Tag Archives: Giant’s Causeway

On This Day – The Dark Hedges in Northern Ireland

While the current travel restrictions are in place I have no new stories to post so what I thought that I would do is to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

On 10th June 2015 I was in Ballymoney in Northern Ireland visiting a filming location for the TV film Game of Thrones…

The Dark Hedges Northern Ireland

The dark hedges is an avenue of beech trees that were planted in the 1750s in the grounds of Gracehill House a Georgian mansion built by the Stuart family, descendants of a cousin of King James who had been granted the land but who had died in a shipwreck. They wanted to create a compelling landscape to impress visitors who approached the entrance to the mansion.  The Manor House is still there but a private residence and the Stuart legacy is this fascinating avenue of spooky interlinking tree boughs.

I say spooky because of course, such an ancient stretch of road is bound to have horror stories linked to it and visitors are warned to watch out for the ‘Grey Lady’. Local legend has it that she haunts the thin ribbon of road that winds beneath the ancient gnarled beech trees. She is said to glide silently along the roadside, and vanish as she reaches the last tree.  I couldn’t help thinking that I wished some of the tourists might disappear so that I might get a decent picture, but I suppose this stubborn couple do help provide a sense of perspective.

Dark Hedges 03

It was a fascinating place and maybe we were lucky to see it because Beech trees reach maturity at no more than two hundred years and those making up the Dark Hedges are well past that.  The Dark Hedges came under threat a few years ago when highway authorities proposed to fell many trees for safety reasons but the avenue was taken over by the Dark Hedges Preservation Trust – and is now the subject of a Heritage Lottery Fund project to protect the popular landmark but I suspect that there is only so long that they can remain on an environmental life support machine.

We might have stayed longer but to perfectly coincide with our visit a neighbouring farmer decided that this was the perfect agricultural moment to apply an evil silage cocktail to the land and the smell was truly awful and penetrated the interior of the car even through the closed windows.  I was concerned that we could get charged for this later under the car rental small print conditions of contract.

Game of Thrones Dark Hedges

Top Ten Posts of 2018

As we leave 2018, please excuse my annual self-indulgent post to begin the new year as I peer through the keyhole to look back over the last one.

Ireland Inch Beach

The top ten most visited posts on my Travel Blog always surprise me but then I don’t pretend to understand how search engines work.  I say visited pages rather than read because I am neither so conceited or sufficiently naive to claim that a visit equals a read.  I know that a lot of people will arrive here by mistake and swiftly reverse back out via the escape button!

No. 1

Top Tips for Visiting the Giant’s Causeway on a Budget

Giant's Causeway Northern Ireland

With 1,790 hits this post remains at the no. 1 position in my top ten for the third straight year.  I am always reluctant to do posts with travel tips because it is difficult to find something to say that hasn’t already been said several times by others.

At the Giant’s Causeway I was astonished at the cost of the entrance and car parking charges so I put these tips together on how to visit for free.

No. 2

Mount Vesuvius

Naples and Vesuvius

I first posted this in March 2010 so this one has been around a while and with 1,375 hits and a ninth year in the Top Ten is becoming a stubborn stayer.  A bit of a surprise to me really because this is the account of a day trip to Mount Vesuvius whilst on a holiday to Sorrento in 1976 with my dad.  From my memories of the same holiday I posted several blogs about visits to CapriNaplesPompeiiThe Amalfi Drive and Rome but these have only ever achieved a handful of hits between them.

No. 3

Alternative Twelve Treasures of Spain – Antoni Gaudi

Antoni Gaudi and me

This is the fifth successive year in my top ten for my post about the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi.  After I had taken a look at the official Twelve Treasures of Spain I thought it might be fun to draw up my own personal alternative list.  I included Antoni Gaudi in a general rather than a specific way.  I posted this in March 2013 and this year with 1,314 visits it has risen one place to number three.

No. 4

Royal Garden Party

Cakes at Royal Garden Party

First posted in June 2009 the post has1,210 hits in 2018, almost double the previous year and staying in the Top Ten for the tenth successive year which by that measure makes it my most successful post.

