Situated in County Antrim, on the northeastern coast of the Northern Ireland, about two miles to the north of the Bushmills town, the Giant’s Causeway is actually an area filled with around 40,000 interconnected basalt columns, that have been formed as a result of an primeval volcanic eruption. In the year 1986 it was proclaimed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and in 1987 a National Nature Reserve by the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland.
A poll conducted for the Radio Times readers in 2005, revealed that the Giant’s Causeway was christened as the fourth largest natural wonder in the United Kingdom. The top parts of these columns are like stepping stones leading from the base of the cliff and then disappearing underneath the sea. Majority of these pillars are hexagonal in shape; however, there some of them even have four, five, seven and also eight sides. The tallest of the columns rises to a height up to about 12 meters, and the hardened lava on the cliffs is 28 meters broad in certain places. At present the Giant’s Causeway is a property of and is managed by the National Trust. It happens to be the most popular tourist destination in Northern Ireland.
Giant’s Causeway – History
About 50 to 60 million years back, through the Paleogene period, Antrim was used to experiencing frequent and intense volcanic activity, as a result of which highly liquefied molten basalt entered from between the chalk beds to create a sprawling lava plateau. With the rapid cooling of the lava, contraction started taking place. While the process of contraction in the vertical direction brought down the flow density, the horizontal condensation was made possible only by cracking all through the flow. The magnitude of the pillars is mainly determined by the cooling pace of the lava from a volcanic eruption. The wide-ranging fracture network caused the distinctive columns that can be seen today. Originally the basalts were part of a vast volcanic flat terrain called the Thulean Plateau which had formed at the time of the Paleogene period.
The grand discovery of the Giant’s Causeway was formally let out to the world in the year 1693 when Sir Richard Bulkeley, a fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, presented an official document to the Royal Society. The site was greeted with widespread global attention when Dublin artist Susanna Drury created watercolor paintings depicting it in the year 1739. The paintings earned great acclaim and Drury won his first award which was presented to him by the Royal Dublin Society in the year 1740 and were imprinted in 1743.
Giant’s Causeway Attractions
Tourists first started trickling into this part of the world only in the nineteenth century, mainly after the inauguration of the Giant’s Causeway Tramway, after which, its maintenance and care were handed over to the National Trust in the 1960s and then some of the traces of commercialism eliminated. Tourists are free to walk on the area on top of the basalt columns that are located at the border of the sea.
An interesting feature of the some of the structures in the site of Giant’s Causeway, are the Organ and Giant’s Boot shaped structures – the ones created due to numerous million years of weathering. Other interesting objects here include a number of reddish, weathered small pillars that are referred to as Giants Eyes, formed by the dislocation of basalt boulders; the Honeycomb; the Shepherd’s Steps; the Chimney Stacks; the Giant’s Gate, the Giant’s Harp and the Camel’s Hump.
Giant’s Causeway – Flora and fauna
The site of the causeway is a shelter for varied species of sea birds like, fulmar, petrel, shag, redshank guillemot, cormorant and razorbill. The weathered rock structures are home to several rare plants such as, sea spleenwort, vernal squill, frog orchid, hare’s foot trefoil and sea fescue.
How to reach Giant’s Causeway
You can avail of the bus service plying from Portrush and Coleraine railway stations.
Take your car to Belfast and from there follow the signposts for the “Giant’s Causeway Coastal Route” to avail of the picturesque route leading to the Giant’s Causeway. Another direct route to Giant’s Causeway is from Belfast along the A26 or from Derry/ Londonderry along the A2/A37.