The Causeway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is one of 9 such areas in Northern Ireland, including the Binevenagh AONB and the Antrim Coast and Glens AONB on the north coast. It is also part of a 49 strong family of AONBs in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The AONB designation recognizes landscapes of national importance and helps to protect these landscapes for the people who live and work there and for visitors who come to enjoy their special qualities.
The Causeway Coast AONB stretches from the edge of Portrush in the west to Ballycastle in the east. It encompasses an area of spectacular coastal scenery stretching approximately 18 miles. Yet, despite its small size, it contains an extraordinary variety of rich natural and cultural landscapes reflected in its numerous designations:
The stones at the Giants Causeway and the surrounding cliffs were designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site (WHS) in 1986. It is one of only three ‘natural’ World Heritage Sites in the UK.
There are seven ASSIs within the AONB which cover various coastal features including cliffs, beaches and dune systems. These areas are important for their ecological and geological value. Under the European Union’s Habitats Directive, these areas are designated to protect some of the most seriously threatened habitats and species across Europe. The coastline between Runkerry and White Park Bay forms part of the North Antrim Coast candidate SAC which has been selected for various coastal habitats.
Under the European Union’s Birds Directive, Sheep Island has been classified a Special Protection Area (SPA) for its internationally important Cormorant population. The area of the Giant’s Causeway is designated a National Nature Reserve (NNR) for its geological uniqueness and diversity of plant communities from shoreline habitats to heathland on the cliff tops.
There is a substantial number of ancient monuments in the AONB including, for example, passage tombs and raths, earthworks at Dunluce and the ruins of Dunseverick Castle.
There are three State Care Monuments owned and managed by the Environmental Heritage Service, EHS, within the AONB; Dunluce Castle, Lissanduff Earthworks and Kinbane Castle.
The central area of Bushmills is designated a Conservation Area in recognition of its architectural and historic interest giving rise to its particular character and sense of place. The AONB has a substantial number of listed buildings, the majority occurring in settlements such as Bushmills but also including rural vernacular buildings and structures associated with farming and fishing.
The Causeway Coast Way, which is part of the Ulster Way long distance route, passes through the length of the AONB and is one of a network of waymarked ways throughout Northern Ireland.
The Causeway Coast ALIVE experience which is incorporated into this website will allow you to travel throughout the AONBs and experience the thrill of living along the Causeway Coast Route. You will be able to look at the outstanding views and activities and plan your journey well in advance.
We take this opportunity to welcome you to Northern Ireland and we know you will enjoy immensely all that you will see in travelling on your journey whether it be on the CCR ALIVE website or actually out on the Route with your mobile phone.
The Antrim Coast road and the Glens of Antrim are one of the most varied, beautiful and exciting experiences any traveller can encounter. Relaxing or exhilarating, it is a land of contrasts, hardness and softness, cold and warmth, power and peace. And the contrasts begin with land and the sea, the interface of life.
The sea is ever changing, sometimes silent and inviting like a tropical pool, a lagoon of pampered smooth, deep green and blue, lace at the edges with gentle white. Sometimes raging with uncontrollable fury, smashing its anger against the shore. Sometimes it seems to win, punching the cliffs, breaking off boulders. Spitting it back on the beaches, sometimes thousands of tons of sand move from one beach to the next and then, for no reason at all, the spirit of the sea quietens, slipping back to the deep and calms again.
The Dun, the Dall, the Margy and Bush, the Bann and Foyle read like a poem of the journey. The rivers have their own tales to tell, how they rise in the Antrim hills, the Sperrins and the Mournes and grow from every tiny stream until they reach their destiny at the coast. Sometimes salty, sometimes fresh as tides move in and out, and salmon change their living too from the depths of the deep to jumping at the weirs of the Bann and the Bush
There is another, longer, journey. The great adventure of Caribbean eels that come here too, every year, to ride the rapids bound for their birthplace at the rising of the rivers.
And there’s the land, sheer rising from the ocean or as flat as can be. Cliffs of black and white or golden shining sands. That tell of the beginnings of this place and the ways it has worn away. That, a hundred million years ago everything in view lay under tropic seas while a billion, billion creatures lived and died to become the whiteness of the limestone. And then the world moved round so seabed became bedrock along the Antrim coast. Stranded much further north it waited, sulking, for the next chapters to open. It would have been more contented if it had known what was to come. How could the rock expect a hell of fire and brimstone? When land burst out with lava and volcanoes ruled above and rained down ash and poured out melted rock until it reached the sea. Sixty five million years ago, the lava reached the water’s edge, exploding into steam and creating the great black cliffs that are the Antrim coast.
And at the Causeway it split, like a mud road in the sun, into column after column and cooled. The days of making stone were done. But the world had turned again and this time it grew cold. So cold that ice, a mile thick, moved south and ground the mountains down leaving rounded hills and valleys full of sand, basalt crushed to dust that makes its slow way to the sea.
