The Giant's Causeway
Walk in the footsteps of giants
One of the most iconic landscapes in the world, the Giant’s Causeway has inspired artists, poets and writers for centuries.
The Giant's Causeway
The world famous basalt columns, formed through volcanic eruptions, are steeped in legend and Irish folklore with stories of the mighty giant, Finn MacCool. Designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Giant’s Causeway offers four stunning trails, with areas for hiking and picnic.
The Bishop of Derry, credited with bringing the Giant’s Causeway to the attention of an extensive audience was to be made a Fellow of the Royal Society in recognition of his scientific work. The Earl Bishop confirmed the existence of similar volcanic rocks on a visit to the Western Isles of Scotland giving some credence to the folktale that Finn MacCool had built the Causeway from Ireland to Scotland.
Today, the Giant`s Causeway is a world-famous landscape and judging by the constant flow of tourist coaches, no visit to Northern Ireland is considered complete without seeing it. The ‘giant’ in question is Finn MacCool and legend has it that the ’causeway’ once formed a bridge to Scotland, which Finn destroyed, to escape the wrath of a much bigger and meaner Scottish giant. Of course, the ’causeway’ is not a causeway and the original Finn was not a giant, but a fair-haired warrior called Fionn mac Cumhaill (Fionn means ‘blond’ or ‘white’). Fionn is a hero of the so-called ‘Fenian Cycle,’ one of four epic stories of Irish mythology.
Whilst it is intriguing to ponder the Causeway`s hexagonal stones and amusing to imagine a pair of giants running across them, it is even more interesting to ponder the true nature of the rock formation, and this was a puzzle that intrigued Frederick Hervey, the Earl Bishop. Frederick arrived in Derry in 1768, when the city itself comprised 9,000 inhabitants – now it has over 100,000. In those days, the north coast where the Causeway lies was a remote and unvisited place, with human habitation limited to a few tiny fishing hamlets. Of course, the locals knew about the oddly-shaped rocks, but the formation had never received any serious scientific interest – indeed at that time, Geology as a discipline was very much in its infancy.
As a Church of Ireland bishop, Frederick would have been expected to uphold the official line that God made the causeway when he was making the earth, however as a man of reason, he knew that there must be more happening beyond the whims of deities and giants. Frederick also had a background in vulcanology – the study of volcanoes. During a visit to Naples in 1766, he had almost been killed whilst climbing Vesuvius to observe its active cone.
So whilst resident in Derry, Frederick took every opportunity to travel up to the Causeway, then a long day`s ride by horseback, bringing learned guests and corresponding with other scientists across Europe about the possible origins of the formation. When he travelled around Europe, he visited other, similar formations and correctly concluded that a general process must have been at work, rather than a single phenomenon confined to the Causeway. He hired an Italian artist, Antonio de Bittio, to draw volcanic formations on the continent, then brought Bittio to Ireland to draw the Causeway and similar formations on the Scottish island of Staffa (named thus by the Vikings for its staff or column-like rocks). Frederick had Bitto`s drawings engraved and printed and again he circulated these around his learned European contacts, to advance scientific discussion. In an age before photography and proper postal services, this took a lot of time, money and effort, but Frederick correctly established that much of Northern Ireland`s north coast is volcanic, not just the Causeway. In recognition of his work, in 1782 he was made a fellow of the Royal Society.
So whilst we cannot say that Frederick ‘discovered’ the Causeway in the sense that he was first to set eyes on it, we can say that he was the first person to commence proper research into its origins and to bring it to the attention of both the scientific community and the wider world. Today, the Causeway is a World Heritage Site, but Frederick put it on the map and put us on the path towards a proper understanding of it. We now know that the Causeway was formed between 50 to 60 million years ago as part of a prolonged volcanic event and that the regular shape of the rocks was determined by the rate at which the lava cooled.
True pioneers often go unrecognised and whilst Bittio`s engravings are displayed at the Giant`s Causeway today, they are not attributed and Frederick receives no mention whatsoever. However, this is an oversight that The Earl Bishop Trail intends to correct!
Interesting Places Nearby
Whilst these locations are not specifically linked to the Earl Bishop, they are close to the Giant’s Causeway and you might also find them interesting.
With just over 1,000 inhabitants, Bushmills is the closest village to the Giant`s Causeway, which is just over 2 miles or less than 4 km away.
It has a convenient park-and-ride facility for anyone who wants to avoid vehicle queues up at the Causeway itself, but there is another reason to dump the car; Bushmills Distillery, which with a founding date of 1608, claims to be the oldest licensed distillery in the world.
Bushmills whiskey is also famous world-wide and rightly so, because it is superb stuff, and a visit to the distillery, with its traditional techniques and pure source of water, will show you exactly how they get it tasting so good!
Ballintoy is a small village about 7 miles due east of the Causeway, along the A2 coastal route.
A steep, twisty side-road leads down to Ballintoy Harbour, once used for fishing and also to process chalk dug from the nearby cliffs into lime – a large, disused kiln still dominates the area now used as a car park.
Game of Thrones fans might recognise Port Ballintoy as Lordsport, from the second season of the show.
CARRICK-A-REDE ROPE BRIDGE
A popular destination for thrill-seekers, or for ordinary people who want to frighten themselves out of their wits, Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge will take you from the mainland onto a small island that was once used as a salmon fishery. Because the bridge is 100 feet (30 metres) above the sea and sways when you walk on it, it is always amusing to watch people crossing and always a challenge to cross for the first time yourself!
However, like the Causeway, the bridge is run by The National Trust and is perfectly safe; the current bridge replaces an older one that was much more of a challenge, to say the least!
Carrick-a-Rede is approximately 8 miles or 12 km due east of the Causeway, along the A2 Causeway Coastal Route.
THE DARK HEDGES, ARMOY
The Dark Hedges are not hedges at all – they are two rows of old beech trees that lean dramatically over a section of the Bregagh Road, just outside the village of Armoy.
The hedges recently became famous when used as a location in the wildly popular HBO television series, ‘Game of Thrones,’ so you`ll always find fantasy fans with cloaks and cameras in the vicinity! However, the hedges had long been a popular subject for photographers, due to the twisting tunnel created by the trees and the way the light penetrates the branches at different times of day.
The easiest way to reach Armoy from the Giant`s Causeway is to travel east along the A2 Causeway Coastal Route to Ballycastle then take the A44 due south, however there is a more direct route to the hedges by cutting across the countryside along the Ballinlea Road, which leaves the A2 just before Ballintoy. Distance from the Causeway: approximately 18 miles or 29 km.