The signs are good but rain is driving along causeway route

Sat, Jun 23, 2012, 01:00

ON THE WILD ATLANTIC WAY:IAN PAISLEY was fond of saying, in his pre-Belfast Agreement days, that he would never forsake the blue skies of Northern Ireland for the grey ones of the South.

Well, the two parts of the island were firmly united yesterday – united in grey – as the north of the island was bashed, buffeted and drenched by lashing rain, and wind whipped the coastline. Donegal, Derry and Antrim all bore the brunt of the worst the Atlantic could throw at them.

The North’s Causeway Coastal Route ( causewaycoastandglens.com) can support its proud boast to be “one of the world’s great road journeys”, with stunning scenery and a range of well-presented diversions for visitors. But yesterday it was not at its best: viewed through driving rain and wind and, on mountain passes, the low-cloud mist.

It was, simply put, a filthy pig of a day. But even at that, this wonderful road showed what the Wild Atlantic Way, along the west coast, can do when Fáilte Ireland launches it next year.

Leaving Derry and heading east on the A2, signs for the causeway Coastal Route are simple, clear, plentiful, repetitive and in all the right places. That continues right along the route. It would be difficult to get lost and easy to find your way back on to it if you did.

The Causeway begins to show her charms soon after Ballyscullion, north of Limavady, when she veers east and passes the lengthy and dramatic escarpment of Binevenagh Mountain.

Frances Kelly, who works in the nearby Benone resort, says that in Norway, they know of this escarpment. “When the Vikings came and were out at sea,” she says, “it is said that they saw the cliffs of Binevenagh and thought it was a massive castle, and so they sailed away again rather than attack. I don’t know if that’s true but the story is in a Viking museum in Norway.”

Benone strand is a vast expanse of wide sandy beach, about 11km long. Frances’s colleague Colin Bell is in no doubt as to the importance of the Causeway Coastal Route to the local tourism economy.

“We’ve a lot more people here because of the route – it draws people into the area,” he says.

The spine of the route is the A3, right the way around the coast, through Derry and Antrim, all the way to Belfast.

After Benone, comes Downhill Demesne, which has gardens and cliffs walks and the delightful Georgian folly that is the Mussenden Temple, a drum-shaped building perched on the edge of the cliffs.

Beyond Coleraine, the two seaside towns of Portstewart and Portrush look miserable as the storm batters them. The huge posters of Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, promoting next week’s Irish Open at Portrush, merely underline how awful it will be for golf if yesterday’s weather repeats itself.

A few miles farther on is Dunluce Castle, a ruin on the headland that could just as well be part of the set from a Harry Potter film. The cluster of rubble stone buildings and fortifications perched on an outcrop of basalt, linked to the mainland by an arched walkway, dates from the 14th century. Yesterday it looked dark, broody and wicked. On a good day, you can see Scotland clearly to the north east.

Past Bushmills and on towards the Giant’s Causeway, the distinctive outcrop of 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns. The rain beats relentlessly. The road’s drains and ditches (generally excellent when compared to the almost non-existent ones in the Republic) are having difficulty coping with the deluge.

By the time I reach the causeway, it has been closed by a landslide. The new visitor centre under construction looks as though it will open any day.

Near Dunseverick, what is obviously normally a tiny stream has become a raging torrent tearing down the hillside and spewing muddy water into the sea, creating a huge brown umbra in the water.

By early afternoon, the road itself has become a river. At Ballintoy, the rope bridge spanning a 30m deep sea-cliff ravine has been closed by the weather. In Ballycastle the river, a froth of chocolate brown bulging and hurtling into the sea, looks as though it is about to burst.

The coastal route veers southeast into the mountains, up over Crockaneel Hill (visibility about 50m) and down Glendun, the glen of the brown river, to the little seaside town of Cushendun.

There are nine glens in Antrim and the Causeway Coastal Route affords easy access to all. But the route itself continues to hug the North Channel coast right down to Belfast.

The wind has died but the rain persists. At Ballygally, I give in: the adventure has performed as I would expect – flawlessly – but the rider is found wanting . . . wanting somewhere warm and dry.

Series concluded