The Antrim Coast Road is one of the top rides in the UK, running along the north-eastern coast of Northern Ireland. You can start the ride at either end, Belfast or Portstewart, it doesn’t really matter which way you ride – the scenery will be great either way.
This is not a fast ride; the roads can be busy, and they are best enjoyed at a leisurely pace. There are plenty of places to stop along the way for coffees, a bit of culture or a very cold dip in the sea. The route is under 100 miles long, even with some little detours, but with so many things to see and do there, allow a full day.
To help you navigate the route, it’s worth noting that all the road signs guiding your way around it call it the Causeway Coastal Route, but everyone else calls it the Antrim Coast Road. There’s probably some logic behind that…
We started the ride from Belfast after sailing there on a Stena Line ferry from the Cairngorms. The interesting bit of the route starts as soon as you leave Larne, and the Antrim Coast Road opens up. It follows the coast as close to the water as you can possibly get, providing wonderful views of the Irish Sea.
The road is not ideal for fast riding, and it goes through a number of villages. The best thing to do is to just take it easy and enjoy the views.
If you fancy a stop with a little history lesson, there are plenty of opportunities for that — one of them being in Carnlough, where you can find the Londonderry Arms Hotel, once owned by Churchill, right on the main street.
A little further up the road, Cushendun, a village with Cornish-style houses designed by Sir Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis, is not quite what you’d expect to see in Northern Ireland, but it’s worth a quick gander.
A diversion from the Antrim Coast Road to the Torr Head Route gets you to Murlough Bay, a beautiful and wonderfully quiet little spot at the end of a single-track road. It’s a detour from the main road, no doubt about that, but it’s definitely one worth taking. The Torr Head Route is nice riding too, although narrow enough to keep you hoping no lorries or buses are coming the other way.
From Murlough Bay it’s on to Ballycastle, then a little skip off the route to Ballintoy Harbour to admire the coastline, which looks more rugged and unforgiving than many other harbour areas.
The main attraction around this part of the country is in no doubt — the Giant’s Causeway draws the crowds from near and far. Most will pay £10 to park at the visitor centre and walk or take a shuttle bus to the stone formations. Nothing wrong with that, but just as easily you can park next door at the Causeway Hotel. It costs the same £10 for cars to park there, or you can squeeze two bikes into one parking place for the same price. And if you go and have drinks or food at the hotel, you get the parking fee off your bill. So, you park, have a sandwich, and then wander down to the stones. Nice!
The Giant’s Causeway is made of about 40,000 interlocking stone columns. Whether they were stacked there by an ancient volcanic eruption or quarrelling giants is up for debate, but either way, it’s an impressive sight.
After the causeway, the next obvious place to stop is the old Bushmills distillery, just down the road. Possibly the oldest distillery in the world, it has a great shop and pre-booked tours if you are into your whiskey.
You can then carry on to Portrush and Portstewart before turning back towards Belfast, or you can head south to Ballymoney, and visit Joey’s Bar, which used to be owned by none other than Joey Dunlop himself. Filled with racing history, the bar is also nicely located if you want to explore the NW200 road racing route. From there, you can get back to Belfast pretty quickly, although the roads aren’t the most interesting. The other option is to retrace your steps and do the coast road in the other direction.
For most of us, the trip to Northern Ireland starts with crossing the Irish Sea, and Stena Line offers a great way to cross over to Belfast either from Cairnryan or Liverpool. The ferries are modern and comfortable, with an option to upgrade your journey with a cabin or access to a lounge. The smart money goes for the Stena+ lounge access. It includes comfy seating, and all the snacks and drinks you can manage. You’ll easily get your money’s worth, so it basically pays for itself.
For further information, visit www.stenaline.co.uk