Following my brief sightseeing walk in Belfast, the next leg of my eachtra aisling Éireannach (Irish dream adventure) was a bus ride to Ballycastle, a pretty seaside town on the north coast of Northern Ireland in County Antrim. I would have my headquarters at a B&B in Ballycastle and hike in the area for six days.
There are actually two bus routes between Belfast and Ballycastle, one along the coast and one inland. The bus schedule worked out better for me to take the inland route, via Antrim, Ballymena, and Armoy. The town of Antrim is on the shore of Lough Neagh, the largest lake on the island of Ireland as well as in the United Kingdom and in the British Isles. It was difficult to get good photos from the moving bus, but notable sights included a few isolated windmills, for wind energy, and a special type of cow known locally as panda cows. I was hoping to see more panda cows later (and I did!).
Approaching Ballycastle the road passes around Knocklayd, one of the highest mountains (approx. 1695 ft or 515 m high) in Antrim and an easy-to-identify landmark. This view from the bus shows Knocklayd with other characteristic features: unbelievably green sheep grazing pastures and the almost ever-present clouds.
As the bus enters town on the A44 from Armoy the route passes through Glentaisie, one of the nine famous glens in the area. Glentaisie was named after Princess Taisie, daughter of King Dorm of nearby Rathlin Island. It seems that there is an interesting story or legend behind many of the place names in the area! Entering town, there is an intriguing view of the top of a church steeple: Holy Trinity Church (Church of Ireland), located on The Diamond, or town square. I took this picture later while exploring town on foot, but imagine seeing just the top half or so over the crest of the bluff straight ahead of you as you enter town.
After the bus dropped me off at the Marine Corner, right next to the harbor edge, I took my luggage a short 0.2 mile up the street to my B&B, named An Caislean in honor of the castle after which Ballycastle is named. I could hardly wait to go out and explore more of the town. In fact, I went for an afternoon walk and another walk in the evening, taking advantage of the late (~9pm) sunset.
The first objective for my afternoon walk was to return to the Marine Corner area, in the upper right of the blue GPS track, go to the Tourist Information Centre and get some maps and other information for my planned hikes, and check out the ferry to Rathlin Island, which I planned to visit a couple of days later. I passed by the Marine Corner at least twice every day I was in Ballycastle, and I was continually fascinated by the ever-changing views of Fair Head, a dramatic headland just 4 mi away. The cliffs of Fair Head are 196 m (650 ft) above the sea. In the background the skyline of the Mull of Kintyre, the southwestern tip of the Kintyre Peninsula in Scotland, can be seen. It is about 20 mi away, visible in relatively clear weather but certainly not every day. It turns out that Paul McCartney, with Denny Laine, wrote a song called “Mull of Kintyre” that, performed by Wings, was a huge hit in Britain in the late 1970s.
Turning away from Fair Head, I could enjoy a pretty view of boats moored in the Ballycastle Harbor, with commercial buildings and houses on the bluff above the harbor. In the harbor area the water was so calm that the boats and clouds were nicely reflected.
There were several types of sea birds either perched on various posts and signs or flying around the harbor area. I think this is a black-headed gull in non-breeding plumage.
In the harbor area there are a few sculptures and an interesting-looking rock monument. This monument is called the Marconi Memorial and commemorates the first commercial wireless telegraph communication, achieved by Marchese Marconi and his assistant George Kemp. The wireless communication took place in 1898 between Ballycastle and the East Lighthouse on Rathlin Island, to advise Lloyds of London about ships passing safely through the North Channel, which goes between Northern Ireland and Scotland and connects the Irish Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean.
Also visible across the water is Rathlin Island, the only inhabited island off the north coast of Antrim. Rathlin is about 6 miles away and is 6 miles long, with a maximum elevation of about 110 m (365 ft). From Ballycastle it looks low and wide. I was looking forward to spending two days hiking on Rathlin during my stay in Ballycastle.
In the evening I went out for a second exploratory walk, this time continuing up the street away from the harbor. As seems to be common, the street changes name several times, from Quay Rd to Ann St to Castle St. The Diamond, mentioned earlier, is where Ann St becomes Castle St. I continued a short distance further, then turned around about 1 km from my B&B. I explored a couple of side streets, with more views of Knocklayd. Following some signage, I went down a side street, Fairhill St (at the bottom of the GPS track), which led to the final prize of my exploration, a trailhead for the way-marked Moyle Way. I hoped to hike this trail as two day hikes. The significance of the Moyle Way is that it is the family name of my mother’s family.
After celebrating finding the trailhead I returned to my B&B to get ready for my hiking adventures. These initial explorations were a great introduction to the upcoming six days. I could hardly wait to get started!