So there it is. A land born in tropical calm and unimaginable turmoil, weathered for millennia to heights and bogs and shore and stream. The salty sea, the brown-freshwater from the upland bogs, the acid basalt and alkaline limestone would all work together by the time man first came here.
And come he did, across the sea from Scotland ten thousand years ago, to a barren shrubby land that was filled with things he valued. To eat, the seas teemed with fish of every kind. The cod and plaice and halibut, the lobster, crab and limpet. And inland some roe deer, suckling pig and duck sustained the first Irishmen as they exploited the flint. This special stone, that took an edge sharper that any modern scalpel, lived within the limestone and moulded their lives. And when the first farmers arrived, they too exploited the flint and exported it and shaped the farms and fisheries of the coast we see today.
So what, today? Only the most beautiful Legends and Stories that seem fanciful from afar come to life in an instant. A step into the woods or along a riverbank transports to another time and place. Away from truck and traffic, away from mortal folk. But wait, there are the mortals too.
The castle built on Fergus’ rock, impregnable as the cliffs. The tower built by Turnley to keep Cushendall from harm. The citadel of Dunworry, which sent for help from Scotland. Dunluce of fact and fable, brooding in the sunsets. And the miracle of Mussenden, a lighthouse of the enlightened age.
The Antrim coast, land of a thousand views, a different landscape at every glance. Take the time to go inland, only for a minute…
From Ballintoy go up Knocksoghey way. First the harbour nestling safe within the cliffs, or the rope bridge hanging, swinging, precarious between the blocks of basalt. Climb hard up to the crest and every inch a higher view. Looking back what is it like?
Like a first take off in a plane as the ground gets smaller. As elation begins to bite the nervy feeling in the stomach soon gives way to wonder. Over the lip of the saucer of Ireland, as the coast is disappearing, it is instant upland bog which goes for many miles high above the coast.
Purple heathers, bog cotton and barren unspoilt and yellow gorse the whole year round. Weathering winter storms or basking in the summer warmth, its orangeglow smell of vanilla coconut earns the love of bumblebees. And locals have a saying here, that kissing’s out of season when the gorse is not in bloom. And all around the land, the food, the cattle and the pigs and chickens, potatoes, corn and wheat, every year the basalt soil gives and gives and gives. Centred on Victorian farmsteads and their neat yards and fuel from the peat bogs, cut for so many seasons, to heat and cook the food.
And more and more the cliffs and beaches. Red bay, Dun and Dall keep their sands, but north, each grain of sand makes its own journey. Quiet as a forest fern, the sands are moving west. Pushing rivers westward, migrating inch by inch every time a wave comes in and leaving us the treasure of their broad gold trail.
Ballycastle, White Park, Portrush and Portstewart, Grangemore and then Magilligan, fifteen miles in the walking and every one a gem. The beaches look the same when viewed from far away but lift any hand of sand and look into its mysteries, a world onto itself, each colour of its grains has had a different story.
The limestone from a tropical sea, the basalt from the bowels of the earth, and those tiny specks of black are precious garnet, harder than the rest. And now and then, a little pebble glows in sunlight, a tiny nugget of fossil resin, which has swum to here from Denmark. Amber or Electra, a mystic ancient stone that gives off sparks when rubbed with silk
What are the stories of the stones? The first men quarried flint to make their tools and weapons. The next had embraced religion and split the massive boulders that glaciers dropped and made their megaliths, great chambers for their important dead that light up on each midsummer. They used the sand to polish axes and found schist to make their querns, grinding the first corn, and more enduring than the crops, every home and farm has harvested the basalt which lies in every road and path and laneway and rises in the buildings.
But cross the Margy heading east and the buildings change. Here people cut old red sandstone and just across the bridge the medieval friary and further on Francis Turnley’s tower and the church at Layd and every bridge along the way are red.
In the Glens the land and sea made ways of life different from the north. Before the road was cut they fished and farmed in isolation .
The only way of travelling, to the Isles and greater Scotland. And did you know the Glens named Scotland? The first Scots lived here, along the Antrim coasts and the Romans called them Scotii and they got the name of giants from their fearsome raids and battles. And on one raid, bringing a slave called Patrick.
How were they to know, what a torrent they had unleashed? Beginning from the Slemish Mountain other worlds indeed.
And that is where you should be. Relax, be calm Let gentle folk take command of your thought and imagining. It isn’t hard. They will guide you, but take care, there is the odd spirit that is bent on mischief. Alluring into places where mortals shouldn’t go. They seem to hide in darker places, but that just isn’t so. They are everywhere. They guard the mountain tops, And roam wide-ranging sands
Back into the living land and curling round the winding road To the next place and the next Wondering if staying with present enchantments is best Or is there better still to come?
And you know there always is and as droplets of the bounce of waterfalls. Or waves along the shore are drying Another place is calling,
Come to me and I’ll show you
More worlds of wonder
And all you have to do is let me in.