Occupying the frontline between ocean and land, coastlines stand at the forefront of natural and human drama. Battered by storms and invasions alike, it’s a rare stretch of shoreline that doesn’t have a story to tell.
Antrim’s Causeway Coast is renowned for its geological diversity. Fascinating natural landforms abound, yet there are just as many historic sites to arouse the senses. The series of promontory castles between Ballycastle and Portrush is particularly intriguing. You’ll need a car to travel between the sites, then good footwear to explore each fortress thoroughly.
Just outside Bushmills, the ruins of Kinbane Castle are hidden at the base of spectacular limestone cliffs. Begin by descending a flight of 140 steps, with views along the remote coastline growing ever more expansive.
Occupying a narrow headland of rock, the castle is relatively inaccessible by land but commands an extensive outlook over the water. The building dates from 1547 and remains an evocative place. The occupying MacDonnell clan suffered several sieges; the hollow beneath the castle was named Lag na Sassenach (Hollow of the English) after a garrison of attacking English soldiers were surrounded and killed here in the 16th century.
Moving west, the next castle of note is Dunseverick. There’s little left to explore today, yet this was a key site in ancient Ireland. St Patrick visited during the 5th century, and 100 years later the family of Ireland’s High King lived here, with the ancient Slige Midluachra (High King’s Road) linking Dunseverick to Tara.
Viking raiders attacked in 870, but the castle remained occupied until it was destroyed by Cromwellian troops in the 1650s. Today only the ruins of the gate lodge remain. View it from afar, or scramble carefully down a gully and up the other side for closer inspection.
Closer to Portrush, Dunluce Castle is the most intact and spectacular of the set. Perched atop a basalt outcrop and connected to the mainland via a bridge, this outpost takes the notion of promontory fort to the extreme. Its precipitous cliffs and dramatic escarpments inspired the castle of Pyke in Game of Thrones.
Evidence of settlement dates from the first millennium, with the present castle built during the 16th and 17th centuries. It’s well worth the entry fee. You can even descend a stairway to a sea cave deep beneath the castle.
Helen Fairbairn has worked as a professional outdoor writer for the past 20 years.