This was the second of two days hiking on the Moyle Way, a 26-mile hiking trail in the Glens of Antrim near Ballycastle, County Antrim, in Northern Ireland. It was a continuation of my eachtra aisling Éireannach (Irish dream adventure). The previous day I had hiked the northern 8+ miles from Ballycastle to Breen Forest, with the remnants of Hurricane Bertha providing rain much of the day. Today the weather showed better promise: not an outright fine sunny day, but at least with minimal rain and with some dry and sunny periods.
Getting to and from the south end of the Moyle Way provided an interesting logistical challenge, since I planned to begin and end my hike at different locations and would be taking buses to and from the trailheads. I had decided to start hiking near Glenariff Forest Park, hike northwest as far as I thought time allowed, retrace my path to my starting point, and then hike through the park and along the Glenariff River to the coast, at the village of Waterfoot, where there was a bus stop. The second and last bus of the day would depart for Ballycastle at 5:15pm, and I really wanted to be there on time in order to avoid a significant transportation headache. The bus trip would take 50 minutes, so it was much too far to walk.
The Moyle Way is one of several hiking trails in the Antrim Coast and Glens Area of Natural Beauty (AONB). The AONB’s are so designated because of the natural beauty of the landscape. Today I would experience some of the upland area of County Antrim, as the trail goes over the shoulder of Trostan, whose top is the highest point in the county at about 1800 feet elevation. I would finally start to get the hang of way-finding in areas without a well-defined trail, but with way marks spaced at nearly the farthest distance you can see to find them – in reasonably good weather. I would also hike through the beautiful Glenariff Forest Park and down the Glenariff glen all the way to the coast. A special aspect of hiking on the Moyle Way is that Moyle is my mother’s maiden name.
The proprietor of the B&B where I was staying was very helpful with bus schedules. As it turned out, the best way to get to the Forest Park involved a connection in Ballymena, so I didn’t start hiking until a full 2 hours after I got on the first bus. That timing, as well as the departure time for the last bus back to Ballycastle, set fairly strict limits on how far I would be able to hike toward Trostan. However, the bus trip to the hike start provided nice views of the interior of County Antrim, including a glimpse of a well-known and distinctive hill called Slemish.
The GPS track shows an overview of my route. The bus from Ballymena traveled generally northeast on Glenariff Rd, the heavier yellow road that runs parallel to the blue GPS track toward Waterfoot. I got off the bus where the road crosses the GPS track. From there I hiked northwest, then turned around and hiked all the way to Waterfoot, covering about 9 miles of the Moyle Way.
The small green triangle on the GPS track image near my turnaround point denotes Tievebulliagh, a smaller/lower peak northeast of Trostan. The dark green areas are forested. The initial part of the hike, to my turnaround point, was a climb, and the remainder was basically downhill.
Based on the bus schedules, I had just about 6 hours for my hike.
The trail immediately begins to climb, crossing a stream near a small waterfall and then following the path of the stream, Castlegreen Burn. Here and there I had views of nearby open upland areas. I’m not sure, but I think this may be Trostan.
Just over 1 mile from the trailhead the Moyle Way crosses Ballyemon Rd (B-14) and follows along next to Essathohan Burn. About 0.3 mile past the road crossing is a very pretty waterfall.
The trail crosses the burn just upstream from the waterfall and briefly follows a dirt road into a forested area, part of the Glenariff Forest. The forest was quite beautiful, with a carpet of moss on the ground and climbing a little ways up the tree trunks. Needless to say, the forest seemed very moist!
While walking through this forest I was especially glad to have with me a booklet describing the entire Moyle Way. The booklet mentions following a firebreak, wet ground, and fallen trees and several streams to negotiate. The section through the forest was only about ½ mile but was a bit of an adventure. Most of the way there was no defined path, and the three way marks I found were too far apart to see ahead to the next one. At times I followed next to a stream, like this one.
At other times I had to try to jump over similar streams. On my return I was unable to follow my outbound path, even with the aid of my GPS. At one point, when I was pretty sure I was off the intended route, my attempted leap across a stream failed and I ended up in the stream. I did find a very narrow trail that I could follow part of the way – until it seemed to dead-end into an area I couldn’t figure out how to get through, involving some down trees.
In any case I made it through, though I was happy to emerge into open countryside. As I climbed a bit higher onto Trostan’s slopes, it got quite windy and misty. After following a row of fence posts for perhaps 0.1 mile, again the path became undefined, other than the way marks. I literally would locate the next way mark, point myself toward it, and then kind of put my head down and walk, avoiding wet spots and trying to keep my gear dry, passing what I think was a bog asphodel (a wildflower) and some bell heather. It was difficult to tell how much more climbing remained before the highest point of the trail on the shoulder of Trostan, so in the end I simply selected a way mark and turned around. This view was along my descent, near the row of fence posts with the edge of Glenariff Forest at the left. It’s a good indication of how wet the ground was. I was very glad that my homework had prepared me well for the conditions! And the weather seemed to start clearing shortly after I began my descent.
