Exploring Fairhead: The Ultimate Guide to Hiking and Views in Northern Ireland

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Have you ever dreamed of standing on the edge of a cliff, gazing out at the vast expanse of the ocean, while the wind whips through your hair? Then look no further than the breathtaking Fairhead in Northern Ireland! Known for its ruggedly beautiful cliffs and walking trails, Fairhead promises an unforgettable adventure with awe-inspiring views, fascinating history, and even a connection to the popular TV series Game of Thrones. In this guide, we’ll take you on a journey through everything you need to know to make the most of your visit to Fairhead and its surroundings.

Get ready to lace up your walking boots and embark on an exhilarating adventure, as we explore the stunning Fairhead cliffs, trails, and surrounding attractions in Northern Ireland. From the three main hiking trails to the rich history and unique connection to Game of Thrones, this comprehensive guide has it all.

Key Takeaways

  • Explore Fairhead for stunning coastal views, historic loughs and open green farmland with trails for all skill levels!

  • Discover the magic of Fairhead with convenient public transportation or take a thrilling drive along the Causeway Coastal Route.

  • Immerse yourself in history & breathtaking scenery while taking advantage of nearby attractions like Torr Head Scenic Drive, Murlough Bay, Ballycastle Town & Rathlin Island!

Discovering Fairhead: A Brief Overview

Stunning view of Fairhead cliffs and the northern coast of Northern Ireland

Fairhead, an incredibly rugged and remote walk, offers absolutely breathtaking views from the cliff edge. Marvel at the stunning coastal views down the Causeway Coast, over to Rathlin Island, and beyond to Scotland, as the Mull of Kintyre is just 12 miles (19km) away. The gigantic cliffs of Fairhead tower at an astounding 650 feet (200m) high, making this a popular spot for both hiking and rock climbing.

The area offers three main hiking trails, each with its unique features and challenges, suitable for various skill levels. While hiking these trails, expect stunning coastal views, historic loughs, and open green farmland. Fairhead is privately owned farmland, which has been owned and farmed by the McBride family for 12 generations. As you explore the trails, you’ll be walking through a landscape rich in history, geological interest, and natural beauty.

The Journey to Fairhead

Reaching Fairhead is a relatively straightforward journey, whether you choose to drive or use public transportation. In this section, we’ll provide detailed information on both options, making your journey to this awe-inspiring destination as smooth as possible.

By Car

To get to Fairhead by car, follow these steps:

  1. Take the A2 Cushendall Road from Ballycastle.

  2. Turn left onto the Torr Road.

  3. Turn left again onto the Fairhead Road.

  4. Follow the signpost to Fairhead Car Park.

This route is part of the mesmerizing Causeway Coastal Route, offering stunning views along the way. The GPS coordinates for Fairhead Car Park are latitude 55.220974 and longitude -6.154258. The estimated driving time from Belfast to Fairhead is approximately 1 hour and 47 minutes, while from Dublin, it takes around 2 hours and 40 minutes.

Upon arrival, a dedicated farm car park near the cliffs is available. A minimal fee of £3, collected via an honesty box, aids in maintaining the area for future visitors to enjoy.

Public Transport

If you prefer public transportation, options for visiting Fairhead include:

  • Bus routes: Bus route 1D goes to Fair Head

  • Ferry: Reach Rathlin Island by ferry from Ballycastle, which is just 6 miles away

  • Airports: The nearest airports to Fairhead are Campbeltown (CAL) Airport, at a distance of 27.3 miles, and Belfast (Aldergrove) (BFS) Airport, 37.5 miles away.

With various transportation options available, you’ll have no trouble reaching this magnificent destination!

Exploring the Trails at Fairhead

Hiking boots on a trail at Fairhead

Upon reaching Fairhead, prepare your walking boots and start your adventure on the trails! There are three main hiking trails at Fairhead, each offering a unique experience and catering to different skill levels.

Let’s examine each of these exciting trails and understand what sets them apart.

The Coastal Path (Blue Route)

Scenic view of the Coastal Path at Fairhead

The Coastal Path, also known as the Blue Route, is a scenic walk along the cliff edge, offering breathtaking views of the north coast and surrounding landscape. The Blue Route is 4.2 km long, taking you through:

  • Soaring cliffs with stunning coastal views

  • Boulders at the base of the cliffs

  • Planted woodland

  • Lakes

  • A rough shore section

One of the most captivating sights on the Blue Route, near the famous sea, is the Fear of heights rock, a collapsed rock wedged between a gap in the 200m high cliffs at Fairhead. As you hike along this trail, you’ll be mesmerized by the dramatic scenery and the towering height of the cliffs, making it a truly unforgettable experience.

