Giant's Causeway

Follow in the footsteps of a thirsty Victorian novelist across a stunning and dramatic volcanic landscape

When you are out walking, a pub is often a welcome destination; this was certainly the case for Victorian novelist William Makepeace Thackeray when he visited the Giant’s Causeway on a blustery October day in 1842. This excursion follows in Thackeray’s footsteps, as recorded in his Irish Sketchbook (London, 1843), and lets you wine and dine, as he did, at the Giant’s Causeway Hotel. Thackeray came to the Giant’s Causeway prior to writing Vanity Fair, and the novels that made him famous. He was nervous of the rough and garrulous guides who bundled him into a boat and rowed him over a choppy sea to the strange basalt pillars of the Giant’s Causeway. A glimpse of these through waves and spray did not excite him: “Mon Dieu! and have I travelled a hundred and fifty miles to see that?” Later, safely ashore, he was more impressed with the volcanic landscape. Drinking at a freshwater spring, he was sold a tot of whisky as he contemplated the scene: “When the world was moulded and fashioned out of formless chaos, this must have been the bit over – a remnant of chaos!”

START Follow the steep hill down from the shop towards the sea. Thackeray’s guides knew that stories beat dry description, so they gave fanciful names to prominent geological features along this route. Nestling under the cliffs in the cove to your left is a humped wall of rock known as The Camel. Rounding the corner at the Windy Gap, the view opens up to the causeway promontory and spectacular cliffs beyond. It’s a scene little changed since 1842, except for the better road and the absence of Victorian souvenir stalls. Legends tell of an Irish giant called Finn MacCool building the causeway to Scotland, so that he could engage another Celtic colossus in battle. As you explore the 40,000 or so hexagons, pentagons and other shapes, think of the scene 60 million years ago when lavas were cooling and cracking apart to form this amazing natural feature.

2 MILES Follow the path through the next bay and uphill towards the Organ Pipes, a row of large columns in the cliff face, where the path doubles back and you climb the 162 Shepherd’s Steps to the cliff top. Turn right and the track takes you to the Giant’s Causeway Hotel, where you can toast Thackeray and enjoy a feed fit for giants.

THE PUB Despite modernisation, the Giant’s Causeway Hotel retains a feeling of the time Thackeray visited. It was established by a Miss Elizabeth Henry in 1836, who told the writer she had “expended my little all in the building of this establishment.” In the period atmosphere of the lounge and bar you can imagine the grumpy novelist mollified by wine. Big helpings of traditional Irish food are served.

Terrain: Surfaced paths and 162 stone steps with handrail. The stone formations are uneven, so be careful and beware of waves. Avoid the cliff top path in high winds.
Car: Giant
Public Transport: The nearest train station is Coleraine (10 miles). Ulsterbus No 252 operates a circular route via the Antrim Glens from Belfast.
Refreshments: The Giant
Nearby: The Giant
More info: Tourist Information Centre Causeway Road, Bushmills, County Antrim, BT57 8SU ☎ 028 2073 1855
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