First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The Antrim Hills Way hurdles high countryside seldom seen by tourists who stick to County Antrim’s celebrated Causeway Coast. These green hills form a volcanic backbone that shadows the coastline a few miles inland and a thousand feet higher, a rugged spine with ribs of basalt cliffs that fall dramatically to patchwork farmlands between the heights and the sea.
You could do the whole 22-mile path in a single long day, if you had time and stamina. But today we were aiming for some highlights of the route, the great arc of the Sallagh Braes cliffs and the high lookout of Scawt Hill. A blustery wind was sweeping the last of the night’s rain away in its skirts as we put on our boots in the ‘car park in the sky’, as locals call Linford car park with its tremendous seaward views.
Up the lower slopes of Robin Young’s Hill we went, heading south through sedge clumps that hissed and bowed stiffly before the wind. A patch of plants resembling a beanfield in flower turned out on closer inspection to be thistles, stuck all over with white hanks of wool from the ragged mountain sheep that wandered among them.
Ahead ran the bent bow of the Sallagh Braes, a wide amphitheatre of basalt ramparts, with fans of grassy scree sweeping down to crumpled country of green and yellow fields. Eastwards the sea lay in polished silver streaks, its far horizon crowned with the volcanic plug of Ailsa Craig, a thousand feet high. The hills of south-west Scotland were spread beyond – the Mull of Kintyre to the north, the Rhinns of Galloway in the south.
Topping the rise, we looked forward along the Sallagh Braes’ scoop of cliffs, with the long sea inlet of Larne Lough cradled in the arm of Islandmagee’s green peninsula. Inland, rolling hills led away to the black hedgehog-backed mountain of Slemish, southerly terminus of the Antrim Hills Way.
We skirted the rim of the Sallagh Braes, savouring these giant prospects, until the Way swung inland. Turning back along the cliffs, we crossed the road at the ‘car park in the sky’ and followed the path north for another exhilarating mile of high and mighty walking.
A stiff little climb up to Ballycoos Hill, and then an undulating stride to the top of Scawt Hill, another of the volcanic plugs so characteristic of this coast. The wind shoved us, our hair smacked our faces like a cat-o’-nine-tails, and we stared round over sea and land as the sky cleared, our eyes full of wind tears and belated sun dazzle.
Start: Linford car park, Feystown Road, near Ballygally, Larne BT44 0EA approx. (OSN1 ref 332072)
Getting there: Linford car park is 2 miles up Ballycoose Road/Feystown Road from Cairncastle on B148 (signed off A8 at Millbrook, just west of Larne).
Walk (5½ miles, rough moorland walking, OSN1 1:25,000 Activity Map ‘Glens of Antrim’): From car park cross ladder stile, head south uphill, following Antrim Hills Way white-topped posts (AHW) for nearly 2 miles to a notch in cliffs where AHW turns right/inland (344048). Return same way to car park. Cross road and stile opposite; follow AHW posts uphill, across Ballycoos Hill (335083) and on to Scawt Hill summit (337090). Return to car park.
Accommodation: Ballygally Castle Hotel, Ballygally BT40 2QZ (028-2858-1066, hastingshotels.com)
Antrim Hills Way: walkni.com/walks/51/antrim-hills-way