The Lough Na Cranagh Trail (Red Route)

Panoramic view of Lough Na Cranagh and the surrounding cliffs

If you’re looking for a circular trail that takes you past historic loughs and offers stunning views of the cliffs and coast, the Lough Na Cranagh Trail, or Red Route, is the perfect choice. This 2.4 km long trail will lead you past Lough Na Cranagh, an amazing body of water with an Iron-age man-made island in the middle.

As you follow the Red Route, you’ll pass through a beautifully preserved landscape, witnessing the breathtaking beauty of the cliffs and loughs that have stood the test of time. This trail provides an opportunity to step back in time and immerse yourself in the rich history of the area.

The Farm Track Loop (Green Route)

For those who prefer a more leisurely stroll, the Farm Track Loop, or Green Route, offers a gentle walk through working farmland and historic sites. This 2.6-mile (4.2 km) trail is relatively easy and accessible, making it perfect for everyone, from families with young children to those who simply wish to enjoy a relaxing walk on one of the walking routes available.

Along the way, you will encounter open green farmland, historic loughs, and captivating views of the iconic Fairhead cliffs in Northern Ireland.

Essential Tips for Hiking at Fairhead

Embarking on your Fairhead adventure, it’s necessary to remember a few guidelines for a safe and enjoyable hike. First, take extreme care during windy weather or when visibility is poor, as conditions can change quickly. The ground can be wet and muddy, so wearing proper walking boots, such as such walking boots, is highly recommended.

Another tip is to follow the suggested route clockwise for the best experience. Lastly, while it’s natural to want to capture the beauty of Fairhead in photographs, always be cautious near the cliff edges, and keep children safely close. By following these essential tips, you’ll have a fantastic and safe hiking experience at Fairhead.

The Rich History of Fairhead

Fairhead’s intriguing history stretches back over 60 million years to when volcanic activity shaped the awe-striking fair head cliffs visible today. The upper half of the cliffs is made up of huge columns, some reaching 12 meters in diameter. These were created by volcanic activity and remain standing despite their dangerous condition. In addition to its geological marvels, the area is rich in history, with early housing settlement villages, known as clachans, scattered throughout the landscape. This combination of features makes Fairhead a site of historic and geological interest.

The Druid’s Temple, a round cairn with a 15-meter diameter and a tomb at the center, stands as a testament to the area’s ancient past. As you explore the trails and marvel at the breathtaking scenery, you’ll be walking through a landscape that has witnessed thousands of years of human history and geological transformation.

Fairhead’s Connection to Game of Thrones

Fairhead’s dramatic landscape caught the attention of the producers of the popular TV series Game of Thrones, who chose the location to represent the iconic Dragonstone Cliffs. The cliffs’ awe-inspiring beauty and towering height made them a perfect match for the thrilling scenes filmed there, such as when Jon Snow meets a dragon for the first time.

The success of Game of Thrones significantly influenced tourism in Fairhead and its vicinity, drawing numerous visitors to the region and contributing to a booming tourism sector. Today, you can even find guided tours that focus on the Game of Thrones filming locations at Fairhead, adding an extra layer of excitement for fans of the show.

Nearby Attractions and Activities

Beyond the astounding beauty and adventure Fairhead offers, numerous surrounding attractions and activities are worth your exploration. These include:

  • The Torr Head Scenic Drive

  • Murlough Bay

  • Ballycastle Town

  • Rathlin Island

All of these offer unique experiences and breathtaking scenery.

Torr Head Scenic Drive

The Torr Head Scenic Drive, situated between Cushendun and Ballycastle, boasts dramatic coastal vistas along its under 15-mile long single-track road. As you follow the contours and dips of the sloping headland, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views across the sea and the remnants of an ancient headland, as well as picturesque coastal towns.

The scenic drive typically takes around 4 hours to complete, allowing you ample time to stop and explore the various attractions along the way, including:

  • Carrickfergus Castle

  • The Gobbins

  • Glenarm Castle & Gardens

  • Torr Head

  • The Dark Hedges

  • Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

  • Ballintoy

The Torr Head Scenic Drive is a must-see attraction for anyone visiting the Fairhead area.

