The north coast is one of the most scenic parts of the country. The unique basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway, the stunning views from the paths along the cliffs, the spectacular Dunluce castle, the uniquely charming village of Ballintoy. We’ve been meaning to walk the Causeway Coast Way for some time as it takes in all of the above and more. Last weekend we made plans to walk this historic and scenic route.
As the route was over 30 miles we decided to split it over two days. We still had the memory fresh in our minds of when we hiked over 30 miles in Day One of a previous Ulster Way walk, the Sliabh Beagh Way. Splitting the route in two allowed us to hike the route comfortably without being pressed for time. With the great sights along this route, being able to stop for photos and admire the view is an absolute necessity.
We packed light, with everyone except Oisin opting for bivvy bags rather than tents for shelter. We also arranged to hike the route in reverse, starting in Ballycastle and hiking towards Portstewart. The transport links from Portstewart and Portrush are much better than Ballycastle on Sundays and we had a nice added extra waiting for us in Portrush on day two.
I had been working until midnight on the Friday before our walk, but rising for a walk like this is never difficult.
We took the train from Belfast to Coleraine where Oisin’s partner kindly drove us to Ballycastle to our starting point.
We left Ballycastle with sunny skies overhead and high spirits. While there was quite a lot of walking on busy roads after leaving Ballycastle, the occasional quieter road or grassy path was more than welcome. It was great to get out.
The busier road sections of the walk felt a little dangerous at times, as drivers often left little clearance when passing and motorcyclists sped past at staggering speeds. This is a section of the walk which could definitely use with some access arrangements with local farmers.
After grinding out a few quick road miles we arrived at a nice picnic area / view point. There were a few tourist coaches parked, with tourists relaxing and taking in the views. It’s really not hard to see why they’re drawn here with such spectacular views.
After a brief stop to drink some water and admire the view, we set off again towards Carrick-a-Rede. It’s worth noting that the walk is mostly busy roads between Ballycastle and Larrybane. If you’re walking from Portstewart to Ballycastle – allow enough time to ensure you aren’t walking this final stretch in the dark. We found it to be just over 5 miles.
We chose not to stop at the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge as we had all seen it before, but if you’re visiting Northern Ireland and have some time to spare, I would certainly recommend it.
The weather was absolutely beautiful, we really couldn’t have asked for better weather for such a scenic walk. Had it been a little cloudier or had there been rain it certainly would have made things a little less enjoyable. Given the heavy rain just the day before, we had timed things perfectly. We were certainly mindful of our good fortune as we headed towards Ballintoy.
When we reached Ballintoy we stopped for a while to have a quick ice cream and let soak up a little of the sun, checking out the interesting cave and stopping for photos.
After leaving Ballintoy the trail towards White Park Bay and Dunseverick is a wonderful, winding trail through grassy meadows. There were lots of interesting hillocks and rock formations and from the well tended paths and stiles in the area it’s clear time and money has put into maintaining this part of the walk.
Before long we reached White Park Bay which was cloaked in a nice atmospheric mist at the time. We stayed close to the water on the firm stand rather than sapping our energy in the loose sand. We were carrying packs and had much further to go!
We saw quite a few walkers coming in the opposite direction for an Action Cancer charity walk. It was great to see them getting such fantastic weather.
At the far side of White Park Bay the trail takes you through a hole in the rock. It’s quite interesting and just one of the many interesting rock formations along the route.
The view towards the headland of Dunseverick was absolutely breathtaking. The same mist which draped over White Park Bay earlier lingered in the air while the soothing sights and sounds of the waves washed in over the rocks.
The little stretch of path towards Portbraddan was covered in interesting little hillocks, many of which had interesting striations along their circumference. I had suspected this was related to the nature of the surrounding soil. If someone with an interest in Geology would like to let us know in the comments how this actually occurs, I would be really interested to read about it!
In Portbraddan itself is St Gobban’s church, which many mistakenly believe to be the smallest Church in Ireland. It’s a picturesque wee building and definitely worth a photo stop!
We pressed on for Dunseverick, amazed that our good fortune with the weather had continued to hold. An even, easily walked trail winds around the headland with very little elevation. It’s a fantastic part of the walk with amazing views out across the sea. The sun beamed down on us, while some refreshing high wind kept us cool. Some light clouds had began to gather and as the sun started to lay lower in the sky, the characteristic amber glow of late afternoon bathed the cliffs and sparkled across the sea.
It was at this stage in the walk that we were truly thankful for our light packs. Rather than trudging along cursing the weight we were carrying, we strolled along the winding cliff path admiring the breathtaking views and the feeling of the sun on our faces.
The walk passes the section of trail which leads down to the Port Moon Bothy which we had recently visited. We had considered staying in it when planning our trip, but decided we needed to be much further ahead before laying our head down for the night. So much the better, for this was definitely an evening with weather for walking!
