Sunday, June 18, 2006

Northern Ireland: Antrim - Giant's Causeway

I was going to try for a very ambitious long double-outing today, taking Chris to two great World Heritage sites north of Dublin. One is not too far north, the Newgrange Passage Tomb, and the other is the Giant's Causeway on the Antrim coast of Northern Ireland - approx 3 hours drive if the AA Ireland route software was correct. On Thursday night it had suggested 24 minutes to get from Ranelagh(immediately south of the centre of Dublin) to Dublin Airport, but it took me 90 minutes in actuality. To give you an idea of how frustrating that is: you can drive halfway across Ireland in that time. Traversing inner Dublin by car is horrendously slow, and none of my maps were up to date with the snaking one-way corridors that I got lost in each day. I think that someone in road-planning thought that the shortest distance between two points needed to involve a Celtic knot.

I ended up doing 3 circuits of the airport in my car as it took a while to discover that there wasn't a car pickup point for arrivals, and that you'd have to spend 20 or so minutes finding a spot in a multi-level parking centre in order to collect someone who (like Chris) had already arrived and simply had hand-luggage. Belatedly I got him to go up to the Departures level and I got him kerbside on my third go-around.

Anyway, inspection of the Heritage Ireland website for Newgrange indicated that we would be forced to leave Bondi in the car for 90 minutes or so. The weather was clearly too warm for that, so I decided that Giant's Causeway would be sufficient for the day. The causeway was also a big factor in Chris deciding to visit as he wanted to photograph it.

We made quite good time: the road towards Belfast is much better than anything on the west coast, and it's only 100 miles between Dublin and Belfast (which we actually bypass), with approximately 50 more to Bushmills where the Causeway visitor centre is located.

It wasn't exactly clear when we crossed into Northern Ireland (ie into the UK) - only money-changing services at service stations and a switch to miles from kilometres marked the changeover. I guess that anything like a welcome sign on either side of the very porous border would have been too sensitive a symbol of Ireland's division.

We stopped in Antrim town for a toilet break. It was a bit of a bleak place and we hurried on. The Giant's Causeway and related sites are open for the public, and the only charge is a steep parking fee. As we walked down the winding road to the shore, Chris discovered that he had left the rechargeable battery for his camera back in Dublin, and was pissed off at himself, making it harder to enjoy the rest of the day.

We clambered over the rock formations (which don't cover a very wide area really) and then continued on along a coastal path past the Organ - another outcrop of vertical columns arranged like organ pipes, and seeming quite manmade in the regularity of their shape. I felt a bit like I was doing double-duty with my camera, and didn't really get into the relaxed mood for taking good pictures.

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