Carrickfergus is the large castle you can see as you land at Belfast Airport. It is to the north-west of Belfast, so sit on the rights side flying into Belfast and the left when flying out. You can then see it. The castle was built in 1177 by the Norman John de Courcy to defend the approach to Belfast Lough. De Courcy was a knight and grandson of another knight who invaded England in 1066 with William the Conqueror. Despite no authority from King Henry II, De Courcy defeated the different Kings of Northern Ireland and Carrickfergus was the first Irish Castle. He was quite an adventurer and it took years before an English King could put a stop to his freewheeling ways.
Carrickfergus was a thriving trading town before a single house was constructed in Belfast. Originally it was strategically built so that 3 of the 4 sides were on the water of Belfast Lough. It is not today due to land reclamation projects. After being built it was attacked, in order, by the Scots (1597), Irish (Nine Years War 1595–1603), English (1690) and French (1760). Except for the brief overthrows, Carrickfergus castle was garrisoned continuously by the British Army for almost 750 years. In the 1700’s it was a prison. Later it strengthened and served as a magazine and armoury until 1928 when the British Army finally left. During World War II it served as an air raid shelter. Today it is managed the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.
You can walk into the main gates for free. After that it’s a reasonable admission fee. A lot of the castle is full of mannequins and mock-ups. The real beauty is the view from the walls.
The venue inside the castle can be hired for birthdays and weddings and host 60 people. They offer an audio tour and gift shop.
Opening Times 2012-2013:
1 Apr – 30 Sep 10am – 6pm daily
1 Oct - 31 Oct 10am - 4pm daily
1 Nov – 28 Feb 10am – 4pm daily
1 Mar – 31 Mar 10am – 4pm daily
(Except Christmas and New Year)
The Organ is one of the giant's causeway most impressive formations. When viewed from a distance this formation looks like a giant pipe organ. The basalt rock formed in long, poker straight columns in the cliff face overlooking the centre of the causeway in Port Noffer. The best views of this formation can be enjoyed from the clifftop walk.
The 'Wishing Chair' is the most famous formation at the Giant's Causeway. This famous rock formation is set right up against the waterline is one of the Antrim's most photographed landmarks. The wishing chair comprises of hundreds of columns of hexagonal basalt columns which have formed in a variety of heights giving a stepping stone appearance to the formation. The wishing chair is located in the central causeway between Port Ganny and Port Noffer. A bus runs from the visitors centre to the wishing chair and costs £1. A far more enjoyable route is to walk along the cliff and down the path to the causeway.
This is another of the causeways famous rock formations. This formation is strange as there are no other rocks in the area which formed in the same way. The hexangonal shape of most of the rocks at the causeway is not present with this formation and instead the formation is smooth and rounded. THe huge oddly shaped rock is so called because it resembles a boot and legend says that the rock is one of the Giant's boots. (See Legend of the Causeway on the Antrim intro page)
The Ginat's Boot is located on the beach in Port Noffer.
This clifftop formation is another unusual formation at the Giant's Causeway. The chimney tops or stacks refer to the long, straight rock formations pretruding upwards fromt the cliff headland at the far side of the causeway. This series of stacks sits atop of a terraced headland and has a brown/red colouring. When viewed close up it becomes apparent that the stack columns have the same hexagonal shape as the formations in the central causeway.
The 'Camel' is yet another formation at the Giant's Causeway. The camel is located in the first of the causeway's three bays - Portnaboe. The camel is so called because when viewed from a certain angle it resembles a camel with a 'hump' of rock protruding from its' centre. The formation rises up from the sea below the visitor's centre.
The Granny is located on the 'Stookans' headland between Port Ganny and Port Noffer. This rock formation got its' name from the stopped over apperance of the formation on the side of the hill. The rock resembles an old woman climbing the hill.
