Walk ... the Gi­ant’s Cause­way

The Irish Times Magazine - - ON THE MOVIE - JOHN GO’DWYER

Idon’t re­ally care for the Gi­ant’s Cause­way. Maybe my stan­dards are op­pres­sively high but, by com­par­i­son with other World Her­itage Sites, the place some­times seemed to lack a hu­man sto­ry­line. No uplifting ac­count of stone age farm­ers rais­ing a great burial cham­ber to hon­our the sun as at New­grange or me­dieval monks go­ing to the end of the earth to glo­rify God at Skel­lig Michael. Then there is the fact that the Cause­way al­ways seems so in­fer­nally over­crowded, while the deeds of Fionn Mac Cumhaill have long ago been cliched to death.

So, I avoided the cause­way for years. Re­cently, how­ever, I was back on a sub­lime April evening as the hordes of day- trip­pers de­parted. Af­ter a tasty repast in the re­mark­ably at­mo­spheric Cause­way Ho­tel, I went on the rocks.

Beyond the tun­nel to the right of the vis­i­tor cen­tre, I de­scended with an, odd to be­hold, boul­der to my left that is re­ferred to as the “Camel’s Back”. Beyond lay Done­gal’s Malin Head, the north­ern­most place in Ire­land; so, I was now walk­ing east while look­ing north at the south of Ire­land. It is thus how the com­plex­ity of Ir­ish his­tory has con­vo­luted ge­og­ra­phy.

Af­ter 20 min­utes I reach the cause­way and find my­self alone with the stones. In the com­pany of 37,000 mostly hexag­o­nal col­umns that were cre­ated by rapidly cool­ing lava 60 mil­lion years ago, I sit and ab­sorb the oth­er­world­li­ness of it all.

Then, it is on through a gap in the basalt to Port Nof­fer. Here, a large rock ma­rooned on the stony beach has been dubbed the Gi­ant’s Boot, while the sur­round­ing basalt col­umns have been chris­tened the Or­gan.

Swing­ing right, I as­cend a steep path known as the Shep­herd’s Steps to the clifftop. Then, comes a wow mo­ment: the sun slowly drops in a fiery globe to drown it­self spec­tac­u­larly in the aqua­ma­rine north­west­ern ocean. Spec­ta­cle gone like a ship in the night, I tag the clifftop above the re­mark­able am­phithe­atre of Port Reostan to reach the Chim­ney Tops view­point.

Be­neath lies Port na Spa­ni­agh, so named be­cause lo­cal folk­lore held, the Girona – largest galleon of the Span­ish Ar­mada – foundered here with loss of 1,300 lives. In 1967, divers from Bel­gium proved the tra­di­tion cor­rect when they dis­cov­ered the Girona and re­moved many price­less arte­facts to the Ul­ster Mu­seum. Gaz­ing down in the cre­pus­cu­lar light, I can’t help won­der­ing when those on board re­alised their fate. A north­west­erly gale was en­sur­ing the Girona would not make it safely around Fair Head and it must have been blind­ingly ob­vi­ous they were about to per­ish on this breath- tak­ing but cruel shore­line.

It is a dis­turb­ing thought as I re­turn along the clifftop pass­ing above the Shep­herd’s Steps in the gath­er­ing dusk with the lights of Portrush fir­ing up the hori­zon. Paus­ing over the black basalt col­umns, it oc­curs to me that here is by far Ire­land’s most in­sanely evoca­tive coast­line. This means, of course, that I must take back some­thing I said ear­lier for I don’t re­ally dis­like the cause­way. Ac­tu­ally, I love its sur­real at­mos­phere – it’s just the crowds I can’t abide.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: PAUL FAITH/ PA

Gi­ant’s Cause­way: In the com­pany of 37,000 mostly hexag­o­nal col­umns that were cre­ated by rapidly cool­ing lava 60 mil­lion years ago, sit and ab­sorb the oth­er­world­li­ness of it all.

Get­ting There: The Gi­ant’s Cause­way is lo­cated on the B147 Cause­way road, Co Antrim. It is two miles from Bush­mills and 13 miles from Bal­ly­cas­tle. Suit­abil­ity: Un­chal­leng­ing out­ing on rea­son­ably sound tracks. Shep­herds Steps can be slip­pery. Time: 1.5 hours Dis­tance: 5km Note: Park­ing on­site costs a whop­ping £ 11.50 per per­son. With a full car you may wish to park in Bush­mills and take public trans­port. Af­ter 6pm park­ing is free at the Cause­way.

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