I found myself lacing up hiking boots and donning a hard hat last week on the beautiful Antrim Coast. It might seem extreme for a coastal stroll, however The Gobbins Cliff Path Walk is anything but ordinary. Carved into the base of basalt cliffs, this 5km hike includes navigating fifty steps, suspension bridges, caves and moments when you’ll be walking below the impending tide.
The summer months see puffins and guillemots nesting and if you’re lucky like I was, balmy sunshine and crystal blue waters to rival Capri. This unique experience was the brainchild of Berkley Deane Wise in 1901, an Edwardian engineer who worked for the railways, making the beauty of the Antrim Coast easily accessible for the day tripper from Belfast – as it is today.
After thirty years of popularity the Second World War brought about its demise but it rose like a Phoenix from the ashes in 2015 with new technology and sturdy walkways making it stronger and better. Our guide, Michelle was a mine of information making the 2 ½ hour trek entertaining with quirky anecdotes. There is a height restriction of four feet but children will love spotting the dragon rock and stories of smugglers who hid in the caves and the Devil’s Elbow. Tickets for The Gobbins were much sought after this year with limited capacity due to social distancing making booking in advance essential. Entry is £20 www.thegobbinscliffpath.com
The stretch of road that hugs the coast from Belfast to Derry covers 212km and weaves through a landscape that competes with the Pacific Coast Highway or any epic road trip.
The Portaneevey Viewpoint took my breath away, as far as the Mull of Kintyre in fact. It’s close to The Carrick-a-rede rope bridge – an unfortunate casualty of the pandemic now closed with no option for social distancing.
But of course the highlight of the Causeway Coastal Route is the Giant’s Causeway. For the complete experience the visitors centre is open until 5pm daily and tickets can be booked online. To understand the landscape and hear the tales and legends surrounging this wonder an audio guide is helpful and Mac the tour guide cracks jokes along the way. However if you just want to breathe in the stunning scenery and make up your own stories you can rock up and enjoy the Giants Causeway free of charge anytime. The hexagonal basalt rock formations come in three stages from low to medium and then the pillars which are easy to navigate like steps of stairs. Bear in mind it is at your own risk. https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/giants-causeway
Few hotels have whisked me away to another time as easily as the Bushmills Inn. The original building dates back to a coaching inn in the early 16th century when visitors first came to see the Giant’s Causeway. These days The Bushmills Inn is the preferred choice for famous golfers to stay before playing at Royal Portrush which is only a short drive away. Shane Lowry visited the loft the night before he won the open in 2019.
Our suite was idyllic with a four poster bed and a huge bath – which is probably my most favourite hotel facility. The room looked out over the River Bush which runs at the back of the hotel and was an important part of the original whiskey making process at the Bushmills Distillery.
On the day we stayed the flag of the Isle of Man waved in the gentle breeze above the mill tower. The lovely manager, Nikki Picken, informed me that each day the flag of the country belonging to the guest from the furthest destination is hoisted. She also brought me on a tour of the flag library where over 200 flags are kept and helped me to find the Secret Library!
That evening we dined in cosy booths in the hotel restaurant which boasts low ceilings, wooden rafters and crisp white linen tables cloths on the tables. The real treat is the cuisine and being in the home of the world’s oldest whiskey I opted for the mouthwatering-fillet-steak cooked in Bushmills. The inn is part of Ireland’s Blue Book and a one night stay with breakfast is from €187 per room per night. www.irelandsbluebook.ie
Before leaving we popped into The Designerie on Bushmills Main Street – a design space where local artists and crafts people display and sell their work. Ceramics, pottery, jewellery and photography are just some of the delights and gifts to suit all budgets. But be warned before visiting The Designerie, the art is so good you might end up leaving with a few less pounds in your wallet and your hands heavier. I was however filled with more lovely memories of this coastline that never tires. www.Thedesignerie.co.uk
For more see www.visitcausewaycoastandglens.com