There are different variations on the tale of the Giant’s Causeway, but they all share one thing in common: the much beloved Irish giant Finn McCool. One version has it that he was insulted by the Scottish giant Benandonner from across the Irish sea. Enraged by the subsequent quarrel, Finn began lifting giant pieces of earth and throwing them into the sea to form a pathway for him to cross over for a showdown.

But by the time Finn McCool was done, he had lost his nerve. So he came up with, appropriately, a cunning plan. He disguised himself as a sleeping baby in a cot, and when Benandonner turned up, Finn’s wife told him that Finn was away but showed him his ‘son’. Benandonner was taken aback: if the son was so big, how huge would the father be? He then hastily turned back along the causeway Finn had formed, breaking it up into pieces along the way.

That’s how the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Belfast, Northern Ireland was formed. And my trip there back in April last year is the focus of my first post of 2013. I’ve just done a Sunday Life story  about 1o places to visit in 2013, and while the Giant’s Causeway isn’t in the list, it’s certainly well worth considering.

Belfast, Giant's Causeway

The Giant’s Causeway

Of course, the more prosaic, scientifically based truth about the Causeway has to do with a volcanic eruption some 65 million years ago that formed a series of interlocking basalt columns. Centuries of weathering have also resulted in some unusual, and stunningly beautiful, rock formations (more on that later). But I’d much rather go with the story of the giants. Here’s one of the unusual formations called – of course – the Giant’s Boot.

Giant's Causeway, Belfast

Giant’s Boot

Belfast is a 90 min flight from London, and filled with some really friendly and charming people. The city is finally emerging from four decades of The Troubles, or sectarian violence, that resulted in many casualties. As testament to its growing allure, key scenes from fantasy epic series Game of Thrones were shot in Belfast. Unfortunately, my travel buddy Ding and I didn’t see any dragons or Dothraki, though I did geek out when the guide pointed out a few of the shooting locations. All they really looked like were rolling green hills, though.

Unless you’re planning to drive, you’ll have to book a day tour to the Giant’s Causeway, which will set you back from 20 pounds. We went with McComb’s, but you can also check out other companies such as Giant’s Causeway Tours and Odyssey Coach Tours. It’s a couple of hours drive outside of Belfast, and the tour took in other sights such as the town of Ballycastle and the sights of the North Antrim Coast, but the effort is well worth it.

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Giant's Causeway

It was our bad luck that a constant drizzle and the bracing sea winds sent the temperature down to a freezing 3 degrees Celsius, and covered the surrounding cliffs in a sometimes impenetrable fog. But the  unusual formations I mentioned earlier, which are somehow perfectly formed, were still completely  visible.

Giant's Causeway, Belfast, UNESCO

The Organ

Giant's Causeway, Belfast, UNESCO

Giant's Causeway

These steps in the background felt almost like a cathedral.

Giant's Causeway, Belfast

The cliffs surrounding the Giant’s Causeway.

Giant's Causeway, Belfast

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My travel buddy Ding and I quickly discovered that taking a walk on the surrounding cliffs, while scenic, was potentially hazardous to life and limb. The winds were so strong that they threatened to knock us over at times, and we proceeded rather cautiously. Here’s an illustration of how strong the winds were:

By the end of the day, we were soaked and cold and tired. But the visions of battling giants, and the sight of the dark rocks plunging into the sea, would not go away, and remain in my head to this day.

Belfast is a lovely and charming place, with lots to see and do. Would you like me to write more about it? Tweet me or mail me or just leave a comment here.