In total it has 21,900 visits which makes all time second after my post about  Norway, Haugesund and the Vikings at 24,675.  This one has been around for a long time ( since June 2009) and has always been popular especially around the Spring and Summer when invitations to the Royal Garden Party are going out and when people are wondering how to get one or what to wear if they have one.

No. 5

Malta, Happiness and a Walk to Mellieha

Mellieha Malta Postcard

I have written several posts about my visits to the island of Malta, I consider some of them much more interesting than this one but where they have sunk without trace, this one just keeps on attracting hits.  850 hits in 2018 and third successive year in the top ten

No. 6

Catalonia, In Search of Norman Lewis

Guardamar Storm

I must confess that I am rather pleased about this one.

I posted this in July 2013 and it first made the top ten in 2015 before dropping out the following year so I am glad to see it back again.

There are some posts that I have written that I would like people to read and this is one of few that have achieved that. Before visiting Catalonia in 2013 I read the book ‘Voices of the Old Sea’ by Norman Lewis which is an account of the Costa Brava in the 1940s and the approach of mass tourism.  In this post I attempted some research and some interpretation of the book and the area.  It has recorded 515 visits and in this case I like to think that this is because of the subject rather than the pictures.

No.7

Ireland, Ring of Kerry and I Temporarily Overcome My Fear of Dogs.

Angry Man Skelligs Viewpoint Kerry Ireland

Also returning in 2018 after a two year absence with a surprising 435 visits and no convincing explanation as to why that should be.

I visited Southern Ireland in June 2014 and wrote several posts that I personally would consider more interesting than this encounter with a grumpy street entertainer and a worn out old collie dog.  Once again, and rather disappointingly, I suspect it isn’t the words but the picture that grabs attention.  It was a map of the Ring of Kerry which I noticed displayed on the front of a shop.

No.8

Every Picture Tells a Story – Benidorm c1960

Benidorm Bar 1960?

I posted this in March 2010 and it finally made the top ten in 2014 it has remained there ever since. It has stayed in this year with 420 visits.   It is actually one of my personal favourites  and is a story about the Spanish seaside resort of  Benidorm inspired by some photographs that I came across of my grandparents on holiday there in about 1960.

No. 9

Twelve Treasures of Spain – Seville Cathedral

Seville Street Musicians

At no. 9 for the second year with 382 visits is a post another of my Alternative Twelve Treasures of Spain and is about my visit to the Spanish City of Seville.  I have written posts about several Spanish cities but it is only this one that gets the hits.

No.10

Poland (Wroclaw), The Anonymous Pedestrians

Anonymous Pedestrians Wroclaw Poland

A new entry and this is another post that I am happy to see in the top ten with 360 visits.  I wrote this in March 2014 after visiting the Polish city of Wroclaw and finding the street statues of the Anonymous Pedestrians.

The statues are a memorial to the introduction of martial law in Poland on December 13th 1981 and the thousands of people who disappeared (‘went underground’) in the middle of the night courtesy of the militia. In a symbolic statement the fourteen statues were erected in the middle of the night in 2005 on the twenty-fourth anniversary of the introduction of martial law.

Dropping out of the Top Ten this year are:  Catalonia, Barcelona and Antoni Gaudi after four years and Malta, The Silent City of Mdina after only two.

If you have read one of these posts or any of the 2,390 others on my site ‘Have Bag, Will Travel’then thank you from the bottom of my heart!  I guess it proves that George Bailey (It’s A Wonderful Life) was right when he said: “The three most exciting sounds in the world are anchor chains, plane motors and train whistles.”  

Total visits in 2018 – 71,420 (nearly 200 a day)

Total visits all time – 947,600

Countries where most visitors come from – UK, USA, Australia, Spain and Canada

Most viewed picture in 2018…

A little disappointing, I like to think I have posted one or two good pictures of my own during the year but most clicked is a postcard map of Gran Canaria that I scanned in from my collection…

Gran Canaria Island Map postcard

To make matters worse, the most clicked picture that I have taken myself and posted is of a tea towel with a map on it…

Puglia T Towel Map

Maybe I should just do a blog about maps!

I would be interested to know about other people’s most popular posts in 2018 and the possible explanations why?  Comment and let me know.  I’m a sucker for statistics!

