photos by tina costanza/metro toronto
A trip along the Causeway Coastal Route and to County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland is a cold compress to minds soaked in stress.
Hills, cliffs, castles, beaches and marinas woo visitors’ thoughts away from e-mails, meetings and voice-mail messages.
It all begins on the Causeway Coastal Route. Also known by its less poetic name, the A2 motorway, it unfurls for 314 kilometres along two lanes that curl along the northeast coast of Northern Ireland, from Belfast Lough near Belfast to Lough Foyle near Derry. From there, two motorways lead to County Fermanagh and its main town, Enniskillen.
For the most part, traffic on the Causeway Coastal Route is light, which helps in navigating its narrow portions. Signs point to the route, and although a couple of spots may result in a wrong turn, backtracking or asking a local for directions does the trick. There are several places in which to pull over, gaze across the North Channel and note there is nary a high-rise in sight.
First up, about a 10-minute drive outside of Belfast, is Carrickfergus Castle, deemed the country’s best-preserved Norman Castle, in the town of Carrickfergus. John de Courcy established the structure in 1178.
Further north along the route are towns with lyrical names like Magheramorne and Ballygalley, including Larne, the gateway to the Glens of Antrim, which warrant a visit all their own.
Also worth a visit is the Carrick-a-Reade rope bridge, just off the route near Ballintoy. From a parking lot, a walk along the limestone cliffs leads to the bridge.
Back in the day, fishermen used the bridge, which crosses a 24-metre deep and 18-metre wide chasm, to check their salmon nets. These days, travellers come for the literally moving experience of crossing two planks lying across the ropes while the surf pounds into the land below.
A short drive away is the Giant’s Causeway, the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Northern Ireland. From the visitors’ centre, a walk to the thousands of layered basalt columns offers sea on one side and hills on the other.
Science says the columns are the result of a volcanic eruption, and lava flowing through a valley gave them their geometric shape. Irish legend dictates the giant Fionn MacCool built the causeway in order to battle his adversary in Scotland.
After the causeway lie more cliffside attractions: The ancient Dunluce Castle, part of which crumbled into the sea below hundreds of years ago, and Mussenden Temple, an 18th- century circular structure. Fredrick Hervey, Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry, built it as his library.
Between the castle and temple is Portrush, a town from which the restless can cycle, fish, sail, dive, skydive and ride a horse.
From the temple, the Causeway Coastal Route heads to its end in Derry, but it’s here the journey to the lakeland region — County Fermanagh — begins.
A drive south inland from Derry on the A5, bordered by picturesque hills and valleys, leads to Omagh, from which the A32 heads to Enniskillen.
For more information on Northern Ireland, visit www.discovernorthernireland.com.