North Coast, Northern Ireland, photography, walking

Fabulous Fairhead & Murlough Bay

Saturday 19th August 2017

Fairhead & Murlough Bay (6 miles)

We knew we needed a reasonable day to walk this headland and the forecast, “a generally dry day with scattered showers, heavy at times”, did not sound too promising. However, thankfully we dodged the passing rain showers and we had a dry, if slightly windy, walk around the new perimeter trail from Fairhead to Murlough Bay.

Fairhead, or Benmore, has the tallest sea cliffs in Northern Ireland, at almost 600 feet high, and is situated about 5 miles east of Ballycastle, Co. Antrim.  We were excited, if not a tad nervous, as we negotiated the narrow road down to the well signed fairhead car park, complete with honesty box!


Fairhead Car Park
Fairhead Car Park Tariffs

The newly installed information boards were bursting with details, so with maps in hand we set off to explore.  Before long we encountered a local farmer on his tractor who was keen to point out a well signed private lane.  Although he was friendly enough we don’t think that he has been too impressed with the influx of tourists to the area because as he drove off he commented “the problem is not everyone uses a map!”

Anyway, our walk began with a gradual ascent over an open field to reach our first way-marker. Here, we experienced our first of many views, and we also felt the full force of the strong onshore wind! Ballycastle town was gleaming in the distance, while Doonmore Fort and Knocklayde sat up proudly on the skyline.

View of Ballycastle from Fairhead
View of Ballycastle from Fairhead
Doonmore Fort with Knocklayde in the distance

In the opposite direction Rathlin Island could be seen. Unfortunately the visibility wasn’t good enough to see Scotland, we’ll just have to return on a sunnier day! However the threatening rain clouds added to the atmosphere of walking such a rugged cliff edge trail. Each Waymarker has hidden information panels which can be pushed out to read and yet remain protected from the force of the elements when not required – a very clever idea!

A bit further on a small Passage Tomb sits near the cliff edge just off the trail and it was unnerving to think about what we were walking over.

Passage Tomb

As we headed towards Lough Doo we spotted some rock climbers braving the elements … and plenty of sheep! Lough Doo is one of 3 loughs on the headland, with Lough na Cranagh and Lough Fadden being the other two.

Rock climbers braving the elements
This guy wasn’t camera shy!
Threatening rain clouds
Lough Doo

Before Grey Man’s path there were some amazing natural sculptures. In fact it was amazing to think we were walking on the top of basalt columns!

Amazing cliffs, with Rathlin Island in the distance
Did someone drop something? 
Lough na Cranagh with Knocklayde in the distance

Passing Lough na Cranagh in the distance the crannog looked like a monster on the surface.

Crannog, Lough na Cranagh

At the hamlet of Coolanlough we crossed over into National Trust property and headed towards Murlough Bay.  The terrain became more colourful as we walked through purple heather clad ground.

Purple Heather
Rathlin Island through the heather
Rugged Landscape

The trail became slightly harder to negotiate but some yellow dots painted on the rocks kept us right!

Human dots on the landscape!

We reached Murlough Bay in time for some well deserved lunch and actually managed to have it in the dry despite the threat of rain!

Murlough Bay
Brave sheep

At Murlough Bay there is a memorial to Sir Rodger Casement and an information board with lots of historical details.

Memorial, Murlough Bay
Benmore poem, looking across the bay

We returned to the car park via the blue Lough na Cranagh trail. It was a tad breezy and we did feel that we were battling into a headwind as we retraced our steps back to the farmtrack. However, despite not perfect conditions, everyone really enjoyed the day as we chatted over coffee in Thyme & Co Café back in Ballycastle.

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