Twenty Good Reasons to Visit Ireland

Northern Ireland Blue FlagCobh Waterfront IrelandConor Pass Dingle IrelandGiant's Causeway Northern IrelandHackets pub Schull West Cork

“Take every praiseworthy characteristic of the Irish pub – democratic; spontaneous; generous; sociable; wild; nostalgic; cossetting – and you have to amplify all those characteristics to explain the charm of this little bar, with its stone floor, with its artworks, with its punky staff, with its excellent drinks and its soulful cooking. Hackett’s has the warmth of a hearth – you are drawn to it as you are drawn to a crackling fire, all energy and comfort.” – John and Sally McKennas’ Irish Guides

The Dark Hedges Northern IrelandBlarney-Castle1Yellow Window KinsaleThe Burren County Clare Ireland

“The Burren is a country where there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him.”

Ireland Beach

“At the very edge of Europe, as far west as you can go in Ireland…. once described by National Geographic as the most beautiful place on earth… a place where the mountains roll into the ocean.”

Ireland Inch BeachMizzen Head Ireland 1Clonakilty Green Door

“Dubliner seems to me to have some meaning and I doubt whether the same can be said for such words as Londoner or Parisian” – James Joyce

Ireland Father Ted Tour Craggy Island Parochial House

‘Are you right there Father Ted?’

Ireland Mizzen HeadTitanic Museum Belfast

“Certainly there was no sailor who ever sailed salt water but who smiled – and still smiles – at the idea of the unsinkable ship” –  Charles Lightoller (Surviving Officer) in ‘Titanic and Other Ships’

Ballyvaughan Ireland

“Irish road signs are idiosyncratic in the extreme… a masterpiece of disinformation.  A sign is designed to lure you towards a place that you’ll never see mentioned again, unless it is marked in two separate directions on the same post.”  – Pete McCarthy

No Grave digging signTraditional Irish MusicIreland Guiness

Travel Review of the Year – 2015

Warsaw Old Town and Royal castle

We went to Warsaw in February, it was cold, very cold.  I liked it a lot but not as much I have to say as the other Polish cities that we have visited of Krakow and Wroclaw.  Warsaw was good but it doesn’t have the historical swagger or confidence of Krakow or the quirky charm of the more manageable Wroclaw because Warsaw is a modern European capital with the raw edge and the buzz of a major city.  Whilst I might consider returning to Krakow and Wroclaw, once in Warsaw I think is probably enough.

Valletta Postcard

I have been to Malta before.  I first went there in 1996 and liked it so much that I returned the following year.  Both times I stayed at the Mellieha Bay hotel in the north of the island.  These were family holidays with two teenage children, beaches, swimming pools, banana boat death rides and Popeye Village.

I liked it so much that I have always wanted to go back.  I have repeatedly told Kim that Malta is special and that I am certain she would like it as much as I did.  Late last year the opportunity arose and I was able to find a combination of cheap flights and a hotel deal at Mellieha Bay for just £200 for four nights and five full days! I have heard it said that you either love Malta or you hate it, there are no half measures, there is no sitting on the fence and luckily at the end of the visit Kim was inclined to agree with me.

Ireland Dingle

In 2014 we visited Southern Ireland, Eire, The Republic and had such a wonderful time that we planned an immediate return to the Island for the following year.  Not to the South though on this occasion however but to that part of Ireland that still remains part of the United Kingdom – Northern Ireland or Ulster.

Not so long ago most people would no more of thought about visiting Northern Ireland than North Korea, it wouldn’t have crossed their minds to go to Ulster any more than go to Uganda and Belfast would be in a travellers wish list that included Beirut and Baghdad.  Now things are changing and Northern Ireland is reinventing itself as a tourist destination.

We enjoyed it there, the City of Belfast, the Titanic Exhibition, a drive along the scenic Antrim Coast, the Giant’s Causeway and a final night in Londonderry – a place to return to if ever there was one.

Edinburgh Scotland

After a Summer spent in England we travelled in August to neighbouring Scotland.    I am sure that I have been to the castle before, I visited Edinburgh in 1972 and 1984 but I couldn’t remember it at all.  This is another benefit of getting older, you forget things so even if you do them again they are like a whole new experience. This is another benefit of getting older, you forget things so even if you do them again they are like a whole new experience.

