From Busmills to Belfast, A Day in Northern Ireland
One of the most picturesque settings in Northern Ireland is the Giant's Causeway, sitting along the northern coast of the Emerald Isle. It is a hugely popular tourist destination, attracting around a million visitors each year. It was something that I did not want to miss on my 10 day journey through Ireland.
The nearest town to the Giant's Causeway is Bushmills, where I stayed at an incredible bed and breakfast. Bushmills is also well known for its whiskey distillery. I am personally not much of a whiskey drinker, so I did not take the time to visit the distillery. However, next time I am there, if my wife is with me, we may have to make a stop at the oldest licensed distillery in the world.
The Giant's Causeway was just one of the many items on my itinerary for the day, so I wanted to get going early in the day. Plus, I wanted to beat any potential crowds. Even though it was early October, this is still a very popular attraction. I had a fabulous breakfast at the inn, checked out and was on my way for the short drive to the parking lot. The parking lot and the visitors center at Giant's Causeway did not open until 9 am the day I was there. However, you can get there by foot through the Causeway Coast Way route and go as early as dawn.
There are two parking lots at the Giant's Causeway, one at the visitor center and one that is about half a mile away and is a little bit cheaper. I chose the option further away, which ended up giving me a nice little walk up to the visitor center. This parking lot is very small and was completely full by the time I left a couple of hours later.
From the visitors center the walk to the Giant's Causeway is along a narrow road leading down to the water. The cliffs on one side of the road grew taller the further I went along the road until I got to the bottom and could first see the long stretch of coastline that held the infamous stepping stones.
I made my way onto the stepping stones that reached out into the sea. Here the ocean waves came crashing into the rocks with force. At one point the area I was standing in one minute was overtaken by a wave the next. While on a higher point up on the stones, safely away from the waves, I was able to just stand there and take in the natural wonder that was all around me.
The trails within the Giant's Causeway Park go from right along the water to up atop the cliffs for a bird's-eye view. Unfortunately, some of the trails have become too dangerous to walk due to erosion from the ocean. But with the trails I was able to traverse, I ended up spending a little over two hours exploring this magnificent site.
My next adventure for the day took me on a short drive along the Causeway Coastal Route from Giant's Causeway to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. I had bought a ticket online the day before I went here for a specific time, as this is another very popular attraction and there are limits on how many people can cross the bridge at one time. The weather can also determine that no one is allowed to cross the bridge.
There has been a rope bridge in the same place for almost 250 years, however, it has undergone major upgrades during that time to become a tourist attraction. Its original purpose was to connect fishermen from the mainland to the island of Carrick, which was known to be a great fishing spot. When the fish moved on from the area, so did the fishermen, and now anyone who wants to get a glimpse of Scotland can cross the bridge to do so.
The walk from the parking lot to the actual rope bridge took about 20 minutes and gave some spectacular views of the Northern Ireland coastline. Once I had made it to the rope bridge, there was a line to wait in, as they would let people going over the bridge one way go first and then people coming back over the bridge go next, each time letting about 20 people or so go at a time. Many people stopped to take photos while on the bridge or had someone take a photo of them which made the whole process take that much longer. Since I was there alone, I didn't have anyone to take my photo and while on or near the bridge the wind was quite gusty. I didn't want my phone to be lost by me or someone else so I didn't take any chances.
When I say that it was gusty on the bridge, I'm not exaggerating. The people that worked directing traffic on the bridge would go on it periodically to test the wind speed to ensure it was safe enough to cross. I had to hold onto my hat extremely tight to ensure it didn't blow off as the bridge swayed in the breeze.
The Carrick Island itself is very small. I did get some very good views out into the sea, and luckily for me, it was a clear day, at least at the time, and I was able to see Scotland off in the distance. But it is obvious that the rope bridge itself is the star of this attraction. I spent about 15 minutes exploring the tiny island before crossing back over the bridge and heading to my car.
My third stop for the day took me on about an hour's drive south and inland to Glenariff Forest Park. The Glenariff Forest Park is a lesser-known park, but it was well worth the stop. I got to the park where I was supposed to pay, but the unmanned pay station didn't accept credit cards and I had no cash on me so I just parked my car without paying. I didn't really have another choice at the time.
The Glenariff Forest Park is quite large and has numerous trails that are all really well marked. I decided to take the waterfall trail first since the numerous waterfalls were the main reason I came to the park. Unlike most hiking trails, the waterfall trail went down first from the main parking lot. The path wound down fairly steeply before meeting up with the Glenariff River, where it hugged the stream for much of the trail.
As the path descended further, the forest became thicker and wetter. It felt more like I was in a rainforest in a tropical paradise rather than Northern Europe. Eventually I came upon the first waterfall I would encounter on the trail. It wasn't the largest waterfall, but its setting within the thick brush made it a fantastic site to see.
The trail ultimately came to a restaurant at the bottom before taking a turn back up towards the parking lot. Shortly after turning back up there was another waterfall from the Inver River before it met up with the Glenariff River. This waterfall had a trail that crossed above and below it for multiple viewing options before the path made its ascent. The walk back to the parking lot was not as scenic as the walk down. There wasn't a river that walked along the trail, and the forest was not as thick.
Once back at the top of the trail, where the parking lot was located, there was an amazing view out to the sea between two hills that stretched out over the landscape. There was a nice open park area here with tables and people playing with their dogs. There was a scenic trail that went up and gave an even better view, but I didn't venture on this trail as I was getting low on energy for the day.
It was getting later in the afternoon, and I wanted to make my way to my final stop in Belfast, which was about an hour's drive away. The drive to Belfast was similar to most of my other drives through Ireland, with narrow roads that curled around the landscape. I arrived in the city in the late afternoon and checked into my hotel.
I didn't have a lot on my itinerary for the evening other than getting to one of the local breweries, Out of Office. The brewery was located on the second level of an office building, and it took me a minute to figure out exactly how to get there, but I eventually found the signs for the entrance. The brewery had an assortment of brews of all different flavors, so it was easy for me to try a few. After the brewery, I found a local pub to eat dinner before returning to my hotel room.
My day had been filled with adventures exploring the outdoors of Northern Ireland, with the highlight being the Giant's Causeway. It had shown me that any trip to Ireland is not complete without venturing to the northern part of the country.