In the days leading up to our trek through Northern Ireland, one site seemed to dance off of every traveler’s lips: The Giant’s Causeway. When are we going? What day will we finally see it? I knew it to be a grand, geological rock mass with a complementing bookend off the coast of Scotland, but I did not know why people spoke of it with such reverence, such desire to climb its strange hexagonal pillars.
During the two weeks our tour spent driving, walking, and flying around both the Republic of Ireland as well as Northern Ireland, we had seen castles and rolling hills, buildings that witnessed wars and statues that had survived sieges and gunfire. By the time we reached our penultimate day on the gorgeous island of emerald, I very much doubted that anything I could see would impress me as much, or more than the splendor already witnessed. One final time, however, Ireland reminded me of how little I knew of the world and all its beauty. Our tour guide told us, “If you are at all able, walk down to the Causeway. Do not take the shuttle. The coast will open up for you more beautifully on foot—this way, you will truly earn the view.”
I thought it was a peculiar thing to say. “Earn the view.” Two weeks of traipsing through Dublin, Cork, and Tipperary, around the Ring of Kerry, and across the rainy streets of Belfast, and all I had truly earned were debilitating blisters on all ten of my toes. The wonderful anomaly of Ireland had welcomed me without asking me to earn a thing, or to prove myself worthy of its marvels. It was just there, waiting for me to open my eyes or turn my head. I figured the Causeway would be the same.
The walk down from the Visitor’s Center at Giant’s Causeway was steep and crowded. A morning of misty rain had broken for just long enough to give way to a beautiful cliff side of green mountains and jagged, dark silver rock masses. I walked downward and out closer to the sea, further into the mouth of Fionn mac Cumhaill’s home, the legendary great Giant that inhabited the Causeway in years long ago. On the long, sloping trail, I passed dozens of travelers like myself, all with our audio tour devices pressed to our ears, explaining the folklore and mythology of the coastline we now wandered through. I must have heard fifteen different languages echoing from the little green devices all visitors held, a multilingual chorus welcoming us to know our surroundings a little better.
Witnessing the scenery I found myself engulfed in, it struck me for the first time that the legends, the tales of giants and druids and folklore so rich one could lose oneself in it, seemed so much more probable an explanation than actual science, logic or fact. Geologists explain the formation as a marvel, the uncanny manner in which hot lava cooled to form stair-like basalt columns. When the site lay there in front of my eyes, however, I felt that some greater force or being had to be responsible for such a higher class of beauty. The hexagonal rocks varied in size and hue, some dark black and others a sandstone color. Some appeared to be fifty feet tall, others shrunk from view into the crashing waves. The stones were kind enough to invite the brave to climb them, and the braver still to dance on their flat surfaces. Like bricks on a humid summer day, the rocks of the Causeway are slippery, and only ocean or more hard rock meet your fall if you misstep.
If the Giant’s Causeway itself was all there was to see, it would be enough. If all that lay on this stretch of coastline were strangely shaped rocks of varying heights, it would in itself be a great world wonder. Just beyond the rocks, however, if you have the stamina to keep going, hide sights even more beautiful than what has already been seen. Before me, the ocean and skies opened up so wide and so brilliantly it was difficult for my eyes to take it all in at once. The air felt different in my lungs, and the heights to which I climbed brought a sort of clarity that the inside of my head may not have ever known before.
My experience on this cliff side made me realize how utterly grateful I was for the legs that faultlessly carried me higher up, and I felt such great love for the strength of my lungs as they caught the rough wind inside of them. I left my phone in my backpack, quickly realizing that pictures are but half-magic; no technology yet discovered could capture what surrounded me. The sea rose up to meet me, the horizon stared me straight in the face. The Irish rain could not hold itself back for long, and soon it came down fast and hard, whipping into the inlets and coves around me, and I watched it fall in sideways torrents and silver-white sheets. Gray rock turned strangely to red rock the further I made it up the long trail. When at last I reached the end of the line, I wished very much that I could experience the journey again, for the very first time. The only consolation of my dissent back down the cliff side was that I had the privilege of bidding farewell to the great view in reverse, like watching an artist un-paint a painting or a film rewound to its very first scene.
Do not let the heavy wind deter you, or the slick rock face make you weary. Go to the Giant’s Causeway with one goal in mind: keep climbing. Keep climbing, traveler, until you have reached the very top.