Murlough Bay

Murlough Bay with a sandy cove and old lime kilns

Located near Fairhead, Murlough Bay is a secluded and picturesque area boasting a sandy cove, fascinating old lime kilns, and a breathtaking ruined church. The lime kilns at Murlough Bay have historical significance, as they were used for lime burning, an industry that sustained agrarian communities in the past. Not far from this captivating spot, you can find an inhabited off shore island, adding to the area’s charm and allure.

The ruined church at Murlough Bay is the site of an ancient Christian church, originally known as the ‘Church of St Mologe,’ after the saint who founded it as a monastic settlement. As you explore Murlough Bay, you’ll be surrounded by a beautifully preserved landscape, rich in history and natural beauty.

Ballycastle Town

Ballycastle Town, a charming coastal resort at the eastern end of County Antrim’s North Coast, offers a range of restaurants, shops, and attractions for visitors to explore. Some of the top attractions in Ballycastle Town include:

  • Murlough Bay

  • Fair Head

  • Ballycastle Beach

  • Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd

  • Torr Head

  • Bonmargy Friary

When it comes to dining, you’ll find an array of delicious options in Ballycastle Town, such as:

  • Thyme and Co

  • The Dessert Bar

  • The Promenade Cafe

  • Thirty Nine Steak And Seafood Restaurant

  • Anzac Bar and Restaurant

  • The Central Bar

After a day of exploring Fairhead, you’ll enjoy unwinding in the picturesque coastal town of Ballycastle.

Rathlin Island

A short ferry ride from Ballycastle, you’ll find the unique and tranquil Rathlin Island, renowned for its stunning natural beauty and abundant wildlife. The island can be reached by ferry or catamaran from Ballycastle, with a travel time of approximately 20 minutes for the passenger boat and 45 minutes for the vehicle boat.

Rathlin Island is home to a rich variety of wildlife, including a diverse range of birds such as puffins, guillemots, and razorbills, as well as wildflowers and common blue butterflies. During your visit, you can explore the island by bike, visit the Seabird Centre, take a guided walk, or conquer one of the island trails. Rathlin Island is a perfect addition to your Fairhead adventure.

Facilities and Amenities at Fairhead

Before beginning your hike, it’s beneficial to familiarize yourself with the available services and facilities at Fairhead. Although there are no facilities directly at Fair Head, designated parking areas are available near the cliffs. These parking spaces are privately owned, and there’s an honesty box for payment, with a small contribution of £3.

Regarding restrooms, you’ll find numerous toilet facilities in nearby Ballycastle Town, where you can also enjoy a variety of dining options and accommodations. With these facilities and amenities in mind, you can fully prepare for your hike and enjoy a comfortable and memorable visit to Fairhead.

Summary

In conclusion, Fairhead offers an unforgettable adventure with awe-inspiring views, fascinating history, and a connection to the popular TV series Game of Thrones. Whether you prefer a challenging hike along the cliff edge or a leisurely stroll through farmland and historic sites, there’s something for everyone at Fairhead. With this comprehensive guide, you’re now equipped with all the information you need to make the most of your visit to Fairhead and its breathtaking surroundings. So lace up your walking boots and embark on an exhilarating journey through the rugged beauty of Northern Ireland’s Fairhead.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is Fair Head called Fair Head?

Fair Head was named after a beautiful fair-headed girl who once lived on Rathlin Island, and the fight between two of her suitors is what cemented its name.

Where is Fair Head?

Fair Head is an impressive 600 feet high cliff face located in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. It’s situated 3 miles east of Ballycastle town and is the closest part of the mainland to Rathlin Island. Its majestic beauty can be seen from Ballycastle town and many other points along the north coast.

Where is Murlough Bay?

Murlough Bay is a stunning bay located on the north coast of County Antrim, Northern Ireland between Fair Head and Torr Head.

What are the three main hiking trails at Fairhead?

Discover breathtaking views of the wild Irish coast and lush green hills with Fairhead’s three main hiking trails: the Coastal Path (Blue Route), the Lough Na Cranagh Trail (Red Route) and the Farm Track Loop (Green Route).

How can I reach Fairhead by car?

Jump in the car and take the A2 Cushendall Road out of Ballycastle, turn left onto the Torr Road, and left again onto the Fairhead Road – you’ll be at the Fairhead Car Park before you know it!

About the author

Originally from Scotland, Colin now resides near the beautiful seaside town of Portstewart on the Causeway Coastal Route. By day he works in IT and by day off he spends much of his time travelling around the Island with his young family, writing about his experiences for many sites both locally and nationally.

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