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17 September 2014
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Tourist honeypots - Giant's Causeway

Rocky wonderland

Giant's Causeway (Image: Northern Ireland Tourist Board)

The Giant's Causeway is a geological jewel and one of the most impressive natural wonders in the UK. Beyond its world famous 40,000 basalt steps, there's a wealth of wildlife to be discovered.

Giant's Causeway - world wonder.
Photo - Northern Ireland Tourist Board,

The 40,000 basalt steps that make up the Causeway are the stuff of local legend.

One folk tale says it was built by the Irish giant Finn McCool to bring his girlfriend over from Scotland, whilst others claim that it might have been built by shovel and pick.

But science sorted out the real origins in the late 18th Century when the rocks were found to have formed 50-60 million years ago as a result of massive volcanic activity.

Geological wonder

Giant's Causeway (Image: Northern Ireland Tourist Board)The Giant's Causeway is made up of some 40,000 large black basalt columns which protrude from the sea.

It formed when molten rock was forced up through fissures in the earth to form a lava plateau.

During one intense period of volcanic activity, rapidly cooling lava contracted and differences in the cooling rate led to the formation of hexagonal basalt columns.

Weathering of the top of the lower area led to the formation of the Inter Basaltic Bed, characterised by its bands of reddish rock.

Further erosion led to the creation of circular formations, known locally as 'giants eyes'.

Natural world

Take a few steps beyond this top tourist attraction and there's a natural world that's also worth exploring.

Take a closer look at the columns down by the shoreline and look for the black stripe on the rocks, the result of a plant known as Tar Lichen.

It's a common sight in many splash zones where rocks like this meet the sea - you might even find other creatures like Winkles grazing on this stuff.

And if you look closely, there's a veritable rainbow of lichen colours on these rocks - oranges, greens yellows and whites.

Rock pooling and birding

Rock pool lifeThe Giant's Causeway is a surprisingly good place for rock pooling trips, and there's an amazing selection of marine to look out for.

Amongst the marine life are Limpets, Sea Anemones, and Cushion Star Fish to name just a few.

The Giant's Causeway is also a very good spot for birding.

Amongst the birds which can be easily seen is the Fulmar, an ocean going seabird which can emit a strange oily vomit on would-be assailants, hence the Norse name meaning 'foul gull'.

During the summer the Fulmars nest and start bringing up their young.

These great flyers are very much at home on the wing just soaring around so look to the skies.

Also look out for the Rock Pipit, Wheatear, Oystercatchers, Guillemots and Whitethroat.

Plant safari

Plant (Image c/o Northern Ireland Tourist BoardYou might think that the plant life at the Giant's Causeway would be very fragile due to the exposed cliff faces and the wind, rain and cold.

Although it's a tough place to live, many plants have adapted to the conditions, including the Oysterplant, which is usually found on the shingle near the sea, and is named because it leaves taste of oysters.

Also look for Scots Lovage, which is only found in Northern Ireland and Scotland, Sea Spleenwort, Devils Bit Scabious, Bird Foot Trefoil (a member of the Shamrock family) and Thyme Broomrape.

The great thing about the Giant's Causeway and the surrounding area is the diversity of the wildlife from birds and butterflies to crabs, plants and lichens.

It's also home to the Orb Spider which spins its distinctive web to catch insects blown in from the sea.

Photo credits

Giant's Causeway main images courtesy and copyright of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board.



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