The coast of Northern Ireland has some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. The present coast road was engineered in the 1830s and is now known as the Causeway Coastal Route, 190km hugging the Atlantic Coast from Belfast to Londonderry. Amidst the geology and greenery, there was the unexpected. Just before we reached Ballygally, a very happy bear appeared out of nowhere. The origin of the polar bear persona is unknown but every year, the locals touch up the paint and ensure his smile never fades.
The village of Ballygally nestles along the shore of Ballygally Bay.
At the head of the bay, Ballygally Castle has an interesting history. Built in 1625 by Scotsman James Shaw, it would have been surrounded by four walls and withstood several incursions during the 1642 rebellion. It remained in the Shaw family into the 1800s and then passed through a few different families. In the 1950s, an entrepreneur bought, refurbished and opened the castle as a hotel and further development in 1966 created the hotel as it is now. Reputed to be one of the most haunted places in Ulster, there are a number of resident ghosts. The most active is Lady Isobel Shaw who had been starved and locked in her room by her husband. Tragically, she fell to her death from the window. She now has a habit of knocking on the doors of the rooms and disappearing.
The rest of the houses around the bay look very peaceful and undisturbed.
Looking out to sea, The Maidens are visible 9km offshore. The two lighthouses date back to 1829, the lighthouse keepers and their families lived for a year at a time on these islets. The isolation was no obstacle to romance; in the 1830s, the assistant keeper of one lighthouse fell in love with the daughter of the keeper of the other. He often visited by boat until the families had a falling out and her father forbade them to meet. They found a solution, they eloped to Carrickfergus. No longer inhabited, the West Maiden was abandoned in 1903 and the East Maiden was automated in 1977.
The Mull of Kintyre broke the horizon, only 10km from the coast of County Antrim.
It was a pleasure to drive the coastal road surrounded by mountains to the left and ocean to the right. This fence line reminded me of Michael’s engineering feats when we lived in the Adelaide Hills.
The next town was Ballycastle,
the sunlight through the clouds illuminated the clifftops of Fairhead.
Rising 196 metres above the bay, Ballycastle’s headland formed as a result of volcanic activity 60 million years ago. The upper half of the cliff is composed of gigantic columns of dolerite up to 12 metres in diameter.
Further up the coast, rocky islands are scattered throughout the waters of Larrybane Bay.
The dolerite cliffs of Sheep Island were magnificent.
Remnants of old machinery remain on Stackaboy Island from the days when dolerite was carried on overhead lines to the island and then loaded onto steamboats for the trip to Scotland.
I had mentally prepared myself for the heart-stopping walk across the rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede, not realising it was another icon that closed down for the winter season. First erected by salmon fishermen in 1755, the 20 metre long bridge is suspended 30 metres above the sea. The waters around Carrick Island were teeming with salmon migrating to the North Atlantic and the fishermen would walk the bridge in all weather and return with their catch. Whether due to changing migratory patterns or over-fishing of the area, there are now very few salmon left and the tradition ended in 2002. Carrick Island is the first bump from the headland (it looks attached from this angle).
These photos may look familiar to anyone who watches Game of Thrones, much of the filming took place along the Causeway Coast.