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Causeway Coastal Route – a real northern light and delight

Causeway Coastal Route – a real northern light and delight
The Causeway Coastal Route is not just an area of outstanding natural beauty and amazing attractions but its warm welcome and public amenities could teach other places a thing or two.
We grew up steeped in the splendour of The Ring of Kerry. Precious. Dingle, Moll’s Gap, The Skelligs and other far-flung lands. Then, as if Columbus himself had just landed, we rediscovered the Wild Atlantic Way. Queuing up for Connemara.

But if there’s anything I’ve learned in recent years regarding campervan expeditions it is to head in the opposite direction, try out some place new. This is particularly the case when it comes to peak season, public holidays or for what passes in Ireland for a heatwave.

From now until the end of August most of the popular spots are either booked out or mobbed, never more so than now with the ongoing upsurge in interest for all things campervan and camping. Great to see this trend but it does bring challenges in terms of space, availability, and services. Social media only serves to amplify the popularity of certain spots as soon as they are posted on Instagram or a Facebook forum. There’s nothing to spoil a place as quick as to become a victim of its own popularity.

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Not that the Causeway Coastal Route is off the beaten track, far from it. This gem of a route has it’s own fanbase but doesn’t seem to get as over-run or as congested even in the summer season.

However, I would see your Ring of Kerry and raise you the Causeway Coastal Route any day!! Fighting talk, you might say, but not without a strong case.

For those who prefer short cuts to the scenic route, here’s the summary. The Causeway Coastal Route is not just an area of outstanding natural beauty punctuated by stunning seaside resorts such as Carrickfergus, Ballycastle, and Portrush. An ideal road trip template to explore that entire north-eastern shoreline from Belfast right around to Derry, with a classic mix of sand, sea and surf.

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Offshore out of Ballycastle is the wonderful sanctuary of Rathlin Island to explore. This roadtrip also provides an ideal backdoor into north Donegal via the Magilligan to Greencastle ferry crossing. Before high tailing it into Donegal though, I’d highly recommend that you first take in the Titanic Experience in Belfast. World class.

High praise and well deserved as you will also have the opportunity to take a diversion to explore the Glens of Antrim or Instagram yourself to death at the many Game of Thrones locations nearby, including the iconic Dark Hedges, about 10km inland from Ballycastle.

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There are of course the signature attractions of the Giant’s Causeway and Bushmills Distillery. While I’m certain the Giant’s Causeway hasn’t earned its stripes as a world renowned geological phenomenon for nothing, I have always come away underwhelmed and wondering what all the fuss is about. Giant? As for the Bushmills Distillery tour, something similar, and to coin a phrase, we came away shaken, not stirred. Perhaps we caught them on an off day?

Far more exhilarating, exciting, educational, and fun are the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge (fortunately we were on bikes as it has a height restriction barrier) and the wonderful and storied Dunluce Castle. Overall, there’s stunning scenery and countless coves and places to pull-over. The Gobbins Coastal Path near Larne is on our list for our next jaunt up North.

The Causeway Coast along with Belfast was named the number one best region to visit in 2018 by Lonely Planet. We fully agree over here at Vanhalla HQ, so no more excuses for getting stuck on The Ring of Kerry or in Roundstone and give the Causeway Coastal route a go.

That’s the summary. Now for the fine print.

Our Thursday night staging post was in charming Carlingford of which we are great fans (see separate review). Additionally convenient as we make for Belfast for a long overdue visit and early morning Friday foray to The Titanic Experience. It’s a ten out of ten tour on every level, and suitable for all ages.

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Ballycastle – a bustling beauty of a seaside town

The Causeway Coast is the most pleasant of road journeys with stunning seafronts and historic villages. We’re bent on Ballycastle as our initial base.

A bustling seaside town, decked out in all its finery of hanging baskets, all dolled up like the giddy guests in their Sunday best enjoying the sunshine and the wedding pre-reception drinks outside the Marine Hotel.

Hanging baskets on every corner, no lamp pole left unadorned. More hanging baskets, bowls, lawn tennis courts, a prominent sculpting on the promenade of swans in full flight, The Children of Lir on their journey.

There are monuments to Marconi, families scoffing ice-cream, ferry trips to Rathlin, twenty minutes offshore and be advised to book ahead with Kintra Boat Tours as it’s extremely popular.

Lots of litter bins, three public toilet facilities in a short stretch, plenty of parking (some with no headroom barriers, wink-wink). An expansive green seafront park is kept spotless, alongside a playground and abundant other services. Ballycastle is a place that cares, and cares for itself. The public amenities along this stretch of coastline would put lots of other places to shame.

