With the ‘outbreak of peace’, walkers are now able to discover the reality for themselves. In fact, this north-eastern corner of Ireland is a magical place of scenic beauty and varied landscapes which are best discovered on foot, and a warm welcome awaits one and all. The nine Glens of Antrim are amongst Ulster’s finest features and are rich in history and tradition. It is less than a century since the Irish language was widely spoken in this area and it is also the stronghold of Ulster Scots, a broad dialect of English which has much in common with Scottish dialects. From Slemish, where St. Patrick herded sheep as a young slave, up to the imposing cliffs of Fair Head, the glens offer some magnificent walking routes through a landscape unspoilt by tourism. It is here that Ireland and Scotland are closest to each other, just 12 miles across the North Channel (also known more poetically as the Sea of Moyle) between Fair Head and the Mull of Kintyre. Bright days bring inspiring views of Ailsa Craig (‘Paddy’s Milestone’) in the Firth of Clyde and the Hebridean islands of Islay and Jura.
A visit to Rathlin Island is a must to experience its flora and fauna, especially its wealth of seabirds in the spring and early summer. The unspoilt environment of Rathlin is a reminder of what much of Ireland was like before the advent of intensive mechanised farming. It is the largest island in Northern Ireland and is a model of co-operation and integration between the Catholic and Protestant communities. Rathlin’s historical links are not only with the Irish mainland, but also with Scotland. The sea was a highway rather than a barrier. Bruce’s Cave, where Robert the Bruce is said to have been inspired by the tenacity and persistence of a spider climbing a wall, is near the East Lighthouse. This made him determined to return to Scotland and to ‘try, try and try again’ until he succeeded in gaining the crown.
The Causeway Coast is best known for the bizarre formations of the Giant’s Causeway, consisting of thousands of hexagonal basalt columns. However, there are so many other places of interest and natural beauty along this coast, such as the cliffs of Torr Head, Fair Head and Benbane Head, the vanishing lake of Loughareema and the fishermen’s rope-bridge across to Carrickarede Island. These are just a few of the gems waiting to be discovered by the traveller in this tranquil, unspoilt corner of Ireland.
The Moyle Way: The Moyle Way is a waymarked route that winds its way between Glenariff and Ballycastle. It takes you through many of the scenic valleys and mountains that lie within the Glens Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Antrim Coast. As well as beautiful scenery the area is full of fascinating geology, wildlife, history and folklore. On its way the route passes through five of the nine famous glens; Glentaise, Glenshesk, Glendun, Glenballyemon and Glenariff.
Rathlin Island: If you are a dedicated naturalist you will not want to miss Rathlin Island, a hidden treasure that lies just over six miles north of the pretty seaside resort of Ballycastle and 14 miles from the Mull of Kintyre, Scotland. The island is reached by ferry from Ballycastle and takes 45 minutes. It is extremely popular with birdwatchers, geologists, botanists, divers, sea-anglers and anyone with a love of wild and rugged scenery. From early spring to late summer Rathlin is awash with floral colour and the Atlantic nomads – puffins, guillemots and razorbills make the cliffs and sea stacks their nestling sites in summer. There are few cars on the island so the roads are quiet and ideal for walking or cycling.
The Causeway Coast Way: This waymarked trail follows one of the most dramatic coastlines in the world, passing rugged and windswept cliffs, spectacular scenery and fabulous unspoilt beaches.
Day 1: You begin your holiday on the first evening by meeting your B&B host/hostess – where you will be staying for the first 2 nights.
Day 2: Orra Beg to Glenariff Forest Park. Distance: 7 miles; average walking time: 4 hours. After a hearty breakfast you are driven by coach to Orra Beg, an intersection on the Moyle Way to begin your walking tour. Today you are heading south to Glenariff Forest Park passing Slieveanorra Nature Reserve, which has spectacular views over the glens and plays host to a great variety of birds. From Slieveanorra you carry on over open moorland for Trostan Mountain and on to Glenariff Nature Reserve and Forest Park with its visitor centre, nature trails and famous waterfalls. From here you will be collected and returned to your evening accommodation in Broughshane.
