Adventures on the North Antrim Coast

Unless people have an extended holiday or a specific reason to be up north, we don’t believe there are a lot of opportunities to visit the northern coast of Antrim. Fortunately for us, Sarah’s family is in the center of County Monaghan, so with a week in Ballybay, a trip up north was in the cards.

In honor of Sarah’s birthday, Nic graciously took the wheel again and we began our adventure in Portstewart, a small town on the west coast of Antrim. The locals had warned us of possible heavy rain and thunder, but Irish eyes were indeed smiling. The weather was absolutely perfect, the sea was a calm pale green and the white vertical cliffs were jaw dropping. Add to that soft green rolling hills as far as the eye can see, each topped with fields of fluffy white sheep – you get the idea. Heaven. Happy Birthday SARAH!

After grabbing a picnic lunch for the road, the next stop was Dunluce Castle. There were 2 specific things about this place that drew us in. 1) It was our first medieval Irish castle and 2) In 1639, on a stormy night at dinnertime, the kitchen quarters fell straight off the cliffs, taking the kitchen staff with it. Yikes!

After each paying our 2£, we walked down the path, crossed the castle’s bridge and wandered through the ruins with our cameras always at the ready. Needless to say, there were no bad shots. We then walked down a steep staircase leading to a dreamy grotto known as the Mermaid’s Cave. Nary a castle in the states, and this one really delivered. Fun fact: Dunluce Castle appears on the inside cover of Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy. Nice!

Next, we hit The Giant’s Causeway. This was our second World Heritage Site in one week! Parking was 6£ but the Causeway was free of charge. As the skies opened with buckets of rain and a series of thunderclaps, we worked our way down the scenic road to the path. According to legend, a warrior giant named Finn McCool (for real!) needed to get back to Scotland to his lady love. Lucky for him, there happened to be a path of hexagonal stones that crossed the sea. Although the path is now mostly washed away, the stones can still be seen under the sea all the way to Scotland.

When you stand on the edge of the sea and look back up at the mountains, you can imagine Finn stepping over the cliffs on his way home. We spent the time trying not to fall in while taking just one more perfectly angled shot between thunder, lightning and heavy rain showers. Lucky for us, the sun broke on the walk back up and remained out for the rest of the day!

Feeling completely refreshed, our next stop was Bushmills Distillery for a 30 minute tour followed by a tasting. Bushmills is the only working distillery that allows visitors to enter the inner sanctum of production (of course, no photos allowed). Sarah marveled at the process while Nic was in dreamy whiskey heaven. The tour ended in a beautiful old room for our whiskey tasting. The allowance is two, but Nic sweet-talked the barkeep for all three. We sipped on the original 5 year, a 1608 anniversary reserve, and finally the 12 year aged Black Bush. The latter can only be purchased at the distillery and was far and away our favorite. Its maturation in Oloroso Sherry casks imparted notes of rich fruit along with a deep, well-balanced intensity. In a word…smooth! (these are Nic’s taste buds speaking…Sarah couldn’t tell the difference, but was happy for the warm glow in her belly.)

After shots of whiskey, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Why crossing a treacherous rope bridge of course!  We bid farewell to our glasses and set off for the Rope Bridge to Carrick-A-Rede island, another World Heritage site! After being teased by the charming parking lot attendant (a ringer for Brian Doyle-Murray) who sang Sarah “Happy Birthday” with a wink and a smile, we made our way to the ticket booth and headed down the winding trail.

Around the final bend, your eyes guide you straight down to the bridge..made of rope and 2 planks of wood that span a 23 meter deep and 20 meter wide chasm. The connecting island, aka large rock mass covered in grass, has been used to catch salmon for hundreds of years. The record for these fishermen was 8 minutes from sea to ice at the top of the trail…it took us about 45 minutes with several stops for sheep photo ops and swooning over breathtaking views.

On our way home, we stopped in the charming coastal town of Ballycastle for a dinner of buttery crab claws, creamy fresh goat cheese, and to die for lamb shanks: all locally sourced. More on this in a few…

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5 Responses to Adventures on the North Antrim Coast

  1. FanClub says:

    Giant’s Causeway at last! How amazing. Wonderful pictures. Happy Birthday indeed!

  2. sami says:

    big hugs and happy birthday, sarah! looks like you had a great one. the adventure sounds sooo sooo fun and you gals are clearly having a terrific time. hooray for you two. kisses to nick. (and the thing about the kitchen falling off the cliff is something else.!!!!!) xo

  3. Lynette says:

    Golly, gosh, holy mackerel. What a day! Perfect all around, especially for someone not afraid of that plank bridge. The Bushmills stop must have rocked! The fine perspective of that photo of the stones–superb! Y’all are a couple of lucky, lucky gals. Happy Birthday, Sarah!

  4. Denise says:

    What lovely photos! Especially the ones of the Bushmill’s trip :)

  5. Pingback: Our Mission Realized « Nomads' Table

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