Story Time! Robert the Bruce, Fair Head, Sheep Island, and Giant’s Causeway

Looking south at White Park Bay

Today was our second day hiking the Causeway Coast Way and I can’t imagine a more beautiful hike; it’s got to be all downhill from here! Then again, we’ve repeatedly said “it can’t get better than this” and somehow it does. This segment from Ballintoy to Portballintrae begins with a serene coastal walk along White Park Bay, builds to a demanding and awe-inspiring hike along the cliffs leading to the Giant’s Causeway, and book-ends with a final beach walk. I’ll never forget the wild hike up to the highest point on the trail at Hamilton’s Seat on Benbane Head; I was fairly blown over with winds gusting to 40 mph. Thank goodness the wind was pushing us inland rather than out over the cliffs!

View from the cliff trail heading north towards Giant's Causeway

The ruins of Dunseverick Castle along the Causeway Coast Way

With over 7 hours of hiking, we had plenty of time to chat and reflect on the myth, legends and lore of the area. I find the stories captivating and just one of the many nuances that set Ireland apart as a mystical magical country. These are but a few.

Robert the Bruce: We heard of this tale while visiting Rathlin Island where it’s said that Robert the Bruce hid in a cave on the island after being defeated by the English at Perth in 1306. He was beaten and downtrodden, but drew inspiration from a spider. He watched as it tried over and over to complete its web strung between two rocks; on the 7th try it succeeded. This display gave Robert fresh courage to once again try for the Scottish crown and Rathlin now boasts of the most famous spider in history.

On Rathlin Island, looking down from the West Lighthouse

Fair Head: This story also comes from Rathlin Island but is, uh…a bit more grim. Long ago, a beautiful fair haired girl lived in a castle on the island. She had many suitors and one day two entered into a fierce fight. One was mortally wounded and as he lay dying, he whispered to his servant to dance with the girl on the cliffs below the castle. His servant complied, and whirled and twirled the girl closer and closer to the edge until they both fell to their deaths. The point on the mainland where the girl’s body washed ashore was known thereafter as Fair Head. Tragic story, but a beautiful and prominent piece of the landscape.

A view of Fair Head from Ballycastle beach

Sheep Island: Okay this one doesn’t have an epic story, but it perlexed me for miles. Since we are walking, I had oodles of time to stare at Sheep Island and wonder about its name. Chris postulated that many things are named for how they look, but it didn’t look like a sheep to me. And as we slowly approached and I could view the island from different angles…nope…still not a sheep. I finally got my answer from a brochure in the Sheep Island View Hostel where we stayed the night: “In hard times sheep were taken to the island which was said to have enough grass to fatten 10 sheep, to feed 11 sheep or to famish 12 sheep.” Well there you go. Although I still don’t know how the sheep got up the sheer cliff-faces to the grassy plateau on top. I guess where there’s a will there’s a way.

Looking down on Ballintoy Harbor with Sheep Island in the sea to the right

Giant’s Causeway: This is the most fantastic story of all! I’ll give an abbreviated account, but the whole legend is a fun read. Finn MacCool was an Irish Giant who built a great pathway to Scotland in order to fight his fierce enemies the Scottish giants. One day Finn issued a challenge to The Red Man, Benandonner, but as the Scottish giant approached, Finn saw how big he was and turned tail and ran home. Finn’s wife Oonagh was a smart one, and she quickly covered Finn with a few sheets. When Benandonner approached, she invited him in and asked if he’d like the meet the baby (Finn in disguise!) and then showed him the baby’s toys, huge boulders in the garden. Benandonner grew scared; if the baby was this big and strong, how big must Finn be?! He turned tail and ran and Finn soon chased after. Both giant’s ripped up the causeway leaving just ragged ends on either shore that we can still see today. When visiting the Giant’s Causeway you’ll also pass a rock formation of Humphrey, Finn’s trusty camel who carried him home in time for tea.

Finn MacCool (or McCool) at Hamilton's Seat on Benbane Head

Hexagonal rocks on Giant's Causeway

After leaving the magnificent Giant’s Causeway we split off from the Causeway Coast Way, turning inland toward Bushmills on a scenic pathway running alongside the narrow-gauge track of the Bushmills Railway.

Chris with Runkerry House in the background, just before we turned off for Bushmill

We’d hoped to catch the train, but it stopped running just yesterday! The walk added a couple miles to the day, so we practically shuffled the final steps to the Cottesmore B&B. It’s just what the doctor ordered - I feel so pampered! We were greeted with coffee and cookies, then cleaned up with a long glorious soak in the tub, and I’m typing now while wrapped in a fluffy cozy robe. Heaven! Tomorrow we start the day with our first big Irish breakfast and then head straight to the Bushmill’s distillery tour.

Want to know more about hiking the Causeway Coast Way? Check out our Ireland Trip Summary, and the guide Julie wrote: Hiking Ireland's Causeway Coast Way: 1 Person's 2 Cents on a 3-Day Journey