Off the Beaten Track – Torr Head Scenic Route
How many of you have been on this notorious coastal road that hugs the cliff tops for an astonishing fifteen-mile rollercoaster ride along Northern Ireland’s North Coast? Not many? This time we get off the main highway and Off the Beaten Track – Torr Head Scenic Route
I suspect that a few of you have made the journey at least once – and possibly never again, like my mum – or that you haven’t taken it at all. Well here’s why I think you should summon up some courage (even of the Dutch variety) and take the plunge (maybe not the best choice of words!) and discover one of Ireland’s most exciting driving routes.
I recommend starting your journey from Ballycastle. Driving on the left in Ireland will guarantee maximum thrills for your passengers – if any take you up on your offer! Follow the signs for Cushendall and Causeway Coastal Route out of Ballycastle and after about four miles you will see the route signposted to the left. Prepare for a narrow road, despite the odd introduction of median white lines – and in summer, be ready for the farmers on their oversized tractors.
At first, you will sweep through lush valleys, not realising that you are climbing higher and higher above sea level. Your first tourism sign is for Fair Head – worth seeing but not worth going to see – so travel on until you pick up the small tourism sign for the astonishing Murlough Bay. A narrow track will take you to the cliff top car park, where you can stop and walk, or you can follow the track the whole way down to sea level, where you can park and walk. It is worth walking the short distance on the unsurfaced trail to the small beach where, if you are lucky like me, you might enjoy a scene like this one…
Whatever way you choose to navigate this wonderfully remote part of Ireland, your jaw will be slack with amazement at the sheer scale of the cliffs and the vastness of the sea between you and Scotland in the near distance – in fact, just 14 miles distant to the Mull of Kintyre – and the occasional ship passing through the notorious Straits of Moyle in front of you.
Undoubtedly you might want to spend some time at Murlough Bay. There’s not much by way of sound, only the sea and the wind and it’s somewhere I revisit often to ease the soul.
Make your way back to the Torr Head Scenic Route and a few miles on your journey takes on a perilous turn. The road narrows further and meeting oncoming cars can be nerve jangling – if you’re hiring a car, get one with those door mirrors that fold in! You might want to take the loop to Torr Head itself, which is unremarkable but for its history as a signal station for North Atlantic shipping for hundreds of years. The ruins of the existing station are still there – a bit of real estate that should have been put to good use years ago – but avoid it’s urine stenched rooms and instead take in the coastal views and the highlands and islands of Scotland in the far distance.
Rejoin the main route to make the roller coaster dash to Cushendun! Here your every driving skill will be called upon as you negotiate narrow hairpin bends, wriggling s-bends with tyre squealing surfaces and the sheer drop to the ocean, hundreds of feet below! Truly not for the faint-hearted.
There are not many stopping off points along this part of the road, but if you can get pulled over, it is worth getting out and getting some sense of the scale of the place. Sheep are a godsend here as they lend scale to the landscape, their tiny white forms clinging to the plunging fields and cliff tops and the Antrim coastline. Just don’t start imagining how long it would take you and your car to fall all the way to the surf below!
As you near the end of the Scenic Drive, pull over and take in the panorama of Cushendun village and its curve of golden sands. Behind it you can see the towering cliffs of Glenarriff – the Queen of the Nine Glens of Antrim (a journey for another day) – and of course the tiny National Trust settlement of Cushendun itself, which is a great stop for a pint of Guinness or an ice cream, or simply to admire the unique architecture.
This is journey’s end for this remarkable drive, but sign up for our future Off the Beaten Track editions so that you can begin to understand just what a remarkable part of your world that our part of Ireland really is.