Northern Ireland – that part of the island of Ireland that is part of the United Kingdom and which is composed of six of the nine counties of the historic province of Ulster – is small but very beautiful. I spent a few days in one small part – the County Antrim coastline – yet found as much there as one might find anywhere.
A short flight to Belfast City airport; then a hire car out towards Portrush, a very straightforward journey that avoids the city centre and gets me there in an hour. I may be lucky, but I get the best weather in the whole country; and beneath the mainly blue sky the sea is aquamarine, clear and clean. The beach, the Curran Strand, is long and sandy and in the distance are the cliffs beyond which lie the Giant’s Causeway.
Since I was there not just to see the country but also to walk in it, I decided to have a look at the Causeway, which I might otherwise have ignored as a tourist trap. What turned out to be the best things about it was not so much the well-known stone hexagons, impressive though they are, but the dramatic countryside that rears up above it – high cliffs that sweep around the coast in a series of enormous amphitheatres, reminiscent of Chinese paintings where the scenes are exaggerated to convey a sene of majesty and grandeur. Except here there was no need for exaggeration. On the way back to Portrush, by chance, I followed a sign to a harbour that turned out to be the very charming Ballintoy, which apparently has featured in the television series ‘Game of Thrones’.
Further west, towards Stroke City (Derry/Londonderry, which, with its complete city walls is well worth a visit), are a series of sloping hills clad in conifer forest that rise to a sheer escarpment overlooking Lough Foyle and beyond it to Donegal in the Republic. From a small lake at the top it is but a few steps to the cliff edge and then a good, easy walk along its edge for just about as far as you want. Much of the route forms part of the Ulster Way, the long distance trail that follows the contours of the whole of Northern Ireland.
Back towards the east, I rejoined the Causeway route, which takes you past Downhill, with its ruined great house and temple now precariously tipped at the cliff edge; and Dunluce Castle, a romantic ruin if ever there was one. That was all I had time for – next time it will be Mountains of Mourne. I strongly recommend a walk in Northern Ireland: the scenery is fabulous, the people warm and welcoming.
This post was written by Christopher Knowles
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