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krisek Bushmills - A travel report by Krys
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Bushmills,  United Kingdom - flag United Kingdom
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krisek's travel reports

On the giant's footsteps. Portrush & Bushmills.

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Bushmills, a small town in Ulster (aka Northern Ireland), is famous for two reasons. One is its whiskey distillery, and the other is the nature phenomenon - the Giant's Causeway. The coastline boasts great sandy beaches and stunning cliffs.

A clock tower building across from Portrush townhall
A clock tower building across from Portrush townhall
Portrush, a small town on the western coast of Ulster is nothing much. It has not many sights to admire. Yet, it is one of the best bases around to visit the Giant's Causeway on a weekend. Is is also near the town of Bushmills, which should be known to whisky enthusiasts.

Yet, really the main reason to venture all the way here is to see one of nature's most striking landscapes in this part of our planet - the Giant's Causeway. Now, the feature is not giant. It is in fact rather small, compared to the cliffs in the vicinity. The 'giant' appears in the name because of a legend. It goes like this:

Once upon a time, some 65 million years ago, there was a giant. His name was Finn McCool. It lived peacefully with his wife on the shores of Ireland. One day, all the way from Scotland, a giant named Fingal started shouting abuse and insults across the Irish Channel. In anger, Finn lifted a clod of earth and threw it at Fingal as a challenge. The earth landed in the sea. Fingal retaliated with a rock, and screamed that if only he could swim, he would have made sure Finn would not be able to throw anything ever again. Finn was angered enormously and began lifting huge clumps of land from the shore, throwing them so as to make a pathway for the Scottish giant to come and face him. He was very tired and had to take a nap. Just in case Fingal comes while he is asleep, he disguised himself as a baby in a cot. When the giant Scot came over, Finn's wife, Oonaugh, showed him their son. Fingal became apprehensive, for if the son was so huge, what size would the father be? In his haste to escape, Fingal sped back along the causeway tearing it up as he went. He left in such a hurry that he his boot came off and it can be still seen at the beach today.

In fact, parts of the same causeway can be seen in Scotland on the islands of Ulva and Staffa, particularly in the Fingal's Cave (the actual geographical name of the cave!).

Favourite spots:
Giant's Causeway basalt stones
Giant's Causeway basalt stones
My favourite spot around Portrush and Bushmills was the phenomenal Giant's Causeway, full of basalt hexagonal columns rising from the Atlantic and climbing the cliffs nearby. Although the legend states otherwise, it was created by an ancient volcanic eruption about 65 million years ago. Some of the columns are pitch black, mainly those often flooded by the Atlantic waves, but most of those visible on the surface are grey, brown with golden and green spots. It was amazing to see how regular the shapes were. Almost as if they were sculpted like that for a purpose.

There were a few portions of the columns scattered along the shore in a surprisingly tight spot. I had an impression that the columns featured on a larger area. In fact, most of the causeway stretched only a couple of hundreds yards along the coast and some hundred yards deep. Perhaps more at the time of low tides.

Other rock formations also included the Giant's Boot, a Camel and an Organ plastered on a side of nearby cliff.

What's really great:
That is what one calls a cliff! Just by the Giant's Causeway
That is what one calls a cliff! Just by the Giant's Causeway
Lack of crowds and the plentitude of hiking trails were the area's main qualities. I was also lucky with weather. It was rather windy (a shivering chill factor), which meant that the many clouds that visit this part of the planet so very frequently kept getting dispersed allowing the sunrays get through. When I arrived at the Giant's Causeway, there were just a couple of other people at the columns, and they had gone a few minutes later. I was there at about 9:30 am, so I thought there would be many more people around. For the basalt columns are one of the world's famous sites, listed by UNESCO as a World Natural Heritage. It was also very easily accessible, so one would have expected that many travellers made the trip to see this remarkable spot. Well, I was not complaining, though. Not in the slightest. Perhaps in the summer many more people come to visit the Giant's Causeway and the Bushmills famous distillery.

Ruins of the Dunluce Castle
Ruins of the Dunluce Castle
The area was not shy in terms of places to see and visit. One should therefore prepare well before venturing to these parts of Ireland. The sites were not terribly near to one another, and since public transport was scarse, it was better to secure own transport. Alternatively, don very comfortable boots and secure plenty of time to visit. The list of the nearest sites included: the Giant's Causeway, the Causeway School, the Bushmills Old Distillery, the ruins of the Dunluce Castle, the Heritage Railway museum, the Elephant's Legs of the White Rocks, and Portrush's collection of Victorian buildings. Bushmills was about 4km from the Causeway, the School was just next to visitors' centre, so was the very tiny railway museum. White Rocks were closer to Portrush than they were to Bushmills. In good weather, one should be able to cover all sites in two days at a leisure pace, yet hiking for the most part of a day, both days.

