A giant architect, a country’s saviour and possibly Europe’s most exclusive music festival – what next from Antrim’s Causeway Coast?
The Causeway Coast has charmed David Atkinson of the Telegraph newspaper.
“It’s a journey of fire, ice, limestone and basalt.”
It’s a nice way to sum up the causeway – but it’s only half the story.
Being named a Unesco World Heritage Site is something special. Then again, the Giant’s Causeway does ‘special’ in its sleep.
Sweeping down to the foamy edges of the North Atlantic like hundreds of perfectly placed steps, the sight of these basalt columns has become an enduring image of Ireland. Naturally, a back-story involving warring giants, quick witted wives and a warrior dressed as a baby adds intrigue. What raises the spirit, and the hairs on your neck, though, is to convene with a piece of the earth’s geological history.
If you’re having trouble imaging the experience, Ben Joyner’s mini-masterpiece will help you along.
Should your causeway journey begin from Belfast, you get side-tracked along the way. The reason? Villages like Ballintoy and Cushendun.
Snuggling the miniature village into a niche of Antrim coast, the land around Cushendun curves like a green hug. On the promenade, whitewashed three story townhouses sit perched on their Atlantic edge. By night, windows are turned amber with lamplight. 100 years before now, the searchlight from Blackhead Lightouse would have twinkled on that very stretch of North Atlantic sea.
At Ballintoy, the harbour is reached by a snaking boreen (small road in Irish). The smattering of brightly painted fishing boats bobbing on the water is straight from a children’s bedtime story.
Robert and the Spider
From the port of Ballycastle, Rathlin Island dominates the panorama. Few people know, but it dominates Scottish history, too. It was in a dank, dark cave here that Robert the Bruce, in exile from Scotland, found inspiration to lead his country against the British. How? Well, it’s kind of a long story, but you can read it here. Like the look of the island? Don’t wait around – the Ballycastle Ferry can take you there.
By the time you’ve arrived at Bushmills Inn – your lodgings for the night – it’s time to drop the car keys and seat yourself by the turf fire. Fancy a dram? You’re in the right place. Considered by whiskey buffs the world over to be one of the oldest distilleries in the world, this is where uisce beatha (the water of life, in Irish) takes on a life of its own.
That golden liquid in your glass has arrived there via a delicate six-step process from an unprepossessing grain of malted barley. The thanks goes to the Bushmills Distillery, just down the road, where the tipple has been perfected since 1608. Yes, that's 1608.
So, how old do you like your whiskey? 10? 16? 21 years? Maybe you’ve got a sweet tooth. Try a dash of the Irish Honey. Black Bush steals its magic from the Spanish oloroso and sweet bourbon casks that it calls home for up to seven years.
Dram in hand, fire flickering and memories of giants and kings in your head – it’s almost the perfect scene.
All you’re missing is some music.
Point your compass due North West from the Bushmills Distillery and the next country you’ll hit will be Iceland. It’s from those Arctic climbs that the Bushmills Live headliners, Of Monsters and Men will travel to Antrim to make sweet music this June. And the chart-topping six-piece will be filling large, and local, shoes. Snow Patrol headlined the festival in 2012.