Giant's Causeway and Causeway Coast (1986)
Northern Ireland -- Great Britain

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The Giant's Causeway lies at the foot of the basalt cliffs along the sea coast on the edge of the Antrim plateau in Northern Ireland. It is made up of some 40,000 massive black basalt columns sticking out of the sea. The dramatic sight has inspired legends of giants striding over the sea to Scotland. Geological studies of these formations over the last 300 years have greatly contributed to the development of the earth sciences, and show that this striking landscape was caused by volcanic activity during the Tertiary, some 5060 million years ago. 

Great Britain 1981. World Cultural Heritage. Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland. Great Britain 2004. World Cultural Heritage. Giant's Causeway and the Antrim Coast in Northern Ireland.

The lunar landscape of the Giant's Causeway, lurking below the gaunt sea wall where the land ends, must have struck wonder into the hearts of the ancient Irish. 

When the world was moulded and fashioned out of formless chaos, this must have been the bit over - a remnant of chaos. - Thackeray 

The exact location is in County Antrim, a former county of Ulster Province in northeastern Northern Ireland; Belfast was the county town. Antrim includes a hilly region on the north and east and a fertile lowland area near Lough Neagh on the southwest. Located on the northern coast is the remarkable Giant's Causeway, a cluster of thousands of hexagonal basaltic columns. County Antrim ceased to exist as an administrative unit in 1973. 

Microsoft Encarta's map of the area. 

Like the early people of North Antrim, Thackeray was very impressed by the strangeness of this place. Like other sophisticated visitors he had read that the Causeway is a geological freak, caused by volcanic eruptions, and cooling lava.

The ancients knew differently: clearly this was giants' work and, more particularly, the work of the giant Finn McCool, the Ulster warrior and commander of the king of Ireland's armies. Finn could pick thorns out of his heels while running and was capable of amazing feats of strength. Once, during a fight with a Scottish giant, he scooped up a huge clod of earth and flung it at his fleeing rival. The clod fell into the sea and turned into the Isle of Man. The hole it left filled up with water and became Lough Neagh.

Finn was said to inhabit a draughty Antrim headland: He lived most happy and content, obeyed no law and paid no rent.  When he fell in love with a lady giant on Staffa, an island in the Hebrides, he built this wide commodious highway to bring her across to Ulster.
 
Before the famous coast road was built in the 1830s visitors complained about the ruggedness of the trip. 

But there was one shining compensation on the journey: the town where tourists made their last stop before the final push to the Causeway was Bushmills. 

Ever since 1608 saddle-sore travellers had been revived with magnums of the King's whiskey at the world's oldest (legal) distillery, which is still in business. 

  • Great Britain 2002.  The coast road at Portrush in County Antrim.  Stamp number 2 in series of ten, featuring British Landscapes. 

Great Britain 2002. World Cultural Heritage. The Coast Road at Portrush in County  Antrim, Northern Ireland.

Great Britain 2001. World Cultural Heritage. Regional Symbols. Hexagonal basaltic stones at Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland.

The Causeway proper is a mass of basalt columns packed tightly together. 

The tops of the columns form stepping stones that lead from the cliff foot and disappear under the sea. 

Altogether there are 40,000 of these stone columns, mostly hexagonal but some with four, five, seven and eight sides. The tallest are about 40 feet high, and the solidified lava in the cliffs is 90 feet thick in places.

  • Great Britain 2001. Stamp number 2 in a set of four stamps "Regional Symbols".  Hexagonal basaltic stones at Giant's Causeway.

A fine circular walk will take you down to the Grand Causeway, past amphitheatres of stone columns and formations with fanciful names like the Honeycomb, the Wishing Well, the Giant's Granny and the King and his Nobles, past Port na Spaniagh where the Spanish Armada ship Girona foundered, past wooden staircase to Benbane Head and back along the cliff top.

Further down the coast, the stunning Carrick-a-rede rope bridge spans a gaping chasm between the coast and a small island used by fishermen. The terrifying eighty foot drop can be crossed via the swinging bridge - not for the faint hearted! 

Sources: 

Other World Heritage Sites in Great Britain (on this site). Inactive links are not described on postage stamps. Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, United Kingdom Section, for further information about the individual properties. 

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Revised 19 jul 2006  
Copyright 1999 Heindorffhus 
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