We met a young couple hiking the opposite direction, it was great to see other hikers out enjoying the full route!
Occasionally beams of sun would break through the clouds and shine down onto the sea. Oisin managed to capture this in an interesting photo.
The winding path over the headland soon takes you to the Giant’s Causeway. If you’re visiting Northern Ireland, or if you’re just curious, I definitely recommend walking down and checking it out. It’s a world heritage site with good reason and the characteristically shaped basalt columns are literally the stuff which legends are made of.
Thankfully our route took us past the Causeway Hotel. While there was a wedding on at the time, we were able to leave our packs at reception and visit the bar for a quick supper of a Guinness and a bowl of chips in a quiet corner somewhere out of the way. The wedding guests were enjoying their meal elsewhere in the hotel in the function room and while the staff were most likely under a lot of pressure, they were very accommodating and made us feel quite welcome. After a long day of walking a dried meal just doesn’t hit the spot quite the same and we were more than thankful that they didn’t turn us away.
Nicely nourished and relaxed from the Guinness and the chips, we thanked the staff for their kindness and were on our way.
A short walk took us to the sand dunes outside Portballintrae, where we found a nice secluded area near the old railway track to lay our bivvy bags down for the night.
The soothing sound of the waves rolling in would have certainly helped us fall asleep if we had needed it! Thankfully after a full day of walking on three hours of sleep, I was more than ready to turn in. After a brief time chatting about the great day we had, I drifted off staring up at the stars as the waves rolled in.
Morning arrived with a light shower of rain. We had each slept exceptionally well, thanks to the warmth of our sleeping bags, the soothing sounds of the waves or a full day’s walking in the sea air – or perhaps all of the above.
Morning showers on a two day trip are both a blessing and a curse. On one hand a lot of your kit inevitably gets wet, but also it gives you a good incentive to pack up and get moving.
We boiled up some water for our porridge and after a quick breakfast we packed up and got moving. The light, misty rain stuck with us as we followed the boardwalk down past the golf club towards Portballintrae. On a brighter morning we might have stopped a little more frequently for photos, but we were eager to keep moving and build up some warmth.
As we passed through Portballintrae we stopped at the local shop for John and I to grab something to drink. The place was well stocked with fishing gear and it’s not hard to see why. The rocks over by the picnic tables are a great sea fishing spot.
We pressed on leaving Portballintrae, headed towards Portrush. This part of the walk is mostly footpath along the road. We were glad we had chosen to leave from Ballycastle yesterday, as it meant getting the great weather during the most scenic part of the walk. Nobody minded a little misty rain during the road walking, it helped keep us cool and we had already had the good weather for incredible panoramic cliff views yesterday.
Before long we found ourselves at Dunluce Castle. Unlike Dunseverick castle, which is little more than a wall at this point, Dunluce Castle has much to tempt you to ponder how magnificent it must have looked in the late middle ages when it was built.
If you’re visiting or just curious I’d really recommend checking out Dunluce Castle. The tourist board has even created iPhone and Android apps full of interesting facts and legend about this historic fortification.
The weather had picked up nicely by this stage in the day. Just in time for us to arrive in Portrush. We took the new path towards Whiterocks beach, where unfortunately we were diverted back to the road. The route normally follows along the beach, but due to the Airshow the beach was closed.
The town was absolutely packed with visitors to see the Airshow / Red Arrows. We stopped at the service station on the outskirts of the town to grab a light bite and watch the planes overhead. It was absolutely breathtaking to watch the planes zoom past overhead, often in tight formation.
After taking in the spectacular sights of the airshow we headed along the back roads out of Portrush. You always feel a little out of place walking through big crowds with a pack on and it’s better to push onto where you can walk at your own pace. Stopping and starting, slipping past people is slow going with a camping pack on.
We passed the golf course where quite a few people were enjoying a Sunday afternoon round or two. Once again as we came into Portstewart we were met with lovely, well maintained coastal walking paths. I had hoped on stopping in the Ice House for a bowl of their legendary nachos before heading home, but it was not yet open for the evening when we passed through the town.
The walk took us around past the Dominican College, along the wall towards the beach. I had walked this little section many times as a child, but had not done so since. It was interesting to walk along it again, it brought back many fond memories.
We arrived at the end of our route, Portstewart Golf club, with the sun beaming down on us. We relaxed on a bench waiting on Oisin’s partner who had kindly offered to take us to Coleraine to beat the rush home from Portrush on our train home.
We had all got a healthy dose of sun and fresh air on our two days of walking. The views and points of interest along this walk were as good as you would find anywhere. It really is a shame that this wonderful route isn’t more widely walked.
If you’d like to know more about the Causeway Coast Way, check out the Walk NI website which has everything you need to plan your hike!
Check out the great video Dave put together of our walk: