Last week, I hiked the Causeway Coast Way in Northern Ireland. It took me three days to walked sixty kilometres along the coast. This was my first long-distance hike and I loved the experience. In addition to being completely amazed by the beautiful scenery, I was filled with an immense sense of pride when I reached the end of the trail. Despite my tired legs, I would have liked to continue hiking forever.
A week later, I am slowly coming back to reality. This hike allowed me to learn a lot about my physical abilities and I learned a few lessons that I hope will be useful the next time I go on a long-distance trail like this.
As this is a good hike for beginners, here are some facts that would be useful to know if one day you intend to explore the Causeway Coast Way!
1 – The Causeway Coast Way links Ballycastle to Portstewart
Officially, the Causeway Coast Way begins at the Diamond in downtown Ballycastle, follows the Causeway coast for 52 kilometres and ends at Portstewart. It may seem quite simple, but I realized that the information on internet about this fact differs quite a lot. Even Lonely Planet makes the mistake of indicating that the trail ends at the Giant’s Causeway. Other versions omit the portion between Ballycastle and the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge.
But if you plan to hike the entire Causeway Coast Way, you’ll have to walk the 52 kilometres between Ballycastle and Portstewart.
It is also good to know that the Causeway Coast Way is part of the Ulster Way, a trail of over 1000 kilometres that goes around Northern Ireland.
2 – It is possible to hike it in two days
But I did it in three days. This gave me enough time to visit some attractions along the way and to take a few breaks to just enjoy the scenery.
This is what my itinerary was like:
- Day 1 – Ballycastle to Ballintoy (15 km)
- Day 2 – Ballintoy to the Giant’s Causeway (16 km)
- Day 3 – The Giant’s Causeway to Portstewart (24 km)
You have to add three kilometres on the first day if you intend to make the short detour to see the ruins of Kinbane Castle (which is what I did).
3 – The trail is easily accessible by public transit
And that’s why it’s a good hike for beginners. From Belfast it is easy to catch the bus to Ballycastle (with a transfer to Ballymena). From Portstewart, it is also easy to take the bus to Coleraine, from where there are trains to Belfast or Derry-Londonderry.
In summer, a bus also connects the main tourist sites along the coast.
4 – Logistically, the hike is easy to organize
In addition to an easy access by public transit, the Causeway Coast Way passes through several villages, so there is plenty of accommodation, restaurants and cafes along the way. Even finding washrooms is not a problem.
As this was my first hike of this kind, I used the company Ireland Ways to help me organize this adventure. Ireland Ways took care of booking my accommodation, transporting my luggage and providing me with maps and trail information.
As I was traveling completely alone, using the services of Ireland Ways reassured me. I was able to organize the hike without the stress of logistics and I knew that if I had a problem on the way, I could contact the company.
5 – The trail is poorly way-marked
Signage is not completely non-existent, because here and there I have seen yellow arrows indicating the way forward. But there are large portions of the trail that are not way-marked. It is therefore good to have a map of the trail, or directions on the steps to follow.
As the Causeway Coast Way continually follows the sea in a westerly direction, a compass is not really necessary.
6 – The Causeway Coast Way passes through various types of terrain
The Causeway Coast Way follows country roads (especially on the first day) and marked trails along cliffs. It goes through long beaches, boardwalks in villages and even some fields of sheep.
In White Park Bay, I even had to jump from rock to rock to cross a place that is inaccessible at low tide.
One thing is certain, the way is far from boring.
7 – Physically, the trail is not very challenging
The elevation is rather negligible on the Causeway Coast Way. The trail reaches its highest point near the Giant’s Causeway at 140 metres above sea level. There are no mountain peaks to reach, another reason why this is a good hike for beginners.
But be aware, that does not mean that there are not some sections in rough terrain, or stairs to go up and down. Although I consider myself in good physical shape, I was rather exhausted when I finished these three days of hiking!
8 – The weather may not be the one you expected
In fact, I think everyone who visits Ireland knows that the weather can change suddenly. Especially along the coast. And I had prepared myself to face the rain and the wind. My raincoat was ready and so was I! It rained, but only one afternoon. The rest of the time, I was treated to a hot sun. And I got one of the worst sunburns of my life. Lesson learned.
9 – The trail isn’t very busy
I must specify here that I hiked the Causeway Coast Way in May, so outside the peak tourist season. And some sites on the way, such as the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-A-Rede, are extremely popular (and therefore receive a steady stream of visitors).
But outside these sites, I sometimes walked several kilometres before meeting another hiker. I was completely alone at the ruins of Kinbane and Dunseverick castles. I walked three kilometers on the beautiful beach of White Park Bay without meeting anyone.
I admit that it surprised me. In an area that is very touristy and not so isolated, I did not expect so much tranquility.
A motorcycle race changed the dynamic between Portrush and Portstewart, but that’s another story.
10 – The Causeway Coast Way is so much more than the Giant’s Causeway
The Giant’s Causeway gives its name to the trail and is undoubtedly the highlight of the three-day hike. But there is much more to the Causeway Coast than this popular site. I felt that every detour on the trail was breathtaking. The coast, the sea, the fields of sheep as far as the eye can see, the pretty coastal villages, the spectacular rock formations, the long beaches … The photos published here do not do justice to the beauty of the landscapes which I saw during my hike.
I have the impression that the Causeway Coast Way has given me only a small taste of all that Ireland has to offer. And since it is not the long-distance trails that are missing on the Emerald Isle, I know I will come back one day.