The Giants Causeway; just how many pillars are there?
The Giants Causeway is Northern Ireland's premier tourist attraction and fascinating geological wonder. A visit to Northern Ireland will be incomplete if you don't see the Giant's Causeway.
It consists of thousands of basalt rock pillars, mostly hexagonal in shape and at times up to 100 meters deep, that at times are so geometrically fine as if custom designed by some intelligent super entity (hence the reference to giants).
How many pillars in the Giants Causeway?
Thousands! Some people estimate around 40.000 but this is by no means an accurate number. Even if you were to count them on your next visit, you would have missed the ones that are covered by the sea.
How to Get There
Ideally, make a visit to the Giants Causeway a tour day and include some of the other attractions in the area. In which case, take the coastal route A2 from Belfast/ Larne or Londonderry/Coleraine. It is also accessible via the A27 from Ballymena. Ensure you have a map with you always when driving in Northern Ireland.
Parking at the Giants Causeway
Once you are near, the Giants Causeway is well signposted. There is an ample car park where you will pay about £5 for the day.
If you prefer not to pay, follow the small country road that goes down the hill on the left side as you approach the Causeway complex. Go down the hill about 500 meters, past the Causeway & Bushmills steam rail station, and there you can park free on the side of the road.
Please ensure that you don't block any of the farm entrances or farm traffic. Parking free means you will have to walk up the hill to get back up so if you would rather not, just leave your car at the car park.
The Giants Causeway Visitor Centre
You have parked your car walked past the entrance and are wondering where the Causeway is. Well, you are not there yet.
What you have before you is a Visitor's Centre which includes a tourist shop; a small restaurant with another tourist shop; toilets. Use all three if you need to.
The tourist shops have a plethora of guides, souvenirs, and other nice things and chances are you will want to spend at least half an hour there. There is also an audio/visual presentation which is very informative.
From the Visitor Centre to the Giants Causeway
Once you have finished with the Visitor's Centre take the road down towards the sea. It is paved but no cars are allowed apart from the shuttle buses that ferry people up and down every 15 minutes or so. If you feel brave you can walk down to the Causeway and then back again. It takes about 15 minutes going down and a little longer coming up.
Or you can take the shuttle bus. Many visitors walk down and take the shuttle bus back. If you decide to return by shuttle bus, make sure you know what time the last one leaves because they tend to stop early, especially in winter.
The road from the Centre to the Causeway goes down towards the sea and swerves to the right following the coast for another 500 meters to the Causeway itself. The view is beautiful. Take your time. Walk around. See the waves splash on the rocks. Enjoy it, it is worth it.
At the Giants Causeway
Make sure you are wearing good walking shoes. The rocks are uneven and can be slippery. Also, in places there are steep climbs/falls. So tread carefully and if you have small children preferably hold them by the hand. Sunsets can be very romantic there, but remember the minibus timetable if you are planning to use it.
To the Pipe Organ?
If you like walking/hiking, walk beyond the Giants Causeway to the Pipe Organ. The Pipe Organ is a similar rock formation that can be seen on the side of a cliff a few hundred meters beyond the Causeway. Follow the path beyond the Causeway and you will see the Pipe Organ on the side of the cliff. Then rather than return to the Causeway, follow a path that follows the side of the cliff for some more spectacular views. You will end up on the top of the Antrim cliffs, on the same level as the Visitor Centre, but above the Causeway.
How Much Time?
Allow for a minimum of 1 hour even if you are using the shuttle bus both way. However, to fully appreciate the area take up to three hours. Do not rush this visit, as the time spent there is well worth it.
How was the Giants Causeway Formed?
Here's the evolutionary theory, the creationist explanation and the mythological story...
The scientific view is that the Causeway was formed by volcanic activity resulting in seven separate lava flows. As each lava flow cooled by the sea water splashing onto it, other lava flows followed and cooled in turn. As the surface cooled and hardened, it contracted creating the cracks visible to this day. The sea water hastened the cooling time and helped produce the cracking.
Geologists traditionally date these lava flows to about 60 million years ago while Creationists maintain a much younger age, roughly around 4,500 years ago. You can read more on how the two schools of thought explain the phenomenon, in Answers in Genesis.
According to Irish mythology, the giant Finn MacCool (Fionn mac Cumhail), lived in the Antrim coast area with his family many years ago. Across the water in Scotland (just 21 kilometers away) lived another giant named Benandonner (Fingal according to other sources). The two exchanged insults across the sea until one day Finn decide to go to Scotland and destroy the foul mouthed Scot. He therefore built the Causeway which, incidentally, also appears on the coast of Scotland. As he approached unnoticed, he realized that Benandonner was much bigger than him, and so quickly turned around and rushed back to Ireland.
Benandonner noticed the causeway and, in turn, decided to go to Ireland to take care of his haughty opponent. When Finn show him approaching he was terrified. His good wife Oonagh thought up a stratagem. She dressed Finn as a baby and put him to supposedly sleep. When Benandonner arrived and declared his intentions, Oonagh asked him to wait around until Finn returned from a supposed hunting trip. In the meantime she asked him to help her feed “the baby”. When Benandonner saw the size of “the baby” he was terrified as he wondered how big the father would be. He therefore excused himself and in horror and hurry left back to Scotland tearing up the Causeway on the way to ensure his safety. Henceforth the two giants lived happily ever after in their respective lands and never hurled abuse at each other.
Shuttle bus information:
shuttle bus fare: is £2 for adults return trip and £1 for children return.
Timetable 10am - 6:45pm (summertime)
Things to see nearby:
Lacada point - treacherous rocks that brought the Girona ship of Spanish Armada to the bottom of the sea.