Giant’s Causeway Cliff Top and Coastal Path Northern Ireland
The Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a natural pavement of an estimated 37,000 black basalt columns, each one a polygon with hexagons being the most common, projecting from the mainland into the Atlantic Ocean. Volcanic eruptions that occurred about 60 million years ago, give or take a few years, slowly and evenly cooled to form the otherworldly geometric shapes, forming a striking visual landscape that make the Causeway the major tourist attraction that it is today—thousands visit annually, but you can escape the crowds by taking to the Cliff Top Path.
From the Visitor Centre, resist the temptation to follow the masses down the paved roadway that descends directly to the Causeway—instead, follow the cinder path located behind the centre to the lofty Cliff Top Path. At the signed trailhead, continue hiking half a mile along the edge of several promontories with names like Weir’s Snout and Aird Snout until you reach a flight of 162 steps, known as the Shepherd’s Path, that steeply descend to a junction in the trail and then eventually to sea level—at the junction, you can head west to go straight to the Causeway, or turn right and head northeast around the bay to a series of rock formations.
We opted to hike the path towards the rock formations, the first of which is the 40-foot basalt columns known as The Organ Pipes—towering columns that resemble the pipes of a church organ. From The Organ, the Cliff Top Path continues for another 0.2-mile to a headland where a viewpoint looks into The Amphitheatre—the path is now closed beyond this point for safety reasons, but the viewpoint allows you to cast an eye on distant formations such as The Harp, and The Chimney Tops. Before returning to the intersection with the Shepherd’s Path, investigate the red cliffs at trailside for “Giant’s Eyes”—onion skin layers of weathered red laterite that resemble eyes.
Back at the intersection, complete the descent to Port Noffer and the amazing columns of the Causeway—the three promontories that comprise the Giant’s Causeway, Little, Middle aka the Honeycomb, and Grand Causeway, are accessed by hiking the path past the Giant’s Boot and through the Giant’s Gate. When you emerge through the Giant’s Gate, a wide opening between two large columnar formations, prepare to be overwhelmed with the beauty of the Causeway and Great Stookan jutting out into Port Ganny—an awesome sight to behold.
Place names such as the Wishing Chair, the Giant’s Boot, and the Wishing Well evoke the legend of Finn MacCool—the Irish giant believed to have created the Causeway as a bridge to Scotland. An entertaining story, but nothing compared to the real life adventure to be had by exploring the enormous seaside rock formations—hike among the Causeway at leisure and then return to the Visitor Centre by climbing up the paved roadway/footpath, watching out for the minibus service that carries other tourists as you make your way to the top.