I liked Edinburgh, it was a wee bit expensive but when I have forgotten the details of this visit I am certain to go back again one day.

Lake Bala Wales

Earlier in the year I had made plans to go on holiday with my daughter and grandchildren and my son and we had chosen a holiday cottage near Boulogne in Northern France.  I like it there.  As the Summer approached there were more and more delays crossing the channel as a consequence of striking French ferry workers and large numbers of migrants attempting to cross from France to the UK.  I love my grandchildren very much but the prospect of being stuck in a traffic jam for up to twenty-four hours with them was just to awful to contemplate so when the critical moment came to make the final payment I cancelled and transferred the holiday to a cottage in mid Wales.

I enjoyed Lake Bala and Wales, it was a simple holiday, the sort that I remember from my own childhood and from taking my own children away when they were young.  I am convinced that youngsters don’t need water parks and amusement arcades when there is a wide open beach and the sea, the countryside, a stream to fish in a thrilling steam engine ride.

Kim enjoyed it so much that she has decided that we are going to live there!

Dinan Brittany France

But we were not to be denied a visit to Northern France because in August I spotted some reasonably priced return air fares at only £49 each to the Brittany resort of Dinard.  We snapped them up almost without thinking and then invited our friends Sue and Christine to join us and they immediately agreed.

I liked Brittany, I liked it a lot mostly because I have always resisted having a bucket list because I couldn’t get one big enough but I am thankful to fellow bloggers Victor (Victor Travel Blog) and Wilbur(Wilbur’s Travels) for reminding me that if I did have one then Mont St Michel would be somewhere near the top.

Kim enjoyed it so much that she immediately abandoned her Wales plans and has decided that we are going to live there!

Castelsardo

Cheap flight tickets are top of a long list of good reasons to travel and when we spotted some reasonably priced return flights to Sardinia with Easyjet it didn’t take long to make a decision to visit the second biggest island in the Mediterranean Sea (just slightly smaller than Sicily) with our occasional travelling companions Mike and Margaret.

Our flight was to the city of Olbia in the North-East of the island so we planned an itinerary that would take us along the length of the north coast and then to the city of Alghero on the west coast and finally a return journey to Olbia across the northern countryside.

This was our final journey of 2015 and now we begin to make our plans for 2016.

Happy Travels Everyone!

Did you have a good year or have any big plans for 2016?

Weekly Photo Challenge: Monochromatic

Giant's Causeway Northern Ireland

O, it is excellent to have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant” –  William Shakespeare, ‘Measure for Measure’

Sometimes it is is not necessary to travel huge distances to visit something special.

The Giant’s Causeway is a geological wonder of the World close to home in the UK consisting of about forty thousand interlocking basalt columns resulting from a volcanic eruption about sixty million years ago.  Most of the columns are hexagonal in shape, but there are some with four, five, seven and eight sides.

Read the full story…

Ireland, North or South?

Ireland 03

There was a short flight delay at Belfast International so that gave me another forty minutes or so to make my comparison between north and south Ireland.

We started our journey in Belfast so I made my first judgement between here and Dublin.  I liked Dublin, it was fun, it was more Bohemian, it was shabby chic compared to the Victorian starched collared style of Belfast which reminded me of the great cities of Northern England.

Dublin has Temple Bar, Belfast has the Cathedral Quarter, Dublin wins hands down on that score but Belfast has the River Lagan, the Titanic Experience (which is way more interesting than the Book of Kells) and the history of the troubles.  I only spent a day in Dublin so I might be being unfair here but my vote goes to Belfast.

Titanic Museum Belfast

North 1 – South 0

Next my thoughts turned to coastal road drives.  Fresh in my memory was the glorious journey along the Antrim Coast, never before have I driven along a road so close to the seashore and with so many wonderful places to stop and admire the natural environment but then I was instantly reminded of the Ring of Dingle with its high level looping journey around the headland where Charles Lindbergh first reached Europe on his solo trans Atlantic flight and where Fungi the Dolphin entertains people on a daily basis.

