Once I had arrived in Ballycastle to begin the hiking phase of my eachtra aisling Éireannach (Irish dream adventure), I was looking forward to six days of interesting hikes in the area. I had shared with the proprietor of my B&B the trails I was hoping to hike; essentially I could do them in any sequence. He suggested that I start with the Causeway Coast Way walking trail since the way-finding would be straightforward. In addition, this hike was especially perfect for the gorgeous sunny weather that seemed to be in store! In fact, there was a bit of rain in the afternoon, but it did nothing to spoil a most memorable hike. There were so many fantastic views that I’m going to use 3 posts to cover the day’s hike, which was 16.5 miles with gentle elevation changes of less than 1600 feet.
This first post covers just a short distance: 3.6 miles. I took one of the local Rambler buses from Ballycastle to one of the highlights of the Causeway Coast Way, Carrick-A-Rede, where I started my hike. The first section continues west to Ballintoy Harbor. In the downloadable WalkNI brochure this is a portion of Section 6. In another brochure about the Causeway Coast Way, this part is an entire section.
The bus driver dropped me off at the short access road to the Carrick-A-Rede parking area. Carrick-A-Rede comes from Scottish Gaelic Carraig-a-Rade, which means rock in the road. Carrick Island is like a rock in the road for migrating Atlantic salmon, which journey westward past the area on their way to the North Atlantic Ocean. Salmon fishermen have installed a rope bridge from the mainland to Carrick Island, and the rope bridge has become quite an attraction for visitors. It is under the management of the National Trust.
I arrived at the parking area before the access trail was open for the day, so I had a little time to enjoy views of the dramatic coastline. Looking west, where I would be walking later in the morning, I could see the town of Ballintoy across several pastures where sheep were grazing. In the background, across the coastal bay, was the headland that marks the eastern end of the Giant’s Causeway, where I would arrive later in the afternoon. I enjoyed being able to anticipate the rest of my walk while enjoying what I was experiencing more immediately.
Just west of the parking area is a beautiful white-cliffed headland which defines the west end of Larrybane Bay. Just off the headland are 3 distinctive rocks. The largest is Sheep Island, and the middle-sized rock is called Stackaboy. I particularly noticed how blue the water looked, reflecting the clear blue sky.
As soon as the access path opened I was on my way along the 1 km trail, which goes along the top of the cliff edge of Larrybane Bay. Here is the spectacular view approaching Carrick Island, which is the largest lump in the right-center of the picture. Though not obvious from this viewing angle, the island is indeed separate from the mainland and is crossed by the rope bridge. The low-profile island in the background is Rathlin Island, which I would be visiting the next day. In the far background at the right is the Mull of Kintyre, which is part of Scotland. The waterway between the Northern Ireland mainland and Rathlin Island is locally called the Moyle Sea.
As the path got closer to the rope bridge there was a great view of the coastline immediately to the east. This cliff area is called Knocksoghey Sill; a sill is a geological feature that seems to frequently include vertical faces.
The path descends down the cliff to reach the rope bridge. This is an overview of the path, with the bridge in the center and Carrick Island to the right.
The rope bridge is 20m long and 30m above the sea. The final approach is down a set of steep steps – with a nice, sturdy handrail. A National Trust guard monitors and meters traffic on the bridge; only 8 people are permitted to be on the bridge simultaneously, and they all must be traveling in the same direction. Walking across the bridge was quite an experience!
The steep cliffs attract quite a few gulls and other sea birds. I noticed a herring gull in a tuft of grass at the edge of a vertical drop-off. It was too late in the season for nesting, I believe, so I suppose it was just enjoying a bit of rest in the wonderful sunshine.
After exploring Carrick Island I headed back toward the parking area. On the way I enjoyed the view of Larrybane, or Laragh Bán, which means ancient white site and refers to the limestone in the headland cliff. On the left is the Carrick-A-Rede access trail running near the edge of the cliff, and Stackaboy is just at the right of the tip of Larrybane Head. A few buildings are visible, as is the headland marking the east end of the Giant’s Causeway.
A bit farther along the path I noticed several unusual cows grazing. They were some of the so-called panda cows that I’d noticed the previous day on the bus to Ballycastle. Actually, I think they are belted Galloway cows, which are adapted to certain habitat that occurs near Galloway, Scotland. They are quite striking!
The trail continues across Larrybane Head and along the edge of Ballintoy Bay, then runs between sheep pastures to reach the Harbour Road, which goes down to Ballintoy Harbor. Here there were nice views of numerous rocks just off-shore.
The next section of my day’s hike would make its way mostly along the bayside before climbing up into the headlands again.