Day 3: Orra Beg to Ballycastle. Distance: 11 miles; average walking time: 5 hours. Today you return to Orra Beg and head north for Ballycastle. Continuing on the Moyle Way, the route is divided into three sections. The first part of the walk takes you along a forest track then follows the banks of the Glenshesk River, ending up back on a forest track as it leads you through the Breen Oakwood Nature Reserve and Wood. The next section follows the country road along Glenshesk offering views of the Glenshesk River, Knocklayd Mountain and Coolaveely Wood. The final part of today’s walk takes you into Ballycastle Forest where you descend along a good forest path into Ballycastle. There are magnificent panoramic views of Rathlin Island and the forest is also home to an abundance of birds and other wildlife. Overnight at Ballycastle.
Day 4: Rathlin Island. Distance: variable, depending on which parts of the island you visit. Rathlin, described as a hidden treasure waiting to be discovered is an L-shaped island, one side is four miles long, the other three and is nowhere more than a mile across. The island is a naturalist’s delight and you can choose between three walks varying from 1.5 miles to 4 miles. Visit the RSPB West Light viewpoint to see the puffins, guillemots and razorbills along with kittiwakes and fulmars, which together make up the largest seabird colony in Europe. Walk the trails to the old Coastguard Look Out to see the East Lighthouse, standing high above the legendary ‘Bruce’s Cave’ at Altacarry Head, which has been flashing a warning to mariners since 1856. Spend some time in the Boathouse Visitor Centre for a dip into Rathlin’s history. Return to Ballycastle by the evening ferry. If the boat trip to Rathlin is not possible due to adverse weather, we recommend a walk to Knocklayd, the highest peak in Co. Antrim, which lies south of Ballycastle. You can either climb to the summit or skirt the mountain on tracks and roads passing through Glentaisie and Glenshesk. Alternatively, you could explore the town of Ballycastle or visit the whisky distillery at Bushmills. Overnight at Ballycastle.
Day 5: Ballycastle to Ballintoy. Distance: 6 miles; average walking time: 3 hours. Today’s walk takes you along the coastal road from Ballycastle to your evening stop-over at Ballintoy. It is a rolling road with ample vantage points to view the magnificence of the Antrim coastline. As you continue along the route you will come to Larrybane with its visitor centre and the world famous Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. The bridge spans an 80 foot deep chasm that renders Carrick-a-Rede island, a must do for every visitor and gives a fitting dramatic climax to an exhilarating day’s walk. From here it is only a short distance by the coastal path to the little village of Ballintoy. The little harbour at the foot of the cliffs is well worth a visit. Overnight at Ballintoy.
Day 6: Ballintoy to Portballintrae. Distance: 11 miles; average walking time: 5-6 hours. “Before you lies one of the finest walks that an ordinary pedestrian can experience anywhere in the wide world” An extract from Ulster Rambles by Peter Wright. The best coastal walk in Ireland – bar none! Varied geology, views across to Scotland, cliff and beach walks, the Giant’s Causeway and Ireland’s smallest church are all to be found on today’s route.
From Ballintoy harbour you very soon come to the beautiful strand of White Park Bay, then on to Portbraddan, with Ireland’s tiniest church measuring only 12 ft by 6.5 ft. Continuing on you come to the ruins of Dunseverick Castle and then along the cliff-top path round Benbane Head and on to the Giant’s Causeway. From here you can stay on the path which leads to Portballintrae and your evening accommodation. Alternatively there is a shorter route along a pleasant path and through golflinks to end this most splendid of walks. Overnight at Portballintrae/Bushmillls.
Day 7: Portballintrae to Portstewart. Distance: 12 miles; average walking time 5-6 hours. Your final day’s walk begins on the coastal road to Portrush passing Magheracross viewpoint and Dunluce Castle, perched precariously high on a promontory overlooking the sea. Shortly you come to Whiterocks beach and then a formal pathway at the far side of the beach leads you up around Ramore Head, until you reach Portrush harbour. Your walk continues along Mill Strand (beach) and then, following the Causeway markers, the route continues along the coastline, ending at the promenade in Portstewart. Overnight at Portstewart.
Day 8: After a final breakfast and farewell at Portstewart you commence your homeward journey.
Single Room Supplement: 8-day €250.
Also see tour packages in:
Europe Ireland Outdoor: Land Rambler Walking Tours