One of the best ways to enjoy the Giant's Causeway is by taking the cliff top path overlooking the causeway and the bays of Portnaboe, Port Ganny and Port Noffer. All the different rock formations can be viewed from the clifftops and birdseye views of the central causeway can be enjoyed from all along the cliff. The paths are well laid out but can be steep and uneven in places. There are a series of steps leading down to Port Noffer from the cliff so the best route to take from the visitor centre is out along the cliffs and back along the lower causeway. This way you can get the bests views and see the formations close up. Don't take the bus down to the causeway- take it back up and save time. You won't miss anything new by taking the bus back up.
Carrick-A-Rede (from the Gaelic words for 'rock in the road', is another of Co. Antrim's most famous sights or should I say, experience. Crossing the famous 20 metre long rope bridge has been on my 'want to do' list for a long time and now I have finally done it.
The bridge originated as a crossing point for fishermen from the mainland out onto the tiny Carrick Island. Carrick Island is directly over the sea route for the North-Atlantic salmon and so the fishermen erected this rope bridge in order to have access to the best fishing spots! A bridge has existed here for around 350 years and is still used by fishermen today although the salmon numbers have fallen.
Many people who come wanting to cross the bridge, turn back when seeing the 30 metre drop to the sea and rocks below and feeling the bounce and sway of the bridge. There have also been incidents of people crossing onto the island but refusing to complete the return and had to be lifted off the island by the coastguard or boat. Don't worry though, the bridge can withstand a weight of up to 10 tonnes!
Larrybane means 'the ancient white site' and is the name given to the headland and cliff running down to Carrick Island. The limestone cliffs and headland house a disused quarry and offers amazing views up and down the coast. The headland bends around the bay and the small 'Sheep Island' lies just off it. Didn't see any sheep on it though!
An Iron Age Fort stood on the headland around AD800.
Thousands of people cross the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge every year. I wonder how many of them actually stop to take in the views from the bridge. Up, down and sideways, the views from the bridge itself are amazing. those suffering from vertigo should perhaps decline from looking down into the sea and rocks 30 metres below! However everyone can enjoy the views up the coast and cliffs. There is also a beautiful cave set into the cliff face below the bridge. So don't forget to stop on your way across the bridge and enjoy the scenery will bouncing gently on the bridge. (It costs £3 to cross so get the value from your money)
Once you cross the Rope Bridge you are in for another treat. Tiny Carrick Island is a beautiful spot in its own right. The soft spongy grass is a perfect place to sit and enjoy the stunning views up and down the coast, across to Rathlin Island and even as far as Scotland and the Mul of Kintyre.
The little island is also a haven for birdwatchers, and is apparently a great place to spot puffins - although I failed to spot any :(
Don't rush back off the island. Sit and enjoy. However be careful too, the cliff edges are steep and dangerous. If you visit with small children make sure they are well supervised.
The world oldest licensed distilley from 1608.
You can try Whisky taisting. ( Don't drink too much !)
Open April-Oct: Mon-Sat 9.30 am-5.30 pm, Sun noon-5.30 pm,
last tour 4 pm; Nov-March 7-day opening but reduced tours.
Phone for tour times.
Groups by arrangement.
Closed good friday afternoon, 12 July and Christmas/New Year.
Price £5, child £2.50, concession £4, family £13.
If you are on a short time scale or small budget, you can wander around the site and see the external buildings... but your miss out on tasting some whiskey.... most of the buildings are Victorian...
Its interesting to note that the official site for Bushmils refers to the Irishiness of their product, with no reference to the fact that Bushmills is within the United Kingdom, being located in Northern Ireland....
The Giant's Causeway is an amazing natural phenomenom.
It is an area of hexagonal stone columns that rise out of the ground by the sea.
When the ancients first saw it they thought it so bizarre that it must have been built by giants.
It truely is a spectacular sight, and the landscape around here is very beautiful too.
You can take a walk along the cliff top and take it all in, and then wander down and marvel over the Causeway.
Ballymena Road, Antrim, BT41 4LL, United Kingdom
Good for: Couples
178 Galgorm Road, Ballymena, BT42 1HJ, United Kingdom
Satisfaction: Very Good
Good for: Families
20 Harbour Road
Good for: Business