In Ireland, everyone has their favorite nook of the island. Families are often nostalgic for a certain corner, packing up the car and heading off for long weekends in Cork or Galway or Clare or Donegal, settling into their happy place for a bank holiday weekend.
For my soon-to-be family, that happy place is craggy Connemara in County Galway. I have wandered around the Burren, watched the sunset at the beach in Roundstone, and visited my fiance’s ancestral village on many happy occasions. But there’s a lot to see in Ireland–so this December, instead of following a well-trod path, we decided to pack the car and head north for a couple blustery days exploring Country Antrim, in Northern Ireland.
The northern coast of Ireland is just as wild as the west, with dramatic cliffs, hiking trails, and sheep perched precariously close to the cliff edge. In December, the village of Bushmills was sleepy–the perfect chance to explore Giant’s Causeway without the summer crowds.
Legend says that the Giant’s Causeway is the remains of a causeway built across the North Channel to Scotland by Giant Finn MacCool. He was challenged to a fight by a giant in Scotland, and this strange formation on the sea’s edge is said to be what’s left of a giant-built bridge to Scotland. The tale is a fun one, but intense volcanic activity about 50 million years ago is the actual cause of the site.
The result is 40,000 interlocking basalt columns–most hexagonal, some with four, five, or seven sides. The tallest are about 39 feet high, forming a symmetrical puzzle right at the edge of the sea.
On the morning we had set aside for exploring the Giant’s Causeway, we ate breakfast in a B&B in the dark. This far north, in December, daylight hours are limited. When the sun finally rose–the picture outside the window was not a pretty one. Dense clouds, heavy rain, and wind so strong the rain seemed to be falling sometimes horizontally, sometimes in spirals. We dressed warm, ready to brave the weather, but a few steps to the car convinced us to wait out the weather, and duck into the historic Bushmills Distillery for a tour and wee whiskey before heading to the Causeway.
By the afternoon, the clouds were beginning to break and we set out on the 10-minute walk to the site (buses are also available that transport visitors from the visitor center straight to the site). As it came into view, there were maybe 10 other people in sight, climbing over the columns, giggling when the intense waves sent white foam soaring into the air.
Our minds can have a tough time processing this type of new information. I found myself searching for any sort of comparison, but had none. We were mostly silent, stomping over the slippery stones, climbing to see the formation from different angles, to snap photos and get close to the edge of the wild sea. The columns dip and climb, interlocking in a beautiful pattern, with smooth surfaces and edges.
I had seen many pictures of the Giant’s Causeway before, probably snapped on more picturesque days than the December afternoon we arrived, but these simply didn’t prepare me for its beauty–for the smell of the sea, the disorientation of these perfect, sturdy columns rising out of the water.
Ireland continues to surprise me.