By the time I had gone through the forest again and was approaching the B-14 crossing, the clouds were much lighter and I had a nice preview of the cliffs on the far side of the glen of Glanariff, also known as Queen of the Glens.
By the time I reached my starting point I had been hiking for 3½ hours, and I still had 6 miles to go to get to the bus stop. I was glad that the remainder of the hike would be downhill. Initially the trail follows the entrance road into Glenariff Forest Park to the Visitor Center. Along the way there were several views of the cliffs on the far side of the glen, with waterfalls streaming down. And near the Visitor Center there was a beautiful view down the glen, all the way to the Moyle Sea.
Within the Forest Park there is a network of trails. The Moyle Way basically follows one of the trails (way-marked red) to the valley floor. Here several smaller streams, or burns, and the Inver River converge to form the Glenariff River. Near the convergence is the Ess-Na-Crub Waterfall, with a well-deserved reputation as a must-see feature in the park.
Just after the falls the trail passes a restaurant (Larach Lodge) and emerges onto a paved road, which follows the valley floor as it descends toward sea level. Here is a pastoral view of Glenariff looking toward the sea.
Periodically I paused and turned to look behind me. Perhaps a mile after the above view I had a nice view up-valley where the cliffs seemed a bit more rugged. The white stripe running down the cliff at the center of the picture is a waterfall.
After another mile or so the trail turns away from the road to follow along the bank of the Glenariff River.
The trail had both Moyle Way and Ulster Way waymarks, so I was very surprised to encounter no less than three piles of brush blocking the path. There was no way to go around, so I climbed up and over. The pile in this picture was relatively neat; one of the others was particularly messy, resulting in holes in my rain poncho (which I was still wearing because it was too wet to fold up and put away).
Fortunately, I arrived in Waterfoot with about 15 minutes to spare before the bus was scheduled to arrive. This gave me the opportunity to explore briefly – and inquire about the precise location of the bus stop. Yes, downtown Waterfoot sports a pink telephone booth!
As it turns out, my day’s adventures were not quite finished when I got on the bus. The bus service is called the Antrim Coaster, since it goes along the Causeway Coastal Route, a spectacularly scenic route mostly right along the coast. As the bus entered the village of Cushendall, at the mouth of Glenballyemon – another of the Antrim glens – I had a great view of nearby Lurigethan Mountain, which separates the glens of Glenariff and Glenballyemon.
Ten minutes later, after passing the lower end of Glenaan and driving through Glencorp, the bus reached Cushendun, at the mouth of Glendun. Here the Antrim Coaster has an interesting ritual: the northbound and southbound buses meet up and exchange drivers. The buses travel the entire route, but each driver only covers half. There is about a 10-minute wait (more if your bus arrives early), and the drivers invite passengers to get out and stretch their legs. Apparently one of the southbound passengers mistakenly boarded the bus with his previous driver, now headed north. This mistake was noticed fairly quickly after the buses departed the meeting place. The passenger was not happy to go back up the coast without his luggage, or to wait for the next bus in the morning. Our driver made a split-second decision to try to get the passenger to an alternate southbound bus in the town of Armoy, which was about 15 miles out of our way.
Suddenly we were racing along a narrow road that was definitely not intended for bus traffic: Glendun Rd, which travels the length of Glendun. As he sped along, the driver did a quick check with the other 3 or 4 passengers, all bound for Ballycastle, to make sure no one had a specifically timed appointment there, since the spontaneous detour would cause us to arrive behind schedule. Along the way we experienced some beautiful Antrim Glens scenery, including impossibly green pastures spreading up the sides of the glen.
A bit later the road followed the Glendun River for a few miles.
As we went along, I alternated between taking pictures out the bus windows (on both sides!) and trying to figure out from my map where we were going. At some point I decided we might be passing Orra Beg, where the middle section of the Moyle Way crosses the road, the Altarichard Rd. I even started up my GPS again, in order to capture the last part of the bus ride to sort out later. This consolidated GPS track shows my two hikes (light blue and medium blue tracks) and the second part of the bus trip (darker blue track). The light green streak near the Moyle label is Glendun, where the detour departed from the coastal route. The usual bus route would have gone roughly northwest from the coastal indentation above Cushendall to Ballycastle. It was quite a significant detour!
The bus arrived in Ballycastle about 30 minutes behind the timetable, having skipped a couple of stops between Cushendun and Ballycastle, but there was still plenty of daylight to enjoy the sea views and some activity on the town’s tennis and bocce courts near the bus stop. The next day I would hike the eastern section of the Coastal Walkway, and I would have to save the central 9 miles of the Moyle Way for another trip to Northern Ireland.