Below is a narrative written by By Shaun-Paul Linton. Photography by Peter Steele.
The Antrim Coastline in The Glens of Antrim.
The story is told that two English motorcyclists arriving at the port of Larne to begin a short holiday in Northern Ireland, were joined by another cyclist who asked, “Hey mate
whats the best road to Portrush?” they looked at him and smiled benignly, (it wasn’t their first trip to Ireland). “There is only one road to Portrush my friend, the most beautiful, the most magical, the most compelling road that you could wish to travel on. It’s the world renowned Antrim coast road. You are in for a treat of a lifetime. Join us for we too are bound for Portrush.”
And so the journey began. New friends brought together with an appreciation of the freedom from the mainland cities they came from, with the fresh Irish air whistling past their ears and they swallowed in the scenery as they cruised along the beautiful Antrim coast road.
It is true that when you travel the Antrim coast road from beginning to end, you hardly ever lose sight of the North Irish sea. And when you do it is because you are travelling through some small delightful village usually wedged between limestone cliffs or green grass covered, rolling hillsides. Where the smells of local foodstuff being cooked to perfection capture your senses and urge you to stop and sample whatever is on offer.
The coast road is dotted with villages and small towns some within walking distances apart.
Each with its own individual attractions and character.
All bursting with the same proud heritage and culture and a warm, sincere welcome for strangers and friends alike.
Be prepared should you fall into conversation with locals, to be then quizzed on your seed, breed, and generation. It’s a quiet gentle way of making friends.
These small unique coastal settlements along the road with magical names like Ballygally, near Larne, at the southeast end of the Antrim coast road, and Glenarm, widely accepted as the first of the nine Glens of Antrim. The Glen of Arm had its first settlement as far back as Neolithic times and was populated long before Belfast the capital city.
One look as you enter Glenarm will insist that you stop and explore this breath stealing village. Walk its tight streets or visit the tall spired St. Patricks church or amble through the grounds of Glenarm Castle where history goes back to Norman times and beyond.
Take in the splendour of the castle’s walled garden and, listen to the quiet accents of the villagers. Close your eyes and you can imagine you are in a similar village in Scotland.
Little wonder Glenarm was trading with Scotland a long time before anyone else.
Less than three miles after you leave Glenarm on the gently winding Antrim coast road and
still at the very edge of the sea, you arrive in Carnlough. With it’s sturdy limestone arch spanning the coast road, a reminder of the railway that ran from the ore mines deep in the folds of Glencloy, and crossed above the road to the snug harbour with the wagons of precious minerals. To be loaded on small sailing ships and on to foreign lands.
The harbour is now a more serene place.
Princess Arya Stark
Occasional fishing boats mingle with yachts and pleasure craft in this most picturesque of havens. The area offers the chance to try your luck at sea angling. You can walk the massive limestone blocks that form the harbour, and smell the tang from the sea but most of all get your camera out and take advantage of the photo opportunities.
Lay on the stone steps leading down to the waters edge where princess Arya Stark lay hiding from her enemies in the thrilling scene in ‘Game of Thrones’.
These must be the most photographed steps in history.
Excavations in and around Carnlough have uncovered a bronze age settlement dated between 2000 and1500 BC. There is also arguable belief that deep in the past, Vikings spent time in Carnlough. They might still be there!!
And so, on we go, further along the road to discovery. Through the hamlet of Garron Point with the small freshly painted row of single story houses between you and the sea.
And on, past the giant limestone cliffs that tower ominously over the road winding ever by the edge of the water.
And now prepare yourself for a visual feast. You will turn a corner and in front of you will suddenly appear, the mighty mountainous ridge of Lurigeadan. Tall and majestic it stands, dwarfing everything else around it. And preceding it, what is truly the queen of glens, Glenariff.
Gouged out by ice and volcanos all those millions of years ago it is undeniably breath-taking.
Leave the coast road and detour around the glen. Marvel at the beauty of its waterfalls and pay a visit to Glenariffe Forest Park. You won’t regret it.
Then back on the road through another ancient settlement believed to be of Danish origin lies Waterfoot, where the caves on the north side of the village were inhabited as late as the 1800s.
The soft sandy beach at Waterfoot will encourage you to kick off your footwear and skip like a child through the warm silky golden sand.
Leaving Waterfoot and passing through the tall red sandstone arch we reach the principal town in the Glens of Antrim.
Heart of the Glens
Commonly referred to as ‘the heart of the Glens, Cushendall.
A different kettle of fish entirely. A busy, bubbling, devil may care, take me as you find me, kind of town. Full of lively pubs and music and singing.
If you want to eat, you’ve come to the right place. Award winning restaurants have a choice of menu to slate any appetite.
Bang in the middle of the town stands the tallest building, the Curfew Tower. Built in 1813 the Tower has withered the storms of winters and endeavours
From certain angles and in a fading light, provided you didn’t spend too much time in one or more of the pubs, the Tower appears to have a slight lean seawards. Who needs Pisa?
Cushendall is a place you could set up your tent, and you’d be made welcome. The streets of this atmospheric town are yet another photographers dream. Full of angles, hills and corners, it’s a delight.
