Kinbane Castle, Ballycastle, County Antrim

Kinbane Castle isnt really a place many seem to know about here, even though it lies between Ballintoy and Ballycastle and is quite well signposted from the main road. We had never stopped here before ourselves and we really didn’t expect much as we pulled into the car park but all I can say is… wow!….. once you discover what this place looks like I reckon you’ll be back. The area is stunning and we were kinda ashamed that some American and German tourists were already here (when we arrived) given we had never even seen the place. Not too much is known about Kinbane, but it didnt last very long after being constructed it seems. The castle was built by Colla of the MacDonnell clan, the clan who also built many other castles and buildings in the area including Dunluce and Dunseverick. The English laid siege to it within a few years of its completion in 1551 as they were getting a bit concerned about the strength of the ruling MacDonnell Clan (and their friendly connections with Scotland just across the water), but the castle prevailed at this point. Another attack took place in 1555 however where the castle was partly destroyed by cannon fire but it was rebuilt afterwards.  The hollow below the castle is known as Lag na Sassenach (Hollow of the English) and it was allegedly during the 16th century that a garrison of English soldiers laying siege to the castle were surrounded and massacred. Fires lit on the headland as calls for assistance were answered by clansmen who came from all directions and surrounded the garrison rolling rocks onto the English below crushing their advances. Game of Thrones for real eh?

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Hopefully you can read the information on the 1st picture here (click for large high def) and this second photo is your 1st glimpse of the castle.

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When you arrive at the castle car park you’re pretty high up, and the surrounding area and views are just amazing. Just look at those cliffs (and the beautiful June weather). Thats Fair Head in the distance btw.

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The view of the castle taken from about halfway down the descent to sea level, and when you reach the bottom you’ll come to another sign with more information and a further sign warning of your possible doom haha (erm, and I wouldn’t take it lightly either, if you’re going out to the end of the headland be very careful!)

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A stunning location for a castle though it was placed here (of course) for strategic reasons. The second picture was taken from inside the tower looking out, and the third picture is of one of the remaining “gun loops” – ie. where they placed the huge cannons (you can see some of the steps down to the castle in the last picture).

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Just below the castle are the ruins of what looks like some old fishery, Im not sure of the history of this, but I expect its a few hundred years old rather than several (like the castle). It provides a nice backdrop to the area however.

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The first two of these pictures were taken from the cliff top behind the castle and in the first one (if you look closely towards the right) you might be able to see some people standing beside the old fishery shown in the pictures above. This will give you a sense of the scale of the place and the heights involved. The people in the second picture are sitting right at the very tip/end of the precipice shown on the third pic. Honestly, this is only for the brave and likely very dangerous in Winter!

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Kinbane Castle, still projecting its dominance 500yrs later. You really should visit here.

Cave Hill, Cavehill, Belfast, County Antrim

Cave Hill, sometimes spelt as Cavehill, is a basaltic hill overlooking the city of Belfast. It forms part of the southeastern border of the Antrim Plateau. Historically it was known as Ben Madigan, which is derived from the Irish Beann Mhadagáin, meaning “Madagán’s peak”—so named after a king of Ulster called Madagán who died in 856AD.

All of Belfast can be seen from its peak and Cave Hill is thought to be the inspiration for Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels as Swift imagined that Cave Hill resembled the shape of a sleeping giant safeguarding the city.

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Cave Hill rises to almost 370 metres (1200 ft) above sea level. Most of its lower east side lies on the Belfast Castle estate. The slopes of Cave Hill were originally used as farmland but, from the 1880s, a major planting exercise was undertaken, producing the now familiar deciduous and coniferous woodland landscape. Belfast Castle estate was given to the City of Belfast by The 9th Earl of Shaftesbury in 1934.

There are three large caves. The lowest is 21 feet long, 18 feet wide and varies from 7 to 10 feet in height. Above this is another cave; 10 feet long, 7 feet wide and 6 feet in height. Above this is the third major cave, said to be divided into 2 unequal parts, each of which is more extensive than the larger of the other caves, but the ascent is notoriously dangerous and thus few venture up to it. The caves are entirely man-made, and it is thought that they were originally excavated for iron-mining.