Ireland Dingle

North 1 – South 1

Ireland is so photogenic that it is no surprise that it has been used extensively in film locations over the years.  In the North they have the Game of Thrones but I admit to having never watched that but in the South they have Father Ted and I have watched every episode time and time again.

Ireland Father Ted Tour Craggy Island Parochial House

North 1 – South 2

I turn again now to the natural environment and the glories of nature.  In the South there is the Cliffs of Moher and in the north there is the Giant’s Causeway.  I like them both but you cannot get anywhere near the cliffs of Moher because of barricades and fencing but on the Causeway you can climb all over the rock formations and really appreciate what it is all about.

I was disappointed by the Cliffs of Moher but I liked the Causeway so much that I went twice.  Also, the Causeway was free but there was an entrance fee to the Cliffs.

Northern Ireland Giant's Causeway

North 2 – South 2

I was thinking about what to compare next as a decider when Kim asked me what I was doing.  I explained that I was drawing up a comparison between north and south. She raised an inquisitive eyebrow and asked me why and she was right.  What was the point of a comparison.  I am not making any political, religious or sectarian judgements here but Ireland should be seen as just that without any geographical divisions and on that basis I declare the contest a draw!

I need to go back…

Dingle Ireland Murphys Pub

Northern Ireland, Game Of Thrones

001

I confess to never having watched ‘Game of Thrones’  but I feel as though I know it because everywhere you go these days claims to have a filming location from the programme!

The Dark Hedges Northern IrelandGiant's Causeway Northern IrelandDunluce Castle Northern ireland

Northern Ireland, Castles and Hedges

Dunluce Castle Northern ireland

At seven o’clock in the morning the Giant’s Causeway was magnificent and as the sun struggled to break through the crazy paved cracked clouds we wandered  across the magnificently moody rocks without any interruption, until that is a quartet of men appeared who were obviously trying to walk off a big boozy night and even now had not fully regained complete volume control.

After Richard and I had returned to the  Smuggler’s Inn from the causeway we had an excellent breakfast (full English or full Irish I am not sure, I was going to ask but promptly forgot) and then we checked out and headed west.

Our intended destination was Dunluce castle but somewhere in Bushmills I missed a signpost and it was soon clear that we were going in the wrong direction and we had to turn back.  It was well worth it though because once on the right road we approached the castle along a twisting route that dropped dramatically down to the cliffs and showed it off to its best advantage.

Even though it was early it was already quite busy and the car park was full and there were a couple of tour buses out of Belfast disgorging their passengers.  On account of this it was rather overcrowded so with natural skinflint tendencies kicking in we declined the opportunity to take the internal tour of the ruins and satisfied ourselves instead with a wander around the exterior.

Actually I am not sure that the £5 entrance fee was really worth it because without doubt the best views were from the surrounding cliffs and that is what I always tell myself when I have been too mean to pay the admission fee.

The Dark Hedges Northern Ireland

Our next destination was a last minute adjustment to the planned itinerary and was made in response to something that we had seen in the local guidebooks – the dark hedges of Ballymoney, famous all of a sudden for being featured in the TV film ‘Game of Thrones’.

Game of Thrones Dark Hedges

From looking at the road map I was sure that this would be a place that was certain to be difficult to find but I was practically speechless when the normally not entirely reliable SatNav found it without any difficulty at all.

The dark hedges is an avenue of beech trees that were planted in the 1750s in the grounds of Gracehill House a Georgian mansion built by the Stuart family, descendants of a cousin of King James who had been granted the land but who had died in a shipwreck. They wanted to create a compelling landscape to impress visitors who approached the entrance to the mansion.  The Manor House is still there but a private residence and the Stuart legacy is this fascinating avenue of spooky interlinking tree boughs.

I say spooky because of course, such an ancient stretch of road is bound to have horror stories linked to it and visitors are warned to watch out for the ‘Grey Lady’. Local legend has it that she haunts the thin ribbon of road that winds beneath the ancient gnarled beech trees. She is said to glide silently along the roadside, and vanish as she reaches the last tree.  I couldn’t help thinking that I wished some of the tourists might disappear so that I might get a decent picture!

