When it comes to beauty afforded by Mother Nature, Northern Ireland faces very stiff competition from the south.
The rolling hills, dreamy lakes and rivers and the blindingly green vistas of the Republic – let alone its manmade icons - fill photo albums, adorn tea towels, posters and postcards, prints and quilts the world over.
But up in the north, there’s two places – and scores more of course – that demand plenty of attention from mobile travellers exploring the ‘whole island’.
The Giant’s Causeway is a stunningly geometric quirk of nature that scientists stamp as around 60 million years old.
The 40,000 hexagonal tubes of basalt that shoot toward the sky along the Antrim Coast are World Heritage-listed. Here you can have a first-hand experience with an amazing natural phenomenon and marvel at how a violent volcanic eruption could have created such an incredible sculpture.
And what’s a geographical oddity without a folkloric Irish tale to accompany it?
Local legend has it that a 54-foot tall giant knows as Finn McCool had a Scottish rival across the sea, Benendonner, so he created the Causeway as stepping stones to march in pursuit of his enemy. The tale takes a few twists and turns but ultimately, the pathway was never completed.
While you’re visiting this northernmost part of Northern Ireland, there’s plenty to explore within easy driving distance of the Giant’s Causeway including Bushmills Whiskey Distillery (the oldest in the world), the impressive ruins of Dunluce Castle and the delightful seaside resort town of Portrush.
But it’s a wonderful little spot just west of the Causeway that is typically the next stop on a Northern Ireland driving or coach itinerary.
It’s here you’ll find the curiously-named and delightful Carrick-a-Rede.
Way back in the mid-1700s, the ingenuity of local salmon fishermen who needed to negotiate a deep ravine to transport their catch from the tiny Carrickarede island, meant they had to build their own bridge and in doing so, engineered a precarious rope suspension.
The narrow and naturally more robust rope bridge is now managed by the National Trust and it’s a thrilling walk into the past and one of Northern Ireland’s most photographed experiences.
Apart from getting to and from the island, the early fishermen also faced the challenge of where and how to store their boats to protect them from the wild seas so they also improvised the creation of a wooden crane that raised and lowered their boats as needed.
After 250 years, the elements finally took hold and the crane succumbed to the forces of the North Channel but a wonderful restoration project to replicate and install an identical structure is now complete and offers great insight into how locals overcame local environmental challenges in the 18th century.
Carrick-a-Rede is now part of the Causeway Coast experience that offers many similar fascinating pockets of history to enjoy along the way.
The Visitor’s Centre at the Giant’s Causeway entry area is the best place to find all the information you’ll need to make the most of your visit to the region.
Published under license from Well Travelled.