills Railway: 028-2073-2844; freewebs.com/giantscausewayrailway. £5 fare. Weekends, BH April-June; daily July, Aug; weekends Sept, Oct.
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