“Landscapes of great wonder and beauty lie under our feet and all around us. They are discovered in tunnels in the ground, the heart of flowers, the hollows of trees, fresh-water ponds, seaweed jungles between tides, and even drops of water. Life in these hidden worlds is more startling in reality than anything we can imagine. How could this earth of ours, which is only a speck in the heavens, have so much variety of life, so many curious and exciting creatures?” Walt Disney Company
Stretching from Belfast Lough to Lough Foyle the Causeway Coast and Glens is a unique area full of contrasts and dramatic landscapes which have inspired the history, the culture, the folklore and a legend of giants. This landscape of ‘great wonder and beauty’ includes the Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland’s only World Heritage site and one of only three in the entire island of Ireland. The area includes three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty: the Causeway Coast AONB, the Antrim Coast and Glens AONB, the Binevenagh AONB. The Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust area also encompasses a small northern section of the Sperrin AONB.
Renowned for its spectacular coastal scenery the area contains several Ramsar sites including Belfast Lough, Larne Lough, the Garron Plateau and Lough Foyle all of which are recognised as having international significance for bird conservation. The spectacular coastal scenery contrasts with the unspoilt landscape of the Glens of Antrim, the upland character of Binevenagh and the foothills of the Sperrins. The area comprises the fertile farmland of Mid Antrim and the Bann valley. Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland’s only inhabited offshore island is situated within the Causeway Coast and Glens and is noted for its tranquillity, beauty and spectacular seabird colonies. The island is infused with history, mystery, myth and legends including those of Robert the Bruce.
With the cold northern waters meeting the warm southern waters it is important to mention that more than half of Northern Ireland’s biodiversity lies within the sea including many rare sponges, sea anemones and hydroids. The dramatic cliffs tower over the sites of many shipwrecks the richest and most famous being the wreck of the Spanish Armada galleass, the Girona, a craft that had sunk on 28 October 1588 at Lacada Point at the Giant’s Causeway. With such a varied range of landscapes the biodiversity of the Causeway Coast and Glens area is remarkably rich and varied.
The Causeway Coast and Glens area is steeped in history and an absolute haven for archaeologists and historians. With the longest settlement record in Ireland it is no surprise that the area boasts a rich heritage. At Mountsandel, in Coleraine, archaeologists have found evidence of a human settlement more than 9000 years old. In 2011 a major archaeological dig on the north Antrim coast unearthed significant areas of the lost town of Dunluce. There is a wealth of scheduled monuments and historic monuments within the Causeway Coast and Glens. This includes over 2000 listed buildings and 12 conservation areas including the coastal villages of Glenarm, Carnlough, Cushendall, Cushendun and Ballycastle. Other unique settlements include for example Carrickfergus, Merville Garden City, the Moravian village of Gracehill, the Victorian railway town of Whitehead and the village of Bushmills with its famous distillery.
The area also has a rich cultural heritage with a strong oral and musical tradition which draws from the folklore and legends of the area. With the Mull of Kintyre only 12 miles away, the Scottish influence has been particularly strong and is reflected in dialect, place names, music and song particularly around the Glens of Antrim, the Braid Valley and North Antrim. North Derry has its own close associations with Donegal whilst other parts of the area inland from Limavady and Coleraine associate more closely with the Sperrins. As a further contrast the Carrickfergus and Newtownabbey areas link closely with Greater Belfast whilst the Lower Bann has associations with Lough Neagh.
Economically Carrickfergus, Newtownabbey, Ballymena and Coleraine are all important as both business and retail centres. Coleraine was one of the two urban communities developed by the London Companies in County Londonderry in the Plantation of Ulster at the start of the 17th century. In addition to this Larne is one of Northern Ireland’s main ferry ports. Ferry access is also available to the region from Donegal via Magilligan and from Scotland via Ballycastle. The City of Derry airport is situated in the North West close to Limavady.
Farming is an important industry within the area. Whilst arable farming predominates in North Derry, potatoes are an important crop within other parts of the region. Dairy farming is important in the lowland areas whilst upland areas such as the Glens of Antrim, North Derry and the Sperrins are noted for sheep farming.
Tourism is an important employer throughout the area but particularly on the North Coast which includes the resorts of Portstewart, Portrush and Ballycastle. The Causeway Coastal Route is a way-marked 120 mile trail of outstanding scenic drives and attractions which link Belfast to Derry/Londonderry incorporating a plethora of unique honey pots and hidden gems for visitors to discover and explore including: Glenariff Forest park and waterfalls, Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, the old fishing village of Portbradden, the fossil-rich cove at Whitepark bay, Slemish mountain with the history of St Patrick, Rathlin island, Dunluce Castle, Benone Strand, Downhill Estate and the world famous golf courses. All of these combined make up what has deservedly been described as ‘one of the world’s great road journeys’. The most popular visitor attraction is the Giant’s Causeway World Heritage Site which underwent a major refurbishment from 2010 to 2012 with the construction of a state of the art visitor centre fit for the 21st century. The visitor centre aims to attract in excess of one million annual visitors generating a sustainable and economic growth in tourism for the Causeway Coast & Glens area and for Northern Ireland.