The rain had eased off by the time we reached the Giant’s Causeway – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most well known and popular site in Northern Ireland. We arrived early to try and avoid the crowds, but there were still plenty of people milling around. The coast here is owned by the National Trust and can be accessed free of charge, but most people head for the Visitor Centre. It’s £9 to park and access the Visitor Centre but as National Trust Members we were exempt! So we parked up and stopped for a brew in the café before setting off down the path towards the main attraction.
Tourists have been visiting since the late 17th Century but the site received international attention when Dublin artist Susanna Drury made watercolour paintings of it in 1739. We saw a couple of these displayed at one of the National Trust properties we visited later in the week. Engravings made from the work were widely published, increasing public awareness.
The causeway was formed during the Tertiary period 62/65 million years ago during a long period of volcanic activity. Three episodes of lava outflows occurred here known as the Lower, Middle or Causeway and Upper Basalts. Lulls occurred between the outflows as is evident in the deep inter-basaltic layer of reddish brown ‘lithomarge’ which is rich in clay, iron and aluminium oxides from weathering of the underlying basalt. The causeway area would have been situated in a sub tropical region at that time, at about the latitude of northern Spain, experiencing hot and humid conditions.
The hexagonal columns of the causeway occur in the middle basalt layer…. The fascinating pattern that we see in the causeway stones form as a result of rock crystallization under conditions of slow cooling. This usually occurs when the flow is thick or when it fills a depression such as a river valley (as at the Causeway). (Source here)
There’s a more detailed, but accessible, explanation of the geology here.
Of course, there is another explanation
After spending some time walking over the causeway stones we set off for a walk along the coast following the way-marked route that would take us along the side of the cliffs, past some of the interesting rock formations and then up a steep path to the top of the cliffs and then back to the visitor centre
This formation of massive basalt columns, set into the cliffs above the causeway, is known as the Organ as it’s said to resemble the pipes of the said instrument.
Looking back towards the Causeway from the path
Another formation is visible in the distance, known as the Chimney, for obvious reasons.
The cliffs are susceptible to landslips and we reached a dead end – it wasn’t safe to proceed any further so the final section of the path along the side of the cliff face was closed off
We retraced our steps and about halfway back to the causeway stones took a steep path to the top of the cliffs. This route would have been originally used by women carrying kelp up from the beach. It was processed and then used as a fertiliser, for bleaching kelp and as a raw material for various chemical processes, such as soap and glass making. It could also be used as a foodstuff.
Looking down on the causeway from the top of the cliffs
Views across the bay – looing east
We arrived back at the visitor centre at about 12:30 to be greeted by a heavy downpour so ducked inside.
The visitor centre was packed. The car park was more or less full with cars and about 9 or 10 coaches. However, we managed to find a table in the café and grabbed something to eat. By the time we’d finished the weather was picking up so it was back to the car for a drive further along the coast.