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This is the easiest cave to access and the most easily visible from below. The climb up to this point (from the grounds of Belfast Castle) is probably the most tiresome part of the Cave Hill climb but its not beyond most peoples ability. Bring some water if you’re going up in the warmer months (and a coat in the colder ones!).

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The views from the top are pretty amazing with one side of the water being County Antrim, and the other County Down. You can see all of Belfast Lough and the ship here is the Stenaline service heading for Scotland (the vague shadow on the horizon). The chimney to the distant left of the picture is Kilroot power station which provides electricity for one third of Northern Ireland, and in the bottom foreground of the picture you can see Belfast Zoo (the brown bear cage I think).

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McArt’s Fort on the summit of the hill, is an example of an old ráth or ring fort. It is protected on one side by a precipice and on the others by a single ditch, 10 feet in depth and 25 feet in width. The enclosed area is nearly level. The flat top of the fort is 150 feet from north to south, and 180 feet from east to west. It is believed that the fort’s inhabitants used the caves to store food for the winter and may have served as a refuge during times of attack. If you look towards the bottom of the last picture you can see a cave there.

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Its certainly a nice trip out here as you get to explore the castle grounds before your climb (even entertain the kids with its adventure playground too) and to have a bit of wilderness so close to a city is pretty unique. Who would have thought, that even in March (and NI) you can get out and enjoy the countryside 🙂

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The residential neighbourhood at the foot of Cave Hill’s entrance is derivatively known as Ben Madigan, with street names to match, and is a wealthy semi-outer city, semi-suburban area. The name ‘Ben Madigan’ can also be found attached to buildings, schools etc. close to the area, e.g. the Belfast Royal Academy has the Ben Madigan Preparatory School on the Antrim Road.

During World War II, a bomb dropped during a German bombing raid on Belfast exploded, causing a large crater near the grounds of Belfast Castle. It is understood that RAF Bomber Command was situated on Cave Hill in the early years of WWII before relocating to Castle Archdale in County Fermanagh. On 1 June 1944, an American Air Force B-17 bomber crashed into Cave Hill during heavy fog, killing all ten crew instantly. The incident inspired Richard Attenborough’s film, “Closing the Ring” and some scenes of the film were shot on Cave Hill.

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One for you cloud spotters, and the rolling Belfast hill walkers.

Ballintoy, County Antrim. Game of Thrones, Pyke Harbour

So not long now until the premiere of Season 5 of Game of Thrones (12th April 2015) so I thought Id mark that with a little mention of Ballintoy which substituted as Pyke Harbour in Season 2 of the series. A permanent plaque stands there now for visiting fans to read and it looks as if Northern Ireland will be home to the show for a while longer as Season 6 will also be filmed here. Ballintoy is a quiet little village with an attractive small harbour, but walk left around the headland and it has some amazing scenery. There are also some caves you can enter (though you may need wellingtons). 

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Some information.

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Do you remember this place? Its probably pretty recognizable as Pyke harbour even without the special effects.

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On the left is Roarks Kitchen, which is a little cottage style cafe that’s been serving lovely food here for 35yrs. And on the right is another view of the harbour used in Game of Thrones.

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Now follow the path left, walking away from the harbour and past this little house (there’s a cave before you get there you could maybe walk into, though it might have some shallow water in it).

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The view ahead.

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You can climb up some of the huge grass covered rocks (be careful) which have trails left by local sheep. Once at the top of this one, the view back to the harbour is quite amazing (you should be able to see it in the distance here).

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A huge eroded arch just off the shore, and a bit further out…….. arrrgh….. a shark!! 🙂

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Its easy to see here how vast the immediate landscape is, with all its greenery, yet having a look like some strange alien planet. And in this first picture you might just be able to see a little church on top of the hill. This is Ballintoy church, built in 1813 and seen closer in the second picture. Ballintoy is definitely worth stopping off at if you’re visiting the north coast, even if you’re not a fan of Game of Thrones 🙂