Giant's Causeway

Giant's Causeway and the Causeway Coast of Northern Ireland together comprise a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The unique site consists of about 40,000 huge black basalt columns and similar formations that just up from the sea and along the coast. The columns are of varying height from a few feet to more than 300 feet and resemble steps large enough to accommodate a giant. Legends of giants using the stone to cross the sea to Scotland abound in the area.

This natural Ireland Causeway is set at the foot of basalt cliffs on the Antrim Plateau along the coast of Antrim County and stretches for about five miles between Benbane Head and Causeway Head. The striking landscapes were formed many millions of years ago by volcanic activity. The unique characteristics of the columns include their regular polygonal shapes in near perfect horizontal sections that form a stepped pavement surface. The different heights or steps of the Giant's Causeway are due to a succession of several lava flows over a period of millennia.

The Ireland Causeway gained fame outside of the regional area when Sir Richard Bulkeley of Trinity College in Dublin (home to the Book of Kells) presented a paper about it to the Royal Society in 1693. Not quite 50 years later, acclaimed Dublin artist Susanna Drury received the first Royal Society award for her watercolor paintings of it. Engravings of her painting subsequently illustrated an entry on the Ireland Causeway in the French Encyclopedie.

Tourists began to visit the extraordinary site in the late eighteenth century. It became a very popular tourist attraction during the following century, especially after the Giant's Causeway Tramway was built. The National Trust, which oversees and cares for landmarks, castles, and other historic sites throughout the UK, took over the site in the 1960s. Today it is possible to walk atop the columns located at the edge of the sea after about a half-mile walk from the entrance. In addition to being amazed by the giant formations, you will also find the area is a haven for a variety of sea birds, including the redshank guillemot, razorbill, petrel, cormorant, fulmar, and many other gulls and terns.

The Giant's Causeway is about 65 miles north of Belfast, and there is a reasonably priced public bus. However, the schedule is not entirely reliable after late September, and it is easy to find yourself stranded if you are relying strictly on public transportation. The best way to get here is using a rental car, and this is an easy day trip from Belfast. A great idea is to make a stop in Bushmills, the tiny picturesque village that is home to the legendary Irish whiskey of the same name. If you're overnighting, try the historic four-star Bushmills Inn with its charming rooms and traditional pub restaurant. You will find the whitewashed inn at 9 Dunluce Road, just as you enter the village from the north and west. Visiting the Old Bushmills Distillery for a distillery tour is well worth your time. The distillery has been making its trademark whiskey since 1608. If you're part of group of fifteen or more people, call in advance. Otherwise, just show up during business hours for a guided tour that ends with a wee taste.

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