Exploring Garron Point
In this part of the world, every once in a while, you’ll hear a particular saying. It often follows some form of sporting success. In golf, for instance, with Rory McIlroy and his pals, we do far better than our population of 1.8 million would suggest. And, of course, there’s our football team - the Green And White Army - fresh from the most inspirational Euros championship performance, where we won applause not only for our spirited on-field performances but where our supporters also charmed all with whom they came into contact. Whatever the circumstances, sooner or later you’ll hear the phrase. Someone will utter the following words: “For a country of our size, Northern Ireland can really punch above its weight!”
A diverse landscape
I’ve often thought along similar lines when it comes to our landscape here. We may not have the biggest mountains, nor the longest rivers. But when it comes to the wide range of dramatic landscapes jam-packed into the smallest area, we are surely world-beaters! In around two and a half hours you can travel from the wave-beaten granite cliffs and rolling beaches of the Causeway Coast to begin a hike into the heart of the Kingdom of Mourne (that is, of course, if you can resist stopping off at the many photogenic locations along the way!)
But, just in case even those of us who live here are tempted to think that all Northern Ireland has to offer are the big, well known visitor attractions, then it’s good to be reminded that there are all sorts of hidden gems, scattered all around, just waiting for the intrepid explorer to happen upon their delights.
Exploring Co. Antrim
Over the past month or so, I’ve been turning my attention to my home county, County Antrim, in an effort to find out about places that I have never been before, places right on my doorstep. It started with the Ulster Way from Sallagh Braes to Scawt Hill, a delightful ramble through the Antrim Hills and up and over ancient volcanoes.
Off to Garron Point
But this past week, it took me to Co Antrim’s sublime coast road - an incredible feat of Victorian engineering that weaves around the headlands and bays of the Glens of Antrim - and up to Garron Point. I was already familiar with the headland itself, having driven around it countless times.
But what I was unaware of were the delights that are to be found if you park your car, turn towards the imposing granite cliffs of the edge of the plateau, and walk up towards them. It was a post from the guys at Hikers Blog that first tipped me off that there was even anything to explore up here. They shared a blog about their wildcamp experiences there a few weeks ago. But it was the photos especially that caught me - angular pillars of dark grey basaltic rock, jutting up out of the landscape, while the vast expanse of the Irish Sea provided a stunning back drop. In an instant, I was hooked. I had to go there, and go there soon!
For the next few nights, a combination of poor weather and other commitments meant I was unable to head out. But, on Friday night, I was free. The weather was classic Northern Irish sunshine and showers - typical summer weather, in other words! But conditions like this can make for dramatically changing light conditions and can be perfect for moody landscape photos - even if you do end up getting the odd soaking!
So I headed off, having picked my route up via Google Earth. The first part of the ascent is a gentle wee amble through classic Irish green fields. You end up following what must be an old roadway, edged on either side by trees, as you finally approach the first of your rewards: Galboly, the Hidden Village. This abandoned village, nestled in amongst the trees and backed by the rugged cliffs of the Antrim Plateau, consists of half a dozen or so single story brick buildings. Local stories tell of the inhabitants from this little hamlet sweeping down to the coast road in the 19th century to rob unsuspecting travellers journeying along the coast road below. Whether or not this is true, after walking up even the little ascent to the village, you get a sense of how resilient the inhabitants must have been. Before the coast road, this place must have been so remote. In fact, it is said that the residents made many visits across to Scotland, easily accessible via boat from here.
By 1841, the census tells us that nearly 60 people lived here. This had declined to 6 by 1951. And now, it’s totally abandoned. But what it lacks in people, it more than makes up for in mystique and charm. As I arrived, I saw the building slowly emerge from the foliage. Being early July, the plants were rich with verdant green leaves, the grass looked rich and vibrant, and the moss covered stone glowed with life. I had a bit of an explore, walking into the tiny little rooms, imagining the hardships of a remote and isolated life here.
After about 10 minutes of looking around, a glint of sun came out, shining off the old brick work. Light like this can really bring photos to life, making everything pop with depth and contrast. I snapped away, not knowing how long the light would last as the clouds streaked across the sky, carried by the brisk westerly wind.
As it turned out, the sun stayed around for a good bit - but, within a few minutes, it was joined by a heavy shower. Sunshine and showers are weather we experience frequently here in Northern Ireland - this time they both happened at once!
I took shelter by one of the buildings, underneath one of the larger trees. Before me, as the large rain drops hastened to the ground, the sun backlit the whole scene. And, with the granite cliffs providing a dramatic backdrop, the picture that opened up in front of me was truly magical. This time, I wasn’t just imagining the people who had lived there previously. But my imaginations took me to the shires, to the land of Lord of the Rings. I half expected to see the odd hobbit or two darting for cover, caught out unawares by the sudden deluge of rain.
If you have kids (or if you're a big kid at heart), you must take them here. This is truly a place that fires the imaginations, whether of historical or mythical creatures, well, we can let their imaginations decide…
As the rain died off once more, I took one or two more quick shots before heading on. For the main reason for my trip that evening lay beyond and above Galboly: the top of Garron Plateau was calling me, the sculpted granite stacks luring me on up, further and higher.