It was a fascinating place and maybe we were lucky to see it because Beech trees reach maturity at no more than two hundred years and those making up the Dark Hedges are well past that.  The Dark Hedges came under threat a few years ago when highway authorities proposed to fell many trees for safety reasons but the avenue was taken over by the Dark Hedges Preservation Trust – and is now the subject of a Heritage Lottery Fund project to protect the popular landmark but I suspect that there is only so long that they can remain on an environmental life support machine.

We might have stayed longer but to perfectly coincide with our visit a neighbouring farmer decided that this was the perfect agricultural moment to apply an evil silage cocktail to the land and the smell was truly awful and penetrated the interior of the car even through the closed windows.  I was concerned that we could get charged for this later under the car rental small print conditions of contract!

We left the Dark hedges and returned to the coast road that we picked up a mile or two beyond the Coleraine by-pass but in truth the coast road never really threatened to become anything like as dramatic or interesting as the Antrim coast the previous day and with nothing of any great interest to detain us we carried on directly to our next overnight stop in the city of Londonderry/Derry.

Dark Hedges 03

Northern Ireland, Top Tips for Visiting the Giant’s Causeway on a Budget

Giant's Causeway Northern Ireland

“The National Trust is a wonderful organisation… but why does it have to be so very annoying?  It would be a kindness if they gave you a map when you paid for parking and admission but this is not the National Trust way.  They like to charge for every individual thing.  The day cannot be too far off when you pay for toilet paper by the sheet.” – Bill Bryson

It hasn’t always been free to visit.  In the 1800s, the Causeway was fenced off by landowners who saw its potential as a tourist attraction and so an easy way to make money but after a long drawn out case the High Court ruled that the public had an ‘ancient right of way’ to visit the Causeway and view the stones.

Now the National Trust wants to turn back the clock.  They haven’t exactly built a fence but they crudely misled visitors into paying the extortionate parking and visitor centre admission charge.

Here are my tips for avoiding the Giant National Trust Rip-Off:

1  Walk there.  This might seem rather obvious but as a word of warning it is about a mile walk and there are no footpaths.

2  Use the  Giant’s Causeway and Bushmills light railway.  It is a lot cheaper and you get a train ride there and back.  It only operates in the Summer however.

3  Drive to the Giant’s Causeway and park in the railway car park.  It is only £6.

4  Stay overnight at the Causeway Hotel and park for free.  If not staying overnight park up and have a cup of coffee and become a customer and get entitlement to free parking.

5  Use the National Trust Car Park but only buy one ticket to the visitor centre, a good solution if there is a family of visitors or if there are 4 adults.

6  Use the National Trust car park and just ignore the visitor centre completely.  National Trust say they may clamp cars when visitors haven’t paid but this is most unlikely.  Don’t worry about the clamped car close to the entrance, this belongs to a member of staff and is only there to try and frighten people.

7 Walk from the car park to the Causeway because if you take the bus then this costs another £1 each way.

The National Trust says:

“The admission fee includes: access to the Visitor Centre facilities (cafe, retail, exhibition and toilets including a Changing Places facility), use of a hand-held audio guide to explore the landscape outdoors with over one-hour of content, a guided walking tour led by a National Trust guide lasting more than 45 minutes, and visitor information leaflets and parking.”

Click on any picture in the gallery to enter the slideshow…

 

Also worth a view:

Views from a disgruntled visitor

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/giants-causeway

Northern Ireland, The Giant’s Causeway

Giant's Causeway Northern Ireland

O, it is excellent to have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant” –  William Shakespeare, ‘Measure for Measure’

Sometimes it is is not necessary to travel huge distances to visit something special.

The Giant’s Causeway is a geological wonder of the World close to home in the UK consisting of about forty thousand interlocking basalt columns resulting from a volcanic eruption about sixty million years ago.  Most of the columns are hexagonal in shape, but there are some with four, five, seven and eight sides.

The tallest are about twelve metres high, and the solidified lava in the cliffs is nearly thirty metres thick in places.  The fascinating patterns in the causeway stones formed as a result of rock crystallization under conditions of accelerated cooling, which usually occurs when molten lava comes into immediate contact with water and the resulting fast accelerated cooling process causes cracking and patterns.

