Ireland - Bushmills - Land of the Giants
Jul 6, 2004
|Leaving the Troubles of Derry behind, I travelled further east to the little village of Bushmills in Country Antrim. Bushmills itself doesn't really have much going for it, but it does have one big claim to fame ... it's home of the "Old Bushmills Distillery". As a result, it's a popular pilgrimage destination, not for any religious folk but for Irish whiskey connoisseurs!
I'm not much of a whiskey drinker myself, but since I was actually staying in the birthplace of Irish malt whiskey, I figured it only appropriate to visit the distillery.
Old Bushmills is the world's oldest licensed whiskey distillery, the original license granted by King James I back in 1608. They've continued operating in Bushmills ever since, surviving fires at the distillery and the lean years of the prohibition era.
The tour itself was very polished and professional. Obviously they've done this a time or two in the last 400 years! But it was almost too polished because we were herded through the facility quite quickly, and we weren't even allowed to see some of the distilling process areas or the lovely old copper distilling vats other than on videotape. The tour ended with a tasting of course, but I'm not so easily converted and I'll have to say that Irish whiskey is still not my "cup of tea".
I actually chose to stay in Bushmills not because of the whiskey but because of its proximity to the Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland's most famous and spectacular coastal scenery.
Stretching along 8 kilometers of coast, the Giant's Causeway is a series of beautiful bays surrounded by breathtaking sheer cliffs that drop over 90 meters to the sea. One particular section, the Grand Causeway, has an amazing grouping of almost 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns, grouped together forming stepping stones leading from the cliffs and disappearing under the sea. Apparently similar stones appear on the island of Staffa in the Scottish Hebrides. Like all who see them, I was absolutely mesmorized by these stones, and couldn't help but wonder how they got there.
Now, since the Irish do love their blarney, these mysterious column formations and a giant named Finn MacCool have become the centre of not one but two Irish legends.
In one legend it's said that Finn MacCool built the stone causeway so he could cross the sea to fight a Scottish giant. When Finn got there he found the Scottish giant asleep, and seeing that his rival was far bigger than he, Finn fled back to Ireland. The Scottish giant woke and gave pursuit. Hearing the Scottish giant coming across the causeway, Finn's wife dressed him up in a baby shawl and bonnet and put him in a crib. When the Scottish giant arrived, Finn's wife warned him not to wake the baby. Looking into the crib and seeing how large the "baby" was, the Scottish giant decided that Finn must then be immense, so he fled back to Scotland in fear, ripping up the causeway as he went.
In the other legend, Finn MacCool fell in love with a lady giant in Scotland and built the causeway so he could sneak in a few clandestine visits with her. Finding out and not being too pleased about this, Finn's wife ripped up the causeway in order to keep her straying husband at home.
For those of you who don't believe either of these tales, the boring scientific explanation is that the rocks were formed 60 million years ago by the cooling and shrinking of molten basaltic lava from a vast volcanic eruption that formed the Antrim plateau. I'll let you decide which story to believe.
In addition to the stepping stones, there are other formations along the coastline with nicknames like The Chimney Pots, The Giant's Organ (as in keyboard!), and The Giant's Boot, to name a few.
Anyway, whoever or whatever had a hand in its creation, the Giant's Causeway is an amazing area to explore, and I'd highly recommend the area as a must-see for anyone visiting Ireland.
Not far along the coast, I also visited the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge. Not for the fainthearted or those afraid of heights, it's a swinging rope bridge just 1 meter wide, 30 meters above the sea, and spans a 20 meters chasm from the mainland across to Carrick-A-Rede island. For over 350 years, it's been the only way that fishermen have accessed the sheer-sided island, apparently the best place to catch migrating salmon.
Lastly, I had a brief wander around the small fishing village of Ballintoy. Unfortunately I had to walk down a steep, winding, switchback road (and back up again) to find that out there's not much of interest there!
I also made a brief stop at White Park Bay, where steep cliffs drop down to a nice little sandy beach. There's a nice new hostel at White Park Bay with great views of the water, a place where I'd definitely stay if I return to the area. But man, these Irish are a very hardy lot to be swimming in the sea at this time of year, as the water was still MUCH too cold for my liking!
Anyway, this concludes my visit to the Land of the Giants. And you know I used to think that Finn MacCool was just the name of an Irish pub in downtown Calgary ... wrong again!!