I previously mentioned how, on Day 13 of our trip around Ireland, I discovered that Northern Ireland was much more awesome than I had previously realized. Well, Day 13 was basically child’s play compared to what followed, as on Day 14, I learned that Northern Ireland has some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. I mean, we’re talking really, really gorgeous (I cannot emphasize this enough). On this day, we saw an incredible succession of beautiful places – with a wee bit of whiskey thrown in for good measure – and each spot was so wonderful on its own that it was almost overwhelming to have them all strung together. It was a jam-packed day and it was also, hands down, my favorite day of our three-week trip.
We began at Giant’s Causeway. You can either take a shuttle bus to the actual causeway, or you can walk the mostly downhill path, which takes about 15 minutes. I would highly recommend walking down if you are physically able, as there are lots of stunning views to take in along the way:
Giant’s Causeway itself ranks among the most unique things I’ve ever seen. The Causeway contains thousands of stone columns, formed after an ancient volcanic eruption. Combine those interesting rock formations with the surrounding landscapes – the blue grey sea stretching out into infinity and the lush green hills – and you have a really memorable and beautiful piece of scenery.
From the Causeway, we headed to the nearby Bushmills Distillery, where we toured the factory and saw the whiskey-making process from start to finish. Photographs weren’t allowed on the tour itself – best not to risk exposing any whiskey secrets, I suppose – but I did grab some pictures while we were whiskey tasting.
We started with shot-sized glasses of Bushmills honey whiskey. The twenty-something in me wanted to take the shot and be done with it, but apparently we were meant to sip the whiskey. I finished my entire portion but I will confess that it was a struggle; I’m just not meant to drink whiskey straight up (and slowly). Our second sample went down much easier: we tried hot toddies made with Bushmills. Those were delightful!
(Sidenote #1: Those shot glasses look so tiny in the above photograph, but I swear, this was like my Mt. Everest of whiskeys.)
At some point during our Bushmills stop, I began to question the wisdom of drinking whiskey before our next destination: the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. The rope bridge connects two cliffs and the area is often quite windy and rainy. So, why wouldn’t you want to have a bunch of whiskey before attempting to cross a rickety rope bridge that sways in the wind and hangs over a bunch of jagged rocks? Solid plan.
Luckily, I handled my whiskey just fine and made the Carrick-a-Rede crossing without incident. To get to the bridge, we had a bit of a hike in store, both going there and coming back. There are downhill and uphill parts going both ways but, as some of my tour buddies and I later commiserated, it sort of felt like you were trudging uphill both ways. That is to say, the hike is a little strenuous – but it’s really not bad and, as always in Ireland, the views make it totally worth it.
(Sidenote #2: I don’t feel like any of my photographs captured how scary this bridge was. I say this as a person who has ridden every single roller coaster at Cedar Point, with my hands in the air the entire way, and thus is clearly not afraid of heights or daredevil-y things. But when I was on that bridge, and it was swaying in the wind, and I could clearly see everything below me…well, let’s just say I felt a tiny bit of panic rising up inside me.)
As we were hiking back from the bridge, the grey skies opened up into a full-on downpour – our first real torrential rain of the trip. Given that this was day 14 and Ireland is notoriously rainy, I would say we had been uncommonly lucky to encounter mostly light rain up until this point. But, man, did mother nature ever decide to overcompensate – we were completely soaked through by the time we reached our bus, and as I had decided it would be better to wrap my jacket around my camera than around myself (blogger priorities), I was particularly soggy.
We grabbed some sandwiches from a tiny cafe near the bridge for lunch and then piled back on our bus, attempting to dry ourselves out as best as possible. As we reached our next stop, Dunluce Castle, the downpour had stopped but there was still a light mist. If anything, though, the mist only added to the haunting atmosphere of Dunluce Castle, a medieval castle whose ruins sit right on the edge of a cliff. In fact, the castle is so close to the edge that, in the 1600s, part of it crumbled into the sea. Hence, Dunluce earned its fame as the spot “where the kitchen fell into the sea.” Kitchen or not, the ruins are quite gorgeous.
After Dunluce Castle, we headed back into town, where I poked into a few antique shops and, in a feat of awesome self-restraint, decided not to buy kitschy 1980s royal memorabilia. After my mini-antiquing foray, we rested for a bit before heading to dinner…at the same restaurant we had eaten at the night before. There we ate…the same dinner we had the night before, the goat cheese and onion tart. It was so delicious, we just had to have more. For dessert, we split a sticky toffee pudding that was drowning in toffee sauce.
To work off all those toffee calories, I took a post-dinner walk around Portrush. The town is a cute little seaside resort, and I walked past its harbor, its beach, and a small carnival area.
And I don’t know why, but that little string of lights dangling across the beach seemed particularly lovely and magical to me. And – to be completely cheesy – sort of the perfect way to cap off an equally lovely and magical day in Northern Ireland.