Thursday, March 22, 2012

Chasing Giants Along The Antrim Coastline

Equipped with bicycle, water bottles and a packed lunch (hot-cross buns) we made the 60km round trip from Portstewart to the Carrick-a-reed bridge and back again. As so many of Northern Ireland's most popular tourist attractions are within short distances from each other this is certainly a fun way to visit them. 

Cycling the route (see map below) is worth it for the scenery alone as it includes some of Ireland's most beautiful coastline. Look out for the surfers off the Portrush promenade and also on Whiterocks beach (just after Dunluce castle look down), if the waves are right you might see one or two barrels.

Most of the roads are relatively flat - there are a few hills but nothing major - and in good condition so this trip is not too demanding physically, even the least athletic Sunday rider should have no problem completing it.

If you happen to visit during slurry spreading season (as we did) be prepared for some potent nostril stiffening smells. While the stench of freshly sprayed manure does not please anyone it is a small price to pay for being out on the open road and getting a complete experience of the area.

Be sure and bring a good bike lock and a comfortable pair of shoes, many of the sites require you to walk quite a bit before you can actually see them. At the Giant's Causeway, for example, they will not let you bring your bike past the entrance, so you will have to lock it somewhere before making the long and steep 100m descent from the visitor's centre to the actual rocks.

To cap off your cycle I recommend dropping into Morelli's on the Portstewart promenade for some ice-cream. It's disappointing to know that any calories you have just burned off will be put back on in a single sitting however the incredible taste will make it seem worth while. With their huge variety of individual flavours and specialized sundaes you will not be disappointed.

Kick it into the big ring and enjoy. Happy cycling.

Dunluce Castle
Perched upon a towering limestone cliff Dunluce Castle commands an astounding view of the north Atlantic, if you are fortunate enough to visit on a clear day you should be able to see the Donegal coastline. From inside the courtyard you will appreciate the Castle's scale of the structure, believed to be over 500 years old it is remarkable that so many of its walls are still standing. The “Mermaid's Cave” is a passageway which runs underneath the entire castle and it is worth descending the many steps necessary to see it. I didn't count how many there was however be prepared for a small hike on the way back up, thigh and quad muscle burning inclusive.

Sandwiched between Dunluce Castle and the Giant's Causeway is the town of Bushmills, the birthplace of one of Ireland's most famous whiskies. If you are interested in the 400 years that have gone into perfecting this “Uisce Beatha” then a visit to the distillery is a must. A “wee” taster will also warm you up nicely before getting back on the saddle.

The Giant's Causeway
If you have ever wanted follow in the footsteps of giants then there is no place better place. Side by side in a honeycomb pattern these hexagonal pillars (over 40,000 of them) look more like the work of a modern sculptor than the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. The basalt formations are estimated to be 50-60 million years old and have been the focus of much geological research. If you feel like a walk you can take the “Finn McCool” trail and check out “The Organ,” “Finn's Boot” and “The Chimney Stacks.”

The Carrick-a-reed Bridge
From the most popular tourist attraction in Northern Ireland to the most picturesque. The Carrick-a-reed bridge was first used to safely transport salmon caught off the island's shores to the mainland. To this day the bridge still hangs 23 metres (c.eighty feet) above the sea below. No longer used by fishermen it now provides a safe crossing for thousands of nervous tourists every year. The Carrick-a-reed island itself boasts marvellous panoramic views reaching as far as Scotland. A visit between April and July will also allow you to witness the breeding season for a diversity of bird species. If crossing the bridge doesn't get your heart pumping the steep cycle from the visitor's centre to the main road certainly will.

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