Portrush waves with veils seen across from the Albany Lodge
Portrush waves with veils seen across from the Albany Lodge
The Causeway Hotel, right at the cliff leading to Giant's Causeway, and adjacent to the National Trust Visitors Centre, was closed for refurbishment until July 2012. It would be an almost perfect spot to stay overnight and definitely the nearest. And right at the crossing of the hiking paths, one leading to the hexagonal stones and cliffs nearby, and the other leading to the beaches and the Dunluce Castle; and even beyond to the White Rocks. However, if one stayed there, there was no night action anywhere within the 3 mile radius.

I stayed at the Albany Lodge in Portrush. Kate and her husband took over the property on Friday night, a few hours before my arrival. So, I was their first 'guestomer'. Arriving at 8:30am guaranteed that! Kate opened the door in her nightgown. I got an en suite twin room for single occupancy for £45 inclusive of full English/Irish breakfast. The venue was homey and spotless! The living room downstairs had a giant TV and Kate could supply a wide range of DVDs.

Giant's Causeway's basalt columns
Giant's Causeway's basalt columns
Portrush had a few inviting pubs, some of which were busier than others. Windy weather and relatively low temperatures were a very good excuse to visit a pub or two for a couple hot toddies. As for nightlife, neither Portrush nor Bushmills had anything sophisticated or obvious going on. It slightly disturbing to see many mini casinos packed with gambling machines and gaming tools in such a small place like Portrush. There were too many of them and they were entirely too large. Perhaps one would need to venture away from the centre for anything else than a pub to boogie and socialise.

The Nook pub at the entrance to the Giant's Causeway
The Nook pub at the entrance to the Giant's Causeway
The Nook at the Giant's Causeway was a great Irish pub complete with a fireplace and serving variety of drinks and dishes. The young personnel was very friendly and attentive. It did not look like much from the outside, but it was truly a magnificent place. Very homey and welcoming! The fireplace, which was working when I visited made the difference. It was very windy outside, with occasional light shower, that sitting at a fireplace drinking a hot toddy, Irish coffee, or tea could not be more pleasant at all. Without unnecessary exaggeration.

The place served all kind of drinks, alcoholic and non-alcoholic, hot and cold, traditional and cosmopolitan. A regular and predictable pub grub and snacks were also available and the personnel made sure guest felt at home. At the time of the Causeway Hotel renovation, it was really the only option for a drink and food nearby.

Crowd at the Coast Pizzeria
Crowd at the Coast Pizzeria
The exceptionally popular Coast Pizzeria in Portrush served spectacular pizzas and pastas for £5-£9, and a small range of Irish dishes based on steaks, chickens and burgers. Adjacent were The Oriental, and The Mine Bar serving variety of dishes, the first concentrating on the Asian cuisine. I waited over an hour for a table at the Coast Pizzeria! But it was worth it. It was quite incredible to see how popular this place was considering that it was not a holiday season, and the tables were taken up by the locals. It was still the time of the economic crisis, downturn or even recession. Yet, evidently, people still had funds to go out for a meal and enjoy themselves. It was uplifting to see this.

The pizza was rather good. It had thin base and right amount of toppings. It was tasty. Not overbaked! The cheese melted well. The pizza needed a little bit more spice; jalapenos or freshly ground black pepper. Uh, the place sold magnificent cakes and puddings, and the portions were massive!

Other recommendations:
Giant's Causeway looking in the southerly direction
Giant's Causeway looking in the southerly direction
Public transport in this part of the world was infrequent. Only four buses a day covered the route from Portrush to the Giant's Causeway via Bushmills. A taxi ride was £10 and took only 7 minutes from the Portrush's peninsula right up to the Giant's Causeway cliffs. It was possible to walk as well, as the distance was not great. Yet weather would need to be permitting.

The nearest airport at the City of Derry (aka Londonderry (LDY)) was £35 taxi ride from Portrush and it was very easy to organise. There was a train station at Portrush, yet there were no direct trains to Derry and they were very slow.

Accommodation around the Giant's Causeway was not relatively scarse. The fabulously located Causeway Hotel, right at the path leading to the basalt columns near the visitors' centre, was closed for renovation - due to open in June 2012. Once complete, it will be a superb place to stay. Otherwise one can stay at nearby cottages (£100/night), in one of two hotels in Bushmills or in Portrush.

Published on Monday May 7th, 2012

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Mon, May 07 2012 - 11:15 PM rating by porto

A few years since I have been here Krys. Thanks for stirring the memories. Excellent report and pictures.

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