At a time when giants walked the Earth, Finn, the giant, lived in Northern Ireland, and the Giant’s Causeway was his home.
For a child the story of Finn, the giant, and the natural, magical playground the basalt formations of this special place create something akin to stepping inside a story itself.
The Causeway Coastal route
We’d been touring the East Coast of Ireland and then Northern Ireland for almost 2 weeks by the time we got to the Giant’s Causeway. The Causeway coastal route, running along the northern coast of Northern Ireland is an especially stunning part of the emerald island:
There are gorgeous white sandy beaches, some you can even drive onto, like Downhill Beach.
Visiting Mussenden Temple precariously perched on the cliff’s edge is a must! The views are stunning, my kids loved running around and then looking out above the cliff spotting birds and watching people on the each below. (Apparently it is also an amazing Pokemon hunting ground)
The Causeway Coastal route is scattered with things to do and see.
Our best day, however, was were fun packed and free -thanks to our National Trust membership- a morning on a Ranger walk and the afternoon at the Giant’s Causeway.
White Park Bay Rnager Walk
The day started off with a free (for members and non-members) National Trust ranger walk in the car park at White Park Bay. (I stumbled on this activity while looking up things to do in the area along the Causeway Coastal Route). About 20 kids and accompanying adults gathered and our ranger handed us nets and little jars. We started walking down to the beach, stopping intermittently as our ranger, spotted something interesting in the bushes to point out, or was asked by one of the kids about a bug they had caught. In the 20 minutes or so, that it took to reach the beach, it was fascinating watching kids, who initially were afraid or adverse to taking part, gradually get swept up by the enthusiasm of some… like my 7 year old, Hugo.
On the beach at White Park Bay we met the free-range cattle that graze and wander these shores. They were tame and curious, though kept a comfortable distance.
We found that we had a little workstation set up by the National Trust staff. Our Ranger, joined by some of his colleagues, instructed to the kids to dam up a stream. The reason was to be revealed later.
The next task our National Trust team had up their sleeves was getting all the kids to make bug hotels. We were given a box, pre-made, and had to roll paper tubes and alternate them with bamboo sections to fill up the box. While we were making these the rangers told us about bees, especially lone bees, and their importance in ecology. Once we were finished we got a little laminated bee identifying sheet and put our bug hotels aside for them to be taken home and through the rest of the summer set up all across the country, or, as in our case, all across the continent- one in England, one in Holland, one in Sweden.
The left over bamboo pieces were put to good use: we were shown how to build little bamboo raft with paper sails. It wasn’t easy, but the rangers helped everyone; patiently explaining the method to weaving the twine up and down, looped and all, to secure each piece of bamboo. Fascinating how varied the rafts turned out as children made different sized and shaped sails. Some even coloured them.
Once all the rafts were ready the kids were asked to break the dam and raced their rafts towards to sea. Thankfully it wasn’t too cold (temperatures were in the high teens, Celsius) as some kids wadded in a bit deeper than needed.
We bid our good byes to the wonderful rangers and wandered along the beach a little, with the kids wandering further into the sea than I would’ve liked to. They egged each other on with new-found friends.
It was lunchtime by the time we walked back up to the car park again. Some warm hotdogs and cups of hot chocolate were much appreciated, which I could whip up quickly on our Campingaz stove.
Giant’s Causeway… nature creates the best playgrounds!
After the refreshments we hit the road again and drove to our next destination the Giants’ Causeway. It was 3 o’clock by the time we parked and made our way into the visitors’ centre (an amazing building blending into the ground with a long list of green credentials). Being a beautiful clear summer day the carpark, the visitors’ centre and the Giants’ causeway was very busy, but staff managed the flow of people well.
Image credit: National Trust Images ©Marie-Louise Halpenny
We explored the visitors’ centre first, where there is a film on Finn the Giant’s story and a large interactive section about geology and linked history. I wish we’d had more time to spend here!
I would count on spending a good hour at least if we visit again.
On our way out we picked up audio devices for each of us. On these we could choose different versions of guiding- children’s version, a geology focussed option and a more general narration.
There are two options for getting down to the causeway from the visitors’ centre: walk or take the shuttle bus which runs frequently. We chose the shuttle bus. As we disembarked at the bottom the driver warned us of the last bus going up- which was 5pm.
This was the children’s first visit to the Giants’ Causeway, I had visited years ago. It was wonderful to see their amazement and enchantment with this natural playground!
It was busy.
We walked out onto one of the sections jutting out into the sea. Angelina sat and listened to the narration of the guide. The boys, discarding their audio devices, clambered to the water’s edge as the waves came crashing in. I watched them from a distance and enjoyed the sun’s warm rays.
The tide was coming in, so it was fun watching as people trying to get the perfect picture were getting soaked by the occasionally rising waves.
Gradually it became quieter as the last shuttle time was approaching. The kids were really happy playing in nature’s playground, so I decided we’d stay to watch the sunset and then walk back to the carpark. (I had some drinks and snack bars in my daysack, so I knew I could probably avoid most of the tired and hungry whinging later on.) In the meantime, the National Trust staff came around to collect the audio devices and warn visitors of the time.
We decided to walk up to the Giant’s organ, passing the Finn’s boot along the way.
The Giant’s boot. We walked all the way up to where the far end of the bay.
We walked up to the organ and then further up towards the chimney stacks, till the path was closed. I was amazed by how well Max, my 3 year old was doing- no complaint at all!
I have a fear of heights and this walk is a path in the side of the hill. I was constantly asking the children not to run ahead and keep to the hillside of the path… it was a steep, long roll to the bottom, if they’d have slipped. The path was stable underfoot though, despite lots of rain in the previous day.
A well-maintained path made walking with kids easy
As the sun started to descend we made our way back to the main beehive basalt formations. The crowd had been replaced by a select few, mostly photographers setting up tripods, angling for the best shots. We sat and enjoyed a drink and some nibbles while the sun dipped under the horizon.
Once the sun disappeared we started our walk back to the carpark. This was a good 20 minute or so walk uphill. I bribed the kids with some raisins and we tried to spot Finn’s camel and talked about our day.
And what a fun-filled, amazing day it was!
It is days like this that I really appreciate all the work the National Trust do and I do not begrudge the cost of our family membership.
Have you been to the Giant’s Causeway? Please share your experiences in the comments!
Is it on your bucket list?
The Causeway Coastal route,- often referred to (and rightly so in Inspireroo Editor’s opinion) as one of the most beautiful driving routes int he world,- runs along the Northern Coast of Northern Ireland starting from (or ending at, depending on the direction you choose to take) at Belfast, to Londonderry.
The National Trust manage a lot of sites, paths and car parks along the route, including the Giant’s Causeway, a World Heritage Site. At the Giant’s Causeway there are only facilities and refreshments available at the visitors’ centre. Down by the basalt formation on the causeway itself there aren’t any toilets or even any water. Make sure you sort yourselves before heading down.
Sturdy footwear is recommended for walking across the causeway, when wet it can be very slippery.
There are no facilities at all in White Park Bay.
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