Dear mummy, it’s not often that you get to see a natural wonder of the world and we were blessed recently to see The Giant’s Causeway. My Grandparents live in Northern Ireland and our family has a strong Irish connection so it was inevitable that my little feet would tread where giants once stood.
According to legend, the columns are the remains of a causeway built by a giant. The story goes that the Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool), from Gaelic mythology, was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Fionn accepted the challenge and built the causeway across the North Channel so that the two giants could meet. In one version of the story, Fionn defeats Benandonner. In another, Fionn hides from Benandonner when he realises that his foe is much bigger than he. Fionn’s wife, Oonagh, disguises Fionn as a baby and tucks him in a cradle. When Benandonner sees the size of the ‘baby’, he reckons that its father, Fionn, must be a giant among giants. He flees back to Scotland in fright, destroying the causeway behind him so that Fionn could not follow.
Funnily enough across the sea, there are identical basalt columns (a part of the same ancient lava flow) at Fingal’s Cave on the Scottish isle of Staffa, and it is possible that the story was influenced by this.
The Giant’s Causeway located in County Antrim on the northeast coast of Northern Ireland, about three miles northeast of the town of Bushmills, famous for its whiskey. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986, and a national nature reserve in 1987 by the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland. In a 2005 poll of Radio Times readers, named The Giant’s Causeway as the fourth greatest natural wonder in the United Kingdom.
My mummy and daddy have often visited the Giant’s causeway. Ireland has a mystical pull to my folks and they chose to get married just outside Ballymena around 30 miles away over 10 years ago. I’ve seen photos of the Giant’s Causeway and have always wanted to visited but my folks needed me big enough so I could walk unaided and be able to climb the columns and steps on my own (obviously holding hands, as it can be quite treacherous in spots).
The day we visited was bright, dry and cold – a perfect day to visit and we could see right our to sea, the waves crashing against the stones. We all felt exhilarated and alive. It was a magical day full of anticipation to see the columns and my folks wanted to see my reactions.
The Giant’s Causeway is a National Trust acquired site and my mummy and grandma remember visiting when the visitors centre was just a small white building and a pub on the cliff side. Today the new visitors centre is very modern and sympathetic to the site, lottery funded and massive. The gateway needs to be impressive as its one of the most visited sites in the UK by foreign tourists outside London. From convenient parking, shuttle buses to specially tailored walking and audio tours it has every tourist catered for.
We learn about the history of the Giant’s Causeway and found out some fascinating scientific facts out about the landscape. I enjoyed watching an animation about the legend of the giants. We’re National Trust members so entrance for us was free, but we made a donation to help keep the site safeguarded for future generations. There are free ways to get on the site (not through the visitors centre), but we’d strongly recommend against this idea as this heritage site needs all the help it can get and paying tourists can help with this. Non- National Trust members are Adult: £9.00. Child: £4.50. Family: £22 (2 Adults + 3 Children under 17 years – under 5 years free). There is a cafe in the visitors centre, a gift shop and plenty of toilets with great seating families. Perfect after a long walk. The learning zone is also pretty cool with interactive areas to keep the kids occupied and educated while parents can warm up with a hot drink.
What draws a lot of people to the site is its age. This ancient place was formed between 50 and 60 million years ago, the layered basalt columns created during intense periods of volcanic activity in the region. The molten rock was forced through the chalk which makes up the surrounding cliffs and formed a lava plateau which upon cooling cracked and fractured. This resulted in the characteristic polygonal columns millions flock to see every year. The varying sizes of the columns is a result of uneven cooling speeds of the lava. During the formation of the Atlantic ocean this was broken up and as a result similar formations can be found in Scotland, Greenland, Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Island. At the Giant’s Causeway the stacks just disappeared beneath the sea and with the water lapping over them it makes you wonder just how much is hidden.