A deserted beach made of massive basalt columns disappearing into the sea: the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. It was my favourite picture in a folder named “Ireland” in my old desktop. Many, many years ago, I was completely in love with Ireland. A genuine teenage obsession with the emerald island and its music, traditions, history. Out of all of the beautiful landscape images that filled that “Ireland” folder, the Giant’s Causeway one was by far my favourite. I dreamed about going there one day.
When I was living in Poland I had started planning a trip to make that dream come true. There were even direct flights to Belfast! I had looked up all the details to reach the Causeway coast from the Northern Irish capital (travel planning is a form of entertainment for me). Unfortunately, I never ended up going, and I don’t really know why. I guess that the direct Krakow-Belfast flight made it feel like an easy trip, something I could do any weekend. So I always chose to employ my paid leave days visiting more remote destinations, like the Lofoten islands in northern Norway, or the Lesser Caucasus in Georgia. Those, despite still being in Europe, were less easy to reach than Belfast and the Causeway. So I just never travelled there until recently.
The giant pencils
What obviously fascinated me the most about the Giant’s Causeway is its peculiar geology. The whole coast is made of basalt columns that formed after a volcanic eruption millions of years ago. Similar columns can be admired also in other parts of the world. Earlier this year I had the chance to see these rock formations in Iceland, at Svartifoss and Reynisfjara. I had renamed them the giant pencils. I couldn’t wait to see their Irish relatives.
The most famous photos of the Giant’s Causeway face towards the sea, just like most of those I took myself. This peculiar rock formation is not only found there. The whole coast is loaded with basalt columns. Giant pencils everywhere!
Photographing the Giant’s Causeway
From a photographic point of view I had not been lucky with the Icelandic basalt columns. I got to Reynisfjara in the middle of the afternoon when hordes of people were all over the place – literally on the columns, climbing them. I had planned my itinerary prioritizing other destinations and unfortunately Reynisfjara happened to be a stop along the road. Expecting a famous landmark to be completely void of people in this time and age is kind of naive, I take it. Still, I always assume everybody is like me and has the same expectations to see monuments with no people on them so they will nicely stay down and photograph. Of course not.
With the Giant’s Causeway I chose not to make the same mistake and give myself the possibility to visit at a quieter time of the day. So I booked my stay in the area at Finn McCool Giant’s Causeway hostel. As the description on the property’s website reads, the hostel is “the closest building to the Causeway that is not part of the Causeway”. The perfect location for a morning exploration of the place.
Wet basalt has a beautiful shiny black colour. Most of the lower columns had been washed by the night tide and were gleaming black in the low light of the morning. This is what we saw as soon as we got there. It was still dawning, so the light was pretty low. As the darkness lifted and the clouds made room for the sunlight in the sky, we could see the distinctive difference in colour between the wet and dry parts of the Causeway.
Visiting the Giant’s Causeway
The Causeway is accessible for free for visitors who reach it on foot. Being lodged at the hostel we were able to leave our car there and simply walk to the coast. This allowed us to visit the Causeway before the visitor centre’s opening hours, beating the crowds. We woke up as soon as the sun rose (you can check the time on this website) and made our way there. There was nobody around, the Giant’s Causeway was all for ourselves. Alternatively, visitors can access the Causeway through the Giant’s Causeway visitor centre. Paying an individual fee, one gains access to on-site parking, an audioguide and of course the visitor centre’s services to the public. Services I happily gave up in exchange for having the place all to myself.
Many choose to visit the Causeway at sunset. We chose to go in the morning because the day before we had visited the Bushmills whiskey distillery and after that had treated ourselves to a delicious meal in town. When we checked into our hostel the sun had already set. I was finally there, the place of my teenage dreams. It was only a few hundred metres away, yet I had to wait for the morning to finally see it. I was so eager that the morning after felt like Christmas day. And getting to photograph the Causeway with no humans around definitely felt like unwrapping the best present.