BUSHMILLS TO BALLYCASTLE
IT CAN BE DIFFICULT TO GET TIME TOGETHER AS A COUPLE WHEN YOU HAVE CHILDREN. So, when a relative offers to have the kiddies for a night so you can spend some time alone then you jump at the opportunity! The conversation that ensues usually includes the words ‘restaurant’, ‘dinner’, ‘cinema’ and ‘cocktails’…who doesn’t love a nice night out in a fancy restaurant followed by a few cocktails and a bit of dancing?
As a family we do a lot of hiking in the Mourne Mountains and most weekends we are off in search of some sort of adventure. With the back to school routine having kicked in with a vengeance and 3 very tired boys on our hands, we didn’t feel it would be fair to drag them up a mountain trail when all they truly needed was some downtime. So, when Granny and Granda kindly offered to keep the boys overnight we decided we would plan an adventure or our own.
We have been wanting to increase our walking distance for a while now so with that in mind I suggested that we tackle the Causeway Coastal Route, beginning at Bushmills and finishing up in Ballycastle. It is a 20-mile route around the cliff paths of the North Coast in Northern Ireland so would involve an overnight camp and a brisk pace. The weather forecast for the weekend wasn’t great, with rain and strong winds expected, but we decided we would give it a go anyhow. The weather forecasters have been known to get it wrong before!
We packed our rucksacks light, bearing in mind that we had to carry it for 10 miles each day. We brought only what we needed – food, water, dry socks and a change of clothing, small cooking stove, sleeping bags, tent, toothbrushes, loo roll and carrier bags (for rubbish and wet garments). Loaded up, we dropped the kids off at their grandparents and got a lift to Bushmills, famous globally for its whiskey distillery, where we tucked into an all-day breakfast at The Copper Kettle to fuel us up for the journey ahead. From here we followed the heritage railway line from which runs from Bushmills to The Giant’s Causeway. We followed the track down into the dunes at Portballintrae, where we joined the coastal path just as the rain started. We covered our rucksacks with their waterproofs, zipped up our jackets and head down into the wind we walked across the beach past Runkerry House wondering all the while if we were completely bonkers. Thankfully, the rain did not endure and our enthusiasm remained strong as we joined the cliff top path which would take us all the way to The Giant’s Causeway. This stretch is about 4.3km long and has some spectacular views. We wanted to keep our pace steady, having decided that we need to reach Whitepark Bay before sunset, but is very necessary to stop every once in a while to marvel at the landscape. It was a dark, brooding kind of a day and we could see and hear huge waves crashing over the rocks far below.
Marching on, we reached The Giant’s Causeway, where we descended along with hundreds of tourists down to where the impressive 40,000 or so basalt columns roll out into the sea. We stopped only briefly to take a few snaps before facing the 162-step climb upwards to reach the cliff path once more. Lot’s of fun with a rucksack!
The next part of the route passes above a series of coves, with the most well-known probably being the Port na Spaniagh, where the Girona was shipwrecked. The Ulster Museum in Belfast houses an amazing array of treasure which was salvaged from the wreck and is well worth a visit.
This stretch of coastline is far above the sea so caution must be taken when walking in strong winds as we were. The landscape is wild and striking and as we walked along we were reminded once again just how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful country. We enjoyed chatting and we enjoyed silence, pausing every now and then to take a deep breath and drink in the views. Despite the weight of the rucksack on my shoulders, I could feel the week’s pressures lifting off and the freeing power of nature at work. It really does do the soul good to step out of the busyness of the everyday and face the glory of the natural world. There’s something about the vastness of the sea and rugged cliffs that help put life into perspective.
The final section of our first day took us past Dunseverick Castle ruins, through Portbradden and around the rocks which lead to Whitepark Bay (be mindful here of the tide times).
Up in the grassy dunes we pitched our tent for the night as the sun set and when we finally kicked off our boots and cooked our evening meal we were well and truly exhausted! Hunger satisfied we got into our sleeping bags and chatted for a few hours. We had spent a great afternoon tackling the dramatic terrain, stopping occasionally to chat with other walkers, and marvelling at the panoramic views. We slept soundly that night despite our aches and pains and awoke only once to the sound of the rain on our tent.
We anticipated heavy rain the following morning, as indicated by the weather forecast, bu we unzipped the tent and were pleasantly surprised to find that it was a bright, fresh morning. Rabbits hopped about our tent as we cooked our porridge for breakfast and talked about the remainder of our journey.
The high-tide was around 9am so we were in no real hurry to get going as we needed to pass around the rocks from Whitepark Bay to Ballintoy and needed the tide to be well out for this. We didn’t however want to be taking the tent down in the rain so we packed up while the weather was fair and headed towards the end of the beach where we were able to wait in a little cove for the tide to retreat.
This next part of the route which leads into Ballintoy Harbour has become well-known for featuring in the hit series, Game of Thrones. It is a beautiful spot and worth pausing for a minute or two to enjoy and also view back around the long stretch of coastline we had already trekked.
Once in Ballintoy, again famous from scenes from Game of Thrones, we followed the road up until we once again joined the Causeway Coastal Route trail which leads to Carrick-a-Rede ropebridge.
We didn’t stop at the ropebridge because the weather turned at this point and with heavy rain pounding down we were eager to keep moving. Of course the rain eased off by the time we made it to the top of the huge hill…but not for long!
This next part of the route is the least interesting in that it is along a busy road and with dark clouds moving rapidly in our direction we were keen to keep moving. We followed the road all the way to Ballycastle, mostly in heavy rain, where we were so grateful to reach an off-road track where we could pause for a breather.
We descended into Ballycastle towards the harbour where we stopped for well-earned fish and chips from Morton’s Chipshop. With blistered heels, weather-beaten cheeks and happiness in our hearts never has food tasted so good!