Saturday, May 21, 2011

Ireland!!: The Giant's Causeway

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North of Bushmills, we checked in at Carnside Guest House, a pretty huge B&B that I thought would be busy, only to discover we were the only guests for the night! I was pretty excited about having the run of the place - I guess this is kind of a childhood fantasy where you get the WHOLE HOTEL just for you - but first, dinner! Our hostess recommended some restaurant in Bushmills with a fancy name and we knew we didn't want to spend a fortune. We went into town anyway to have a look at the menu, but we never found the restaurant. Instead we stopped at a grocery store to get some whiskey for later (Bushmills of course) and since we spent more than 20 pounds, they threw in two liter bottles of Coke and a 6-pack of snack-size bags of Tayto Cheese & Onion chips. I never heard of Tayto until we saw some billboards on the motorway in Ireland. These chips were STRONG and no one wanted to be in the car when someone else was eating them. (They were good!) We ended up never touching the Coke and leaving it at a place we stayed later.

We ended up having dinner at a pub right at Giant's Causeway called The Nook. It was almost empty, and there was a fire going which felt awesome after being out in the drippy weather. The service was a little iffy - he didn't seem to like his touristy job that much, but was ok - but the food was really very good and not TOO exorbitantly priced. It's probably insanely crowded in high season but I'd definitely recommend it on an off-day.

It was threatening rain after dinner but we decided to walk down to the Causeway anyway to have a look, since it's open all hours and there's no admission fee. It's about a kilometer from the parking lot and once we got there, it was just us and a big group of young Eastern Europeans (definitely a Slavic language but we didn't know which one) - and then it started pouring rain and blowing like crazy, and since we'd just wandered down there after dinner without any preparation, we were pretty soaked. Of course once we were back at the B&B, it stopped. We all changed clothes then gathered in one of the toasty common rooms, which was full of books and games, and drank whiskey and thumbed through some of the old books. A pretty good night, if you ask me!

The B&B offered a buffet breakfast with just cold food for no extra cost, or an Irish breakfast for an extra 5 pounds. The buffet alone was great for me, although Damon has sausages whenever he can get them. The bread and cheese in particular were great, and the hostess was happy to come out and tell us how to make the bread.

After breakfast we headed out for a proper visit to the Giant's Causeway, including paying 6 pounds to park. Due to construction of a new visitor's center, part of the path on the clifftops is closed, but you can still get to it by going around the construction site on the road. The clifftop path is great because it's much less busy than the lower path and you can see the Causeway from above, which is pretty cool. (See photos!) We walked eastward until the Shepherd's Stairs and took the lower path from there, but it's closed off a bit beyond that and apparently has been since 1994! So, we headed with the crowd back along the lower path to the main feature, a big section of hexagonal rock columns that resembles a tile path heading down into the ocean. I've been itching to go to the Giant's Causeway since seeing a photo of it online somewhere right after we moved to Germany, and it is indeed pretty cool, but I have to admit it was a lot smaller than it had been in my imagination. Also, I worry about preservation as everyone can climb all over it (and we all did, so I shouldn't complain too loudly). It reminds me of Bryce Canyon in the US, where they ended up closing some hiking paths because all the features people go there to see were getting eroded. (It seems the more delicate something is, the more people want to go look at it and possibly damage it - Bryce was definitely the most crowded park we visited in Utah.) Also, because it's a kilometer from the parking lot to this feature, they've put in a road down to it where a bus goes back and forth. This is nice for those who can't make the walk, but the bus turnaround is built practically on top of the Causeway. Still, it was definitely worth going and I think we all enjoyed it.

Giant's Causeway/Causeway Coast Mai 11

Afterward, we headed a bit down the road eastward to the famous rope bridge that goes to Carrick-a-rede island, a tiny island with a former fishing post on it. Again, allot a bit of time for this because it's about a 1 kilometer walk from the car park to the bridge. There is no charge to walk out to the bridge, but it costs 5.60 pounds to cross it!! You have to pay at the car park, so you must decide before you actually get to see the bridge, and I was nervous that I might bail at the last second. With that and the price of the ticket, I passed and Damon went while I watched from a nearby cliff. J also crossed, but T didn't. The bridge feels scary (according to their reports) because it sways, but it actually looks like you couldn't fall off it unless you really tried. Under the planks on the bottom is plenty of netting to make sure you don't even lose a shoe off the bridge. Only 8 people can be on the bridge at a time and the lines weren't bad at all when we were there, but I've seen photos from the high season and it looks like it can get pretty busy. The area is really beautiful and if you have time it's worth the walk out to the bridge even if you don't plan to cross - the color of the water in particular was beautiful. We lucked out with the weather, although more rain was forecast. The weather report on the radio actually said the weather was going "back to normal" instead of saying rain was coming.

Afterward we had lunch somewhere in nearby Ballintoy and then headed Derry-ward!


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