Just a few miles outside Cushendall you have an option. Do you stay on the main road and onwards to Ballycastle or divert onto the slip road to Knocknacarry and Cushendun.
It’s important to note here that just five minutes drive along the main Ballycastle road you have to cross the Glendun Viaduct, known locally as the Big Bridge.
The edifice is said to be one of the finest buildings in the United Kingdom. The viaduct took five years to build, with the stones being locally quarried in Layde and taken by boat to Cushendun, then carried by cart to the bridge.
To view the viaduct at its best there is a pathway that descends to the very base.
This impressive structure was completed in the dark days of the potato famine. Don’t miss it.
The Red Witch
When you’ve seen enough, retrace your course back to where the road divides and I recommend that you take the slip road, it’s full of surprises. A gentle drive brings you to the village of Cushendun by way of flower filled Knocknacarry.
The pace of life in Cushendun is the polar opposite of Cushendall. It’s easy, laid back ambience penetrates your being and makes you wish you had a deck chair. It’s the kind of village where you buy an ice-cream and enjoy the chill taste as you walk slowly along the riverbank where the dark brown trout filled water which flows from the peaty uplands, joins the sea.
Walk a little more and you will be confronted by great, wave gouged caves with strange, sinister markings. Little wonder then that this is another film location for Game of Thrones. They call this area, Storms End. In these caves the red witch, Milisandre gave birth to the shadow assassin.!!
Enjoy your iced treat, there are thrills ahead.
Robert the Bruce
A mile or so along the sea front there is yet another decision to be made. You’ve arrived at ‘Torr Road’ don’t be deceived, this is a wild road. Twisting turning, humps and hollows and always climbing upwards. It’s a thrill but not for the fainthearted. If you choose not to travel this road you will regret it forever. The views are spectacular.
You can see all the way deep into the Firth of Lorn and the Islands of Islay and Jura on mainland Scotland. The Mull of Galloway feels close enough to touch.
Look to the east and you might, just might see the north tip of the Isle of Man. This is a road less travelled, except by locals. Don’t miss the chance.
The little houses and farms along the way are a delight to see. Drive responsibly and you should reach the top. You would want to drive it all over again. There is no hurry, drink in that scenery. It stirs you as would a glass of Old Bushmills Whiskey.
Rest at the summit and when you are ready, in a few miles you will re-join the Antrim coast road and you are on the cusp of Ballycastle.
Ballycastle is another hidden gem of the Antrim coastline. A bustling town with a well respected pride in itself. Stand there, in the middle of its cobbled town square and look at the choice of wonderful places to go to. Every road leading from the centre square will take you to another unforgettable destination. A boat trip across MacDonald’s race and you arrive on enchanting Rathlin Island.
This is where the banished Scotsman, Robert the Bruce, had his encounter with the spider, as the story goes.
From that observation and with renewed courage and confidence, he returned to Scotland and, the rest is history.
Walk this beautiful island and renew your inner feelings and zest for life. Or visit the natural bird sanctuary on the islands west end. Seabirds in their thousands nest here,
including those colourful clowns of the ocean, Puffins. Another charming feature of Rathlin are its three lighthouses. The south lighthouse, the east lighthouse perched precariously on sheer cliffs and the famous upside-down lighthouse on the west side of the island, near the bird sanctuary. I will leave you to discover why it’s so named.
Back in Ballycastle centre, select another road and that leads you on to a wealth of adventures.
This is the real ‘Game of Thrones’ country. If you are a fan of this world wide phenomenon or just curious about why all the fuss? In Ballycastle you are in rich Game of Thrones territory. Cast your mind over the episodes which were filmed here. Seven Kingdoms. (Murlough bay). Larrybane, Pikes Castle, The Iron Islands, Dragonstone, Slavers Bay. Wonderful iconic names, pure Hollywood. Add to all that, the irresistible Rope Bridge at Carrick-a-Reed, do you dare to walk it?
Then, the ultimate, the beguiling, the unforgettable, Giants Causeway. Where the mythical Irish giant, Finn McCool walked the Causeway to Scotland to do battle with his enemy, Benandonner. It’s said that the fight lasted three days non stop. Stand on the hexagonal shapes of the Causeway and feel the vibrations of centuries of Irish culture and history penetrate the sole of your being.
Or just look in awe and wonder at the almost identically shaped stones. How could this be? And think in your reverie, just how tall was Finn McCool? You’ll want to stay here.
Come and see us again
You are now coming to the end of this part of your journey. The road to Portrush is clearly marked. Thank you for travelling this beautiful timeless part of our country.
You will have exhilarating times ahead, for there are indeed other exciting places yet to discover. It’s a generally understood fact, when you travel the Antrim coast road you carry a piece of it in your heart forever. The motorcyclists were right, the road is compelling. Perhaps you will find time in your busy lives to come and see us again.
We will look forward to that.
By Shaun-Paul Linton
Many thanls to Shaun for his story of the glens. Photography by Peter Steele.
ShutterSpeed Ireland have a wide selection of enchanting photographs of the beautiful nine Glens of Antrim here
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