PYW - Causeway Coast May Bank Holiday 2010

Heading further a field than we normally do, 10 members of the walking group jumped on the flight to Belfast International Airport for a weekend walking in Northern Ireland. 

We arrived at the White Park Bay International Youth Hostel near Ballintoy and were greeted by the magnificent view across the bay .  The Hostel sits above a mile long, perfectly white beach, and it was lovely to be serenaded to sleep by waves through the open window.  The sun shone and the sea and sky were both crystal blue - who says it always rains in Ireland?

Day one - White Park Bay to Carrick-A-Rede
We decided to do a linear walk east along the coast to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and back.  Well, never have the group walked so slowly with a photo opportunity around every corner and a sandy beach to stroll along.  After the first mile on the soft sand, we headed over coastal pastures down into the pretty harbour of Ballintoy with Sheep Island out at sea.    

After a refreshment stop, we carried on across fields to the Rope Bridge managed by the National Trust.  The steps down to the bridge seemed to be the worse bit and no one noticed the fantastic view either side as we descended.  A hundred and fifty feet above the sea, the bridge used to be built every year to allow the Salmon Fisherman to cross to the island.  Even though we had a few people who weren't that keen on heights, the whole group made it across and had lunch overlooking the sea, with the prospect of having to go back across it again!  It was much better the second time, with everyone taking time to enjoy the view and of course posing for the group photo.

Even though the walk back was on the same path, it seemed like a different walk as the views changed all the time.  Finally we took our boots off and paddled the final mile across the beach back to the hostel, the sun setting over the sea and gulls singing above 

Day two - White Park Bay to Portballintrae
One of the main reasons for coming to Antrim is of course to walk the Giant's Causeway and today was going to be the day. 

As the walk would again be linear, we had to leave two cars at the end point, Portballintrae.  The drive back to the start went through a heavy shower so some started the walk in full wet weathers while others were braver.  The first few miles of the walk were slow but fun, scrambling across the rocks at the edge of the bay to gain access to the next little fishing village of Portbraddan, with its tiny church.  From here we headed up out of the village through a natural arch in the rock to head off along the coast. 

It really is a spectacular coastline and the views just kept getting better.  By this time all the wet weathers and sweatshirts had been discarded.  We had our morning break next to a small waterfall that was cascading into the sea, watching the waves breaking.  We passed what was left of Dunseverick Castle and started the climb up onto the Causeway Headland.  The approach was just as impressive with two hundred foot cliffs below us and the hexagonal rock formations starting to become visible.  It probably is the best way to approach the Giant's Causeway rather than the well trodden route down the tarmac path from the visitor centre!  Descending the steep steps, the throng of people started to build.  Agreeing a time to meet in the National Trust tea room we all went our separate ways for a good look round the rock formations.

Everyone agreed the Causeway itself is more impressive than the pictures and the tourists seem like a swarm of ants over an anthill as the scale is so large. By this time it was late afternoon and some members were showing signs of withdrawals so of course tea and cake was our next stop as well as a check  on dinner venues that we could return to later after a shower.  

So resisting the short cut to Portballintrae we carried onto the next headland and the final push along Runkerry beach in the evening sunshine - again minus our boots.  We grabbed the cars for a quick turnaround and to prepare ourselves for dinner at the Causeway Hotel where  the food portions were more than ample.

Day Three - Binevenagh
Off a little further a field today we took the cars to the AONB of Binevenagh, a walk recommended in that month's Country Walking magazine.  Classed as a moderate walk, we thought it would be manageable and an opportunity to walk in an undiscovered corner of NI.  We parked at St Aiden's Holywell and started our walk through a woodland full of wildflowers.  As we came out of the woodland and crossed the grazing plateau under the cliff face, with the absence of obvious way markers we decided to head straight up the really steep hill slowly but surely until we reached the bottom of the rock face.  The walk report didn't seem accurate as it really was quite  tough. The next section we had to negotiate carefully along a ridge between slumps and across boulder strewn gulleys. 

The view from the top was fantastic across the estuary to Eire which goes further north than Northern Ireland - figure that one out!  We rounded the end of the sheer rock face and climbed onto the flat plateau at the back, spying a car park and easy access!  A small group climbed the last few feet to the very summit of Binevenagh before we all sat behind trees near the lake to escape the wind for our long overdue lunch.  From there the path disappeared so we walked further along the cliff ridge and down through a deforested area on the slippiest path we'd found all weekend.  We finally found a path which we hoped would take us back to the cars, which thankfully it did, but it is funny how different places look in reverse, when you are looking for a small woodland path. 

Ariving back at the cars we took a trip out to Eire Point to the Martello Tower then headed off to Portstewart to watch the locals promenading on a sunny Sunday evening.  We finished the day with Fish and Chips followed by Ice Cream before we headed back to the hostel.

Day Four - Glens of Antrim and home
After packing the cars, we left the Causeway Coast behind and headed over to the East Coast to visit the Glens of Antrim.  Stopping off for a breakfast top up in Cushenden and a walk round the village, we headed off to Glenarriff, described as one of the most beautiful in the guide books.

Parking at the Visitor area, we hoped to find a path up and out of the touristy bits, which even with all the excellent map readers in the group, we failed to do.  So given that we had a flight in the evening and the luxury of getting lost wasn't an option, we followed the board walk  through the wooded gorge and round the country park for a stop overlooking the sea before descending further down the valley. 

It was lucky that we left when we did, the Bank Holiday traffic past Antrim was much heavier than when we left, meaning that we had less time to spare but  arrived  at the airport terminal in time.  Unbelievably it wasn't until we landed at Stansted that we found out that we were on the last flight out of Ireland for some time due to a small eruption somewhere in Iceland!  It was a fantastic weekend and as always being lucky with the weather makes all the difference!