This is not a big challenge in terms of distance or height but i have found it to be a significant challenge in terms of time and terrain.........
Travelling through Ballycastle on a pleasant Sunday, past a busy golf course and those body boarding on the beach, along a narrow road heading away from the hustle and bustle. Though only a mile or two out of the town the car parking area feels a million miles away. Looking over to Rathlin and along the coastline to the towering target of Fair Head.
Someone has built a house here with glass frontage to make Tesco blush overlooking the sea and Rathlin, my blushing was of envy as i could picture endless hours of staring out from the glass ramparts. Today I was the only visitor and was soon off along what starts as a firm coastal path.
The path hugs the coastline at an elevated level, with the tide out the shore itself could be explored today, being pretty rough in places and overgrown by the vigorous summer growth - still were some ripe blackberries which are hard to resist! Old industrial workings show their presence along this part of the coast in large and small form, showcasing a time before enormous cargo ships made materials accessible from anywhere in the world at a reasonable price.
A farm track, which descends from the plateau above, is followed somewhat gratefully as the rough stuff is enjoyable. As this starts it zig zag journey uphill it is time to go even further off the beaten path to follow the coast as it tracks the base of Fair Head. The basalt columns now tower overhead and provide a wonderful vista when added to the sea churning away before Rathlin. Numerous boats kept me company during the trip highlighting the abundance of sealife, as did the presence of dolphins tracking their way along the coast towards Ballycastle.
The journey now has no paths or tracks and the key is sticking as close to the coast as possible. This is initially pretty easy going but involves making the way through increasingly large boulders. At the coast the rock is bare and clear which gives clarity of step. I did have a tendency to stray up at times and this brought boulders covered in heather and such which provided a real headache because of their jumbled nature with gaps and holes. Cursing myself ensued time after time as i had to climb back down to the waters edge.
I have done this walk on a number of occasions and only once before encountered the herd of wild goats which inhabit the area. Today it was their leader (King Billy) who made an appearance, snorting and stamping at my invasion of his kingdom - he was all bluff and gruff though!
The towering rock above does get increasingly impressive and it is a few kilometres when the gully of the Grey Man's Path comes into view, along with Murlough Bay at the other side of the headland that is Fair Head. The option is to continue to Murlough Bay or climb steeply up through the cliffs - both good options but today it was up.
This is a rough and steep climb following goat tracks, which are nowhere near as comfortable as those produced by sheep. Eventually a more respectable track appears below the cliffs and is followed quite easily, but always very impressively, up through the gully and under the lentil of rock. Coming out of the shade into bright sunlight on the cliff top was brilliant. There was no one else around in what was now the evening and i lingered a while before walking back along the cliff top.
The evening light produced a golden glow on the hillside and contrasted with looking out over the cold blues towards Rathlin and Scotland. A setting sun framed Knocklayd and the North Antrim coast as i dropped down and rejoined the track back. Seals were hauled out on the rocks here doing their yoga stretches. Got back to the car with just about enough light to see my way.
An amazingly wild and remote walk along the base of Fair Head which does take time and care - I had no phone signal all along the base until climbed up on cliffs. Wildlife that would not normally see in one place - dolphins, seals, wild goats, hares and birds of course.