I am not a geologist or a scientist but I can relate to that because I imagine it would be rather similar to my childhood experiences of being prodded into the North Sea by my parents on family holidays when I was a boy and the phsical consequences of being suddenly immersed in freezing cold water.

It was declared the only World Heritage Site in Northern Island by UNESCO in 1986, and a National Nature Reserve in 1987.  In a 2005 Radio Times poll, the Giant’s Causeway was named as the fourth greatest natural wonder in the United Kingdom.

The top three were the Dan Yr Ogof National Showcaves Centre in South Wales, The Cheddar Gorge in Somerset and the White Cliffs of Dover.  These competitions are always subjective of course and open to challenge.  I have never visited the Dan Yr Ogof National Showcaves Centre, Cheddar Gorge is worth a visit but I’m not at all sure about the White Cliffs of Dover!  These polls are always a bit subjective and making up the rest of the top ten were the Jurassic Coast, Loch Lomond, Cwm Idal, Staffa, St Kilda and Lundy Island.

Subjective?  So how did Lundy Island slip in there?  Over a million people a year go to Giant’s Causeway compared to about two thousand to Lundy Island, I wonder how it got so many votes?   How many people even know where Lundy Island is?  I never trust a survey or a poll!

Northern Ireland Giant's Causeway

After an excellent lunch at the Smuggler’s Inn we made our way to the causeway.  I had read some conflicting advice about this, a lot of visitors had left reviews saying that the National Trust visitor centre is overpriced and disappointing so I was looking for a way to avoid the £9 per person entry fee.  It seems that this is just a giant rip-off because there is no charge to visit the rocks themselves so we parked the car using Richard’s National Trust membership card, turned a blind eye to the ticket office and walked straight through.  Why would any sane person pay £9 to go and see something that is free?

There is a uniformity to the patterns that confused people for a long time and before the geological process that formed the causeway was fully understood some were convinced that it was the result of the labours of an earlier civilization that had built a sort of paved highway across the sea to Scotland.  What made this a credible explanation for them was that the same rock formations occur at Flingal’s Cave across the water.  We know now that this was completely daft but it is a nice story nevertheless.

An even better story of course is the legend that the Irish giant Finn McCool built the causeway to walk to Scotland to fight his Scottish counterpart Benandonner.  When he arrived in Scotland he was alarmed to find that his opponent was much much bigger than him so he immediately returned home in a panic pursued by Benandonner who crossed the bridge looking for him.  To protect Finn his wife Oonagh laid a blanket over him and pretended he was actually Finn’s baby son.  When Benandonner saw the size of the baby, he assumed the father must be gigantic and he fled home in terror, ripping up the Causeway as he went in case he was followed by Finn.

It is an interesting fact that in Irish Finn McCool becomes Fionn mac Cumhaill the hunter-warrior of Irish mythology and the nineteenth century Irish revolutionary organisation known as the Fenian Brotherhood took its name from the inspiration of these legends.

The causeway was predictably busy this afternoon and we shared the site with several coach loads of visitors from Belfast and a car park full of tourists but this didn’t detract from the wonder of the place and we clambered over the rocks and admired the shifting colours and the changing patterns and shadows.

When we had tired of mountaineering we returned to the car park and Richard and Pauline went into the visitor centre while we went to nearby Bushmills for beer and wine at a mini-market and a stop off for a Guiness in a local hotel garden.  When we met again later Richard confirmed what we had feared, the centre was very disappointing and we were glad that we had avoided it and I recommend anyone visiting the causeway to do just the same.

We had a wonderful evening at the Smuggler’s Inn and next morning Richard and I rose early and returned to the causeway to get there before the crowds.  What an excellent decision this turned out to be.  We defiantly parked in the National Trust car park again and then enjoyed an hour on the rocks which at seven o’clock in the morning we had completely to ourselves.

I liked the Giant’s Causeway, it certainly goes into my personal top ten (which is getting rather overcrowded now) and I have to say that I think it deserved to come a bit higher in the Radio Times poll of top ten UK natural wonders.

Giants Causeway County Antrim