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Ballycastle hanging baskets
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The waterfront menu offers Morton’s fish n’chips where the takeaway includes monkfish and lobster options; crepes and waffles from the cheery Maud’s Yard and Italian gelato from Morelli’s. The queues down the street are all the review you require.

Bald and tattooed bikers rev and gun their Suzuki’s, Hondas, Kawasaki’s and Triumphs up the testing hill of the North Road, channelling their inner Joey Dunlop as they make for Portrush at a baffling speed. We can still hear them as they drop through the gear changes, long after they have gone out of sight.

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This is a seaside town as you might imagine and we gratefully soak up the 23 degrees of an Irish heatwave and glad of the gentle sea breeze, while a ferry heads out of port for Rathlin Island. The forecast is good for another few days at least and hopefully the sea fog won’t show its face this evening with plans for another barbecue. Along the Ballycastle beachfront there are benches commemorating folk who loved it here and you can easily see why. The sun sets and the chalky shoreline of Rathlin drifts out of view…

We are set up five minutes walk away. Up, up, up that steep hill in O’Hagan’s Causeway Coastal Camping, a convenient spot. Not a fan of the bigger commercial campsites and O’Hagan’s has a bar, café, and indoor pool. There’s no camper’s kitchen and while the other shared services are adequate O’Hagan’s is mostly geared towards catering for the vast number of static units and the friendly families who decamp here for the season. One gets the distinct impression that touring facilities are an afterthought with no effort at recycling and only one fresh water point intrusively located in the middle of someone else’s pitch.

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Perfect location though and useful base for discovering delightful Ballycastle and exploring further afield, which we do off our bicycles. Out along the coast road there are umpteen attractions such as Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and its interesting origins, one of my favourites, Dunluce Castle. There are plenty of great viewing points, such as at Portaneevy. Quaint appealing camping options on farms along the way; there’s an invitation to a brew with a view with tea and cakes at The Red Door while The Nook provides welcome refreshments at the Giant’s Causeway and it as proud as punch with a swanky new interpretative centre. The Cream of the Coast ice cream stand offers 99s that are one hundred per cent delicious.

Portrush – a picture postcard seaside escape

Portrush too is a picture postcard of a seaside escape, with the added appeal of beach break surfing possibilities and the famous Troggs Surf Shop. Also evident here is how the local authorities are light years ahead of other locations in terms of public facilities and amenities.

Portrush has a motorhome aire with toilets, sluice, water and EHU services all provided via a token system, which are available in the local shops and nearby garage. At the other side of town on the Portstewart Road, the Causeway Borough Council have wisely provided for a temporary facility at the Ballyreagh Summer Aire, to cater for peak season demand (Summer 2021) with both the other two municipal sites nearby at Carrick Dhu and Juniper Hill solidly booked out. The Inn on the Coast served up welcome refreshments next door, appropriately from their Silver Bullet kitchen, the ‘Outside Inn’

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At Juniper Hill we experienced the kind of hospitality and courtesy that was typical of the entire trip. While the aire was grand and had the basic facilities, the staff at Juniper could not have been any more helpful and gave us full access to all their services, including showers and kitchen, even though we hadn’t a prayer of getting a pitch. A big shout out to young Eamon at Juniper Hill who saved the day, even subbed us the coins for the metre; give you the shirt off his back type of fella, a credit to his locality and an outstanding ambassador for the Causeway Coastal Route. If he’s not managing the place by now, well, he should be!!

Thanks again Eamon, we’ll be back, as there’s still plenty more exploring to be done along the Causeway Coastal Route, the likes of Ballintoy and Benone look interesting.

For now, it was on to Magilligan and the ferry to Greencastle, with Moville, Ballyliffin and Buncrana, Rathmullan, Raphoe, Ramelton and Rossnowlagh in our sights, as the bizarre and unsettling staccato bursts of machine gun fire from the military installation sounded like an echo from another era as we boarded to cross Lough Foyle…

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SEE ALSO:  Chilling out on the Cooley, an east coast treat

                     Home or away, you won’t beat Binion Bay

                     Dunfanaghy and the weekend you never want to end

About The Author

John Whelan

John Whelan is a vastly experienced midlands based journalist and editor who has contributed extensively to the country's leading national and regional titles, as well as broadcast outlets. He runs the media services company, Communicate Ireland www.communicateireland.ie. John is a keen camping and campervan enthusiast with an interest in music, culture, heritage and outdoor pursuits. He has written for the Sunday Times, Sunday Independent and the Woman's Way on these topics. He is also an author, and his latest book, The Last Beekeeper, reflects his love of nature, the landscape and our shared responsibility to protect the environment. The Last Beekeeper is available to preview and purchase at www.thelastbeekeeper.ie. Safe travels...

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