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The International Appalachian Trail Ulster-Ireland (IAT Ulster-Ireland) starts from the beautiful Slieve League cliffs in Donegal and finishes up in Larne, Co Antrim. This cross-border trail is 449km (279 miles) long. Outsider headed up to explore part of the trail and we were blown away.
Since its launch, we have been dying to explore some of this epic coast to coast trail. And what better time than a blustery February day to do just that!! Even in slightly wild conditions, the Causeway Coast section of the IAT Ulster-Ireland did not disappoint. In fact we reckon the weather added to its splendour.
For more information on the full trail check out The International Appalachian Trail Ulster-Ireland: Everything you Need to Know About this Coast to Coast Walk.
While the entire IAT Ulster-Ireland stretches from Slieve League in Co Donegal to Larne in Co Antrim we decided to take on a 10km stretch of the trail starting at the Giant’s Causeway. Local guide, Mark Rodgers, from Dalriada Kingdom Tours, was on hand to show us the sights and fill us in on the colourful history of the area. He really brought a special something to our day on the trail.
This section of the trail is very dramatic as you stay close to the water the entire way. The waves were crashing in, higher than our heads in places, as the sun dared to peek its head through the clouds, dancing on the dramatic boulders that make up the Giant’s Causeway.
While the full Causeway Coast section of the IAT Ulster-Ireland covers a total distance of 52km, Mark led us on a more manageable 10km walk which was perfect for the February day that was in it. And that is one of the things that makes this long-distance trail so special – it caters for all levels of ability, weather and time constraints. You can opt to take on as little or as much as you like and you will still be treated to that special feeling of hiking a world-class trail.
After a slap-up meal in O’Connors in Ballycastle and a very comfortable sleep in North Coast Cabins, we couldn’t believe our luck when we opened our curtains to blues skies the next morning. It was the perfect day to explore the numerous beaches along the Causeway Coastal Route, stretch the legs and even get a quick dip before hitting the road back to Dublin. And boy those beaches certainly do not disappoint. While Whitepark Bay is too dangerous for swimming, we can highly recommend a stroll along its pristine white sandy beach followed by a coffee and a cake at nearby Bothy (we reckon their cake is some of the best we have tasted!). After that, in search of our swim, we headed for White Rocks in Portrush. With its towering sand dunes and reliable swell, it’s a popular spot for surfers. There’s also a lifeguard on duty which eliminated any excuse we may have had to avoid the icy waters. It was well worth the effort though, the water was gorgeous and we even managed to body surf a couple of waves!
Our final stop was Portstewart Strand, another long sandy beach, only suitable for swimming at high tide unless you fancy a long stroll to get out. However, it is another perfect place for a stroll and a bite to eat.
Our first stop for food was Bothy Cafe. A beautiful little cafe near Ballintoy Harbour and White Park Bay. The cakes and pastries here are absolutely amazing. It’s what they are known for, but what really made this place for me is their filter coffee. I wouldn’t say this lightly but it was the best filter coffee I have had. Absolutely delicious and a must try for any coffee connoisseur.
Our second stop for food was for dinner in O’Connors Bar, Ballycastle and we were blown away by their food. O’Connors is a lively bar in the centre of Ballycastle and showcases some beautiful decor as well as amazing food. The highlight of the bar for us was either the seafood chowder or their perfect pint of Guinness.
Lost & Found Cafe in Portstewart was our final food stop of the trip and it did not disappoint. We got lunch and a coffee here after our walk along Portstewart strand. Again, the filter coffee was amazing and the breakfast bap was to die for. Spicy chorizo, fried eggs, ballymaloe relish and rocket all in a brioche bun. That is perfection in my books and to top it all off the views from the cafe are absolutely breathtaking.
We stayed in the North Coast Cabins. Specifically, “the Cabin” and “the Surf Shack”. Two absolutely beautiful cabins just off of the Causeway Coast. They are self sustained but the owners make sure every little detail is there to make your stay as pleasurable as possible. They leave out snacks, fresh bread and a selection of coffees and teas for you to choose from and we even got a mini bottle of wine to welcome us on our stay.
There are so many places to swim along this section of the International Appalachian Trail Ulster-Ireland including Portstewart Strand, Portrush Beach, White Rocks Beach and Ballintoy Harbour. Always check if swimming is permitted at the beach you are on before getting in the water. Over the 48 hours we spent on the trail we swam at Ballinatoy Harbour and White Rocks Beach. They were both amazing swim spots and we would highly recommend them.
By Killian Andersen
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