Causeway Coast Way eastern segment: from Carrick-A-Rede to Ballycastle

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This was the last of my six days of hiking in Ballycastle during my eachtra aisling Éireannach (Irish dream adventure). I had hoped to be able to do a “view hike” from Fair Head, or even more ambitiously from Torr Head, back to town. However, the weather just wasn’t suitable for a view hike. Instead, the proprietor of my B&B suggested hiking the eastern portion of the Causeway Coast Way between Carrick-A-Rede and Ballycastle. Since that was only about 6 miles one way, I decided to walk out to Carrick-A-Rede via Clare Wood – a back route suggested by the proprietor – and then return via the Causeway Coast Way route. There was light rain off-and-on during the day, with partial clearing later in the afternoon. While I didn’t have distant views, the visibility was several miles and I could see Rathlin Island, including two of its three lighthouses, and Fair Head. I also enjoyed a last ramble through unbelievably green fields with an array of wildflowers, as well as a visit to the beautiful ruin of Kinbane Castle.

The GPS track shows my route, with my B&B at the eastern end near the track label. Carrick-A-Rede is at the western end of the track, and Kinbane Castle is at the end of the side road north of Whitepark Rd.

GPS track

GPS track

The elevation gain was relatively modest, about 1300 feet over nearly 14 miles. The two dips on the elevation profile represent the descent from the coastal highland toward the Carrick-A-Rede parking area access road and a steeper descent to Kinbane Castle.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

The first two miles of my hike basically covered walking through town via Ann St, Castle St, and Coleraine Rd, and getting out into the countryside. On the southwest side of town I followed Novally Rd for about 1 mile, then turned right and walked past a farm house and through a couple of gates before turning left on a grassy path to go toward Clare Wood. About 3 miles from my start I entered the Wood. Like other woods I had experienced during my visit in the area, Clare Wood had a beautiful, almost eerie feeling, with very dense trees and a stream near the walking path. This picture shows the path I took through the wood.

image of path through Clare Wood

Path through Clare Wood

There are a few paths through Clare Wood, and I was glad I had a turn-by-turn instructions to help me out (right, then right, then left). This view of the path shows a few of the wildflowers I passed.

oicture of path and wildflowers in Clare Wood

Path and wildflowers in Clare Wood

I was captivated to discover this beautiful small white flower with purple streaks and a bright yellow spot. It is called eyebright (euphrasia), and it is actually somewhat common though I had not noticed one previously. There are quite a few species and apparently they hybridize easily, so I did not try to determine the specific species; however, a brochure on wildflowers of the Causeway Coast area shows euphrasia tetraquetra, also called maritime or seacliff eyebright.

photo of cluster of beautiful eyebrights

Cluster of beautiful eyebrights

Just beyond 4 miles from the start, I emerged from Clare Wood, passed the ruins of a couple of old houses, and turned right for a short distance to reach a paved road, Glenstaghey Rd. This road rolls over a couple of small rises and climbs about 100 feet to the highest elevation of the hike. Along the way I saw a cluster of very pale thistles. The bracts are similar to creeping thistle, which some consider to be a weed; I am not sure of the identification.

image of pale-colored thistle along Glenstaghey Rd

Pale-colored thistle along Glenstaghey Rd

Near the high point of the road, among some other wildflowers were these pretty ones. For now I call them apartment flowers, but they might be a variety of wild orchid. I also saw some near the eyebrights. The plants were no more than 6 inches tall.

picture of so-called apartment flower

So-called apartment flower

Just after cresting the hill there were nice views of the surrounding area. Straight ahead, along Glenstaghey Rd, was a pretty view of the upper portion of Ballintoy, with Contham Head, not far from the Giant’s Causeway, in the background across White Park Bay.

photo of Ballintoy and the coastline

Ballintoy and the coastline

Just to the right, across a field of grazing sheep, was Sheep Island, the largest of 3 rocks just off Larry Bane Head.

image of Sheep Island

Sheep Island

And a bit farther to the right was Rathlin Island. This view shows the west end of Rathlin, and if you look closely, the West Lighthouse is barely visible on the cliff side.

picture of Rathlin Island and the West Lighthouse, viewed from Glenstaghey Rd

Rathlin Island and the West Lighthouse, viewed from Glenstaghey Rd

I continued along Glenstaghey Rd and then Whitepark Rd to the access road to the Carrick-A-Rede parking area, turning around about 6.2 miles from the start. For the return trip I planned to return along Glenstaghey Rd past the place where I entered from Clare Wood, until it again teed into Whitepark Rd. I knew that Whitepark Rd was the main road through the area and would have much more – and faster – traffic, and I thought Glenstaghey Rd would be more pleasant. It was a good choice, even though the official Causeway Coast Way route is along Whitepark Rd.

