The Giant’s Causeway is a World Heritage Site in County Antrim on the northeast coast of Northern Ireland, three miles northeast of Bushmills, the oldest distillery in Ireland, four miles from Dunluce Castle, eight miles from Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and thirteen miles from Ballycastle, where I stayed.
Guidebooks say there are about 40,000 columns. They look almost like stepping stones leading from the cliff into the sea. Across the sea, on the Scottish isle of Staffa, the columns climb back out of the sea at Fingal’s Cave and continue north east to the island of Ulva in the Inner Hebrides.
Nearly all the columns have six sides, but there are a few with four, five, seven or eight sides. Many columns are tall, very tall. Up to nearly 40 feet tall, like a four story building.
How They Formed
Giant’s Causeway began with an ancient volcanic eruption. Molten basalt came through chalk beds forming a very thick lava plateau. The lava contracted as it cooled, cracking the same way mud cracks when it dries. Because the lava was so thick, it left these pillars. Some of them also cracked horizontally. The horizontal fracture is cupped. The lower part of the column cups up, the upper part fits over it with a matching indentation. Guidebooks call it a “ball and socket” joint. But, it looks more just cupped to me.
Giant’s Causeway Legend
Irish giant Finn MacCool, also called Fingal (or Fionn mac Cumhaill in Gaelic) was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Finn MacCool built the causeway to reach Benandonner.
From here there are two stories. Some people say Fionn defeats Benandonner.
In the other version, Finn gets to Scotland and realizes Benandonner is bigger than he looked from Ireland. He ran back to Ireland and hid. When Benandonner comes to search for him, Finn’s wife wrapped him up to look like a baby. Benandonner sees the size of Finn’s “baby” and thinks Finn must be enormous. As he flees home to Scotland, he destroys the causeway behind him so Finn can’t follow.
My Visit to Giant’s Causeway
There is a visitor center. I was early, so it wasn’t open yet. You walk half a mile to the main area with columns. There is a tram, but I was too early for it. I dropped in the visitor’s center on the way out.
You can walk anywhere at the site. Some of the columns close to the water are slick, so be careful. The water was extremely cold and deep.
Giant’s Causeway is a national nature reserve. There are a lot of birds, especially seabirds. There were birdwatchers trying to photograph them. I took a couple of photos, too.
This is also a good place to see some unusual plants. Look at the different plants on the walk to the columns.
Look familiar? Aubrey Powell of Hipgnosis took the photos for Led Zeppelin at Giant’s Causeway. The inside cover art was shot nearby at Dunluce Castle.
Click any photo to start a slide show.