The Giant’s Causeway-Hero’s Footsteps in Black Rock

Often  called  the  eighth  wonder  of  the world, the Giant’s Causeway is a one-of-a-kind  natural  rock  formation  that  truly captures  the  imagination.  It  doesn’t  take much  effort  for  children  to  imagine  the striding  giant  who  purportedly  left  these immense stone footprints in the sea off of Northern Ireland.

A World Heritage Site, the Causeway consists  of  roughly  40,000  tightly  packed basalt  columns  that  extend  for  5km  (3 miles)  along  the  North  Antrim  coast.  The tops of the columns form a dense honeycomb of stepping stones that sprawl outward  from  the  cliff  foot  and  eventually disappear  under  the  sea.  They’re  mostly hexagonal,  about  30cm  (12  in.)  in  diame-ter,  and  some  are  as  tall  as  12m  (40  ft.). How  did  they  get  there?  Scientists  estimate that they were formed 60 or 70 mil-lion  years  ago  by  a  series  of  volcanic eruptions  and  cooling  lava.  In  the  surrounding  cliff  faces,  you  can  see  dark stripes  of  volcanic  basalt  interrupting  the sheer red rock.

But all that is the scientific explanation. The ancients, on the other hand, believed the  rock  formation  to  be  the  work  of giants.  Another  even  more  romantic  legend claims that the Causeway isn’t natural at all, but the handiwork of Finn MacCool, the  great  Ulster  warrior  and  commander of the king of Ulster’s armies, who built it as  a  highway  over  the  sea  to  bring  his girlfriend from the Isle of Hebrides.

Tourists have come here to marvel over the Causeway since the late 17th century. For many years, visitors were forbidden to walk  out  onto  the  stones,  or  had  to  pay extra  to  do  so;  thankfully  today  they  are open to the public. Watch your footing as you  scamper  over  the  uneven  surface, traipsing  from  stone  to  stone.  You’ll  spy delicate  flowers  and  mosses  growing  in the crevices, and all sorts of seabirds nesting in the nearby cliffs.

To reach the causeway, follow the path from  the  visitor  center’s  parking  area. Along  the  way  you’ll  pass  plenty  of  other extraordinary  volcanic  rock  formations, amphitheaters  of  stone  and  striated  columns  and  formations  with  such  fanciful names  as  Honeycomb,  Wishing  Well, Giant’s  Granny,  King  and  His  Nobles, and Lover’s Leap. From the causeway, a wooden   staircase   climbs   up   Benbane Head  and  travels  back  along  the  cliff-top walking path, where you’ll get spectacular views of the North Antrim coast.

Train  buffs,  of  course,  will  want  to  get there  via  the  charming  red  narrow-gauge Giants  Causeway  and  Bushmills  Railway,  which  runs for 2 miles along the coast from the town of  Bushmills  out  to  the  Causeway;  it  runs weekends  in  spring  and  fall  and  daily  in summer.