While walking along Glenstaghey Rd, near the high point, I noticed a small bird on a nearby fence wire. I haven’t been able to securely identify it: it looks most like a twite, but they are quite rare in Northern Ireland and I hesitate to identify a rare species without more information and experience than I have. Other possibilities include linnet and dunnock.

photo of small bird on a fence: possibly a twite

Small bird on a fence: possibly a twite

A bit farther, while still nearly at 500 feet elevation, there was a pretty view of Fair Head across the County Antrim coastal highland and the Sea of Moyle.

image of view of Fair Head from Glenstaghey Rd

View of Fair Head from Glenstaghey Rd

Shortly before reaching Whitepark Rd I was startled to see a cluster of small mounds less than 100 metres off the road to the left. There was also a stone with a carving on the top and side, with detail shown here thanks to the zoom on my camera. I think it might be a grave stone or other type of memorial, but I couldn’t begin to guess its age.

picture of carved stone, possibly a grave stone, near Glenstaghey Rd

Carved stone, possibly a grave stone, near Glenstaghey Rd

As soon as I reached Whitepark Rd, the traffic situation changed. At least every few minutes a car came by, seeming to be traveling at great speed, and the weather-related visibility was ok but not great. After 0.9 mile I was glad to see the side road to Kinbane Head, where the traffic was much lighter. This road was perhaps 0.75 mile long, with a few small rolls along the descent to the cliff near the water’s edge. Along the way I passed a standing stone, some cows, and some pretty honeysuckle. Because of limited visibility on the road due to the rolls, there was a sign advising that oncoming vehicles might be in the middle of the road! Once I got to the parking area at the end of the road, I was treated to a spectacular view of Kinbane Head jutting into the Sea of Moyle. A sea cave is visible in the side of the headland.

photo of Kinbane Head

Kinbane Head

A path with steps and a handrail, as well as signage advising caution in wet weather (i.e., nearly always!), leads down the side of the cliff to the ruins of Kinbane Castle, here viewed from above.

image of Kinbane Castle

Kinbane Castle

The small hollow between the cliff and the headland is known as Hollow of the English (Lag na Sassenach), according to a legend about a 16th century attempted assault by soldiers sent from Carrickfergus. After descending the steps and walking out onto the headland I was treated to dramatic views of the cliffs from below. Here is a view to the southeast; the white streak near the center is a waterfall coursing down the cliff side.

picture of coastal cliff view from Kinbane Head

Coastal cliff view from Kinbane Head

After enjoying the haunting beauty of Kinbane Castle, I returned up the steps and along the access road back to Whitepark Rd and some more traffic. While I’ll admit to being bothered by the traffic, I did continue to enjoy views and a few more wildflowers along this stretch of road. After about 0.7 miles the Causeway Coast Way took off to the left near a phone booth, of all things, 12 miles from the start. Once again it was a walking path, passing between brilliant green grazing areas. In the gaps between trees and bushes there were views of Rathlin Island, particularly the east end with the Rue Lighthouse at the southern tip of the island.

After 0.5 mile on the path it rejoined the road, now Clare Rd, and entered the outskirts of Ballycastle. There were still views of the countryside, including this one toward Knocklayd, a prominent hill about 5 miles south of Ballycastle partly circumscribed by the Moyle Way hiking path. The top of Knocklayd is hidden in the cloud, so I was glad I wasn’t trying to hike up to its top!

photo of Knocklayd from the outskirts of Ballycastle

Knocklayd from the outskirts of Ballycastle

The Causeway Coast Way route passes the north end of Moyle Rd and continues into town. Where Clare Rd becomes North St there is a viewpoint with informational signage about the landmarks that can be seen. Rathlin and Fair Head were visible, but not the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland. I noticed that the Rathlin car ferry was making its way into Ballycastle Bay, so I waited for a few minutes and repositioned myself for this picture as the ferry passed in front of Fair Head.

image of Ballycastle Bay, the Rathlin Ferry, and Fair Head

Ballycastle Bay, the Rathlin Ferry, and Fair Head

Although this was not the best day for distant views, my hike was very pleasant and provided kind of a review of my previous hiking days, as well as new sights. The next day I would travel to Belfast for the first leg of my journey homeward.

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