We are masters of off-season travel but in a break from our usual approach we find ourselves in peak season at the most touristed places in Northern Ireland. Even at the beautiful parkups where we enjoy peaceful sundowns and quiet nights, midday brings a confusion of large and small tour buses and family cars from all over Europe. It’s madness but we’re learning to get up early, do our touring before the throngs arrive, then retreat to the van for lunch and to read or write or nap until the car park empties out and we can stretch our legs again.
The biggest draw on the Causeway CoastalI’m Route is the UNESCO listed Giant’s Causeway, which has been on my bucket list for decades. We need to pick the right time to visit: sunny weather, a weekday, and early enough to beat the crowds. The weather gods smiled on us and we began our assault.
On the advice of some other early risers we initially walked past the causeway itself and followed the trail until it ends at the “Amphitheatre.” (You know you’re in a heavily touristed area when geological formations get cultural names.)
The trail is steep in parts and took us to the Organ Pipes and along the ridge until the path ends with a view of even more basalt columns.
We turned around and followed the path back down towards the sea, and as we approached the actual causeway, it was clear that the tour buses had started to arrive. Maybe we should have gone there first.
Luckily, most of the tourists don’t venture too far onto the rocks.
We picked our way to the front of the pack, and under the watchful eye of a park guide whose job it is to keep people off the slippery bits, we sat for awhile watching the sea and its relentless assault.
The place was filling up and we exhausted the possible photo ops. It was time to start the mile-long slog back up to the car park.
At the top of the cliffs, we found two benches with glass and ceramic medallions embedded in the wood. The work was done during and in response to the pandemic. I found these artistic expressions of something we all lived through, separately and as a whole, very moving.