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Northern Ireland Basalt-Columned Marvel: The Best UNESCO Site

Northern Ireland’s rocky wonder really does look like it could have been the handiwork of giants – and many say that it is. Locked togs the dike regimented soldiers, it’s hard to believe the 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns peaking above the County Antrim coastline were crafted by nature. With 2016 marking 30 years since it was awarded UNESCO status (it remains Northern Ireland’s only World Heritage site), now’s the time to experience this classic Irish travel icon. But instead of accessing it straight from the car park try approaching it a little differently…

How can I see it? Instead of rushing straight to it, build up your anticipation by treading a section of the Causeway Coast Way first to see more of County Antrim’s rigged surrounds to arrive at this natural site on foot. Approach from the west, and you’ll wind along weathered cliffs from Portballintrae, passing the sandy Runkerry Beach, Leckilroy Cove and the Mile Stone enroute. Come from the east, and during the walk from Dunseverick Castle you’ll get a fine panorama of the Causeway from Weir’s Snout. Once there consider lingering while the crowds leave, to see the Causeway at its resplendent best against a burnt orange sky at dusk.

Giant’s Causeway
Giant’s Causeway

How was it formed? It’s said that legendary Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (or Finn McCool) carved the causeway in order to walk to Scotland to fight his Celtic counterpart Benandonner. Others say it was in fact Benandonner who built it, but then tore it up while fleeing in terror after being tricked into mistaking the disguised Fionn for his ‘giant baby son’. Sadly, the reality doesn’t involve giants, but a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago, leaving the molten basalt to cool into the rock formations we see today.

What else can I see there? The Giant’s Causeway isn’t the only wonder on the coast. Other rock formations range from the Giant’s Boot to Portnaboe’s The Camel (once ridden by Fionn himself). Alternatively, take a seat in the Wishing Chair, a throne formed out of basalt columns, or climb the Shepherd’s Steps for spectacular views. Further east lies the lofty Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, from which basking sharks, dolphins and porpoises can be spied.

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