A collection of Instagram shots from drives around the North Coast of Northern Ireland in 2021
Lead image: A close-up of Mussenden Temple, the iconic clifftop building modelled on the Temple Of Vespa. With the plethora of drone shots and conventional shots of the Temple over the years, I wanted to go in close and capture the detail. It’s one of my favourite photos this year.
Fairhead and Murlough
Fairhead is the distinctive cliff that frames the bay at Ballycastle in Co. Antrim. And that’s as close as most people get.
Get closer. That’s my advice. You can approach the clifftop walk from two sides - on the Ballycastle side from the Fairhead Car Park (you drive out past Ballyvoy and follow the signs) or drive further on to Murlough, where you can park at the top of the hill and join the clifftop from there. Either way, the views are incredible. Due North, you’ll be overlooking Rathlin Island. Turn back toward the land and you’ll see the glimmering clifftop lakes and Knocklayde mountain in the distance.
Midway along the walk, you’ll come to the Grey Man’s Path, a fissure in the cliff that leads to the shore below. It’s remarkable for the fallen basalt pillar that caps the path at the top.
Being a superstitious lot along this stretch, we used to hear tales of the Grey Man, a spectral figure that is supposed to be seen when the mist rolls in from the sea and he takes human form up this gully.
The Shore Path at Murlough
This is a recent discovery. For me, anyway. On a recent walk along the clifftop path, I spotted a ruined cottage on the shore below. A week later, I returned to find the building. Parking at Murlough, you descend the road and take a track towards the foot of the cliff.
The Vanishing Lake, Ballycastle
Children of the North Coast will know the drill: You’d be driving from Ballycastle to Cushendall, just past Ballypatrick Forest. As you approach the lake, everybody in the car would bet on whether the lake would be there.
Some days it would be full to the brim. Others empty or somewhere in between.
You see, the Vanishing Lake (or Loughareema, to give it its proper title) is only there some of the time. Some days, it’s full with a little island in the middle. Others, it’s completely drained. The reason, according to the internet is because of a subterranean chamber where the waters drain off too. Depending on the conditions, the lake will fill. Other times, it’ll be empty.
Just like Fairhead, the stretch of road by the Vanishing Lake has its ghost stories. As children, we told stories of a lone driver who would pass through on a stormy night, picking up a redheaded girl on the road only for her to disappear from the car completely before he reached town. And if you pass that road on a misty night, you’ll understand how disconcerting it can be.
The picture below is from a drive in early June 2021. That day, the lake was almost gone and I was able to get onto the island for a few shots among the rock piles that locals have been making for the last few years.
You can find out more about the science of the Vanishing Lake at the Geological Society website. Interestingly, it says that there are three streams flowing into the lake, but none flowing out.
St Aidan’s Church, Magilligan
This one was a lockdown discovery - a drive to Mussenden that turned into an explore of some random roads. Lunch at Magilligan Point followed by a drive into the hills. That’s where we came across St Aidan’s Church. The modern church building isn’t much to behold, but the older ruin in the picture was remarkable for the arched window with a wooden crucifix secured across it. I’m not a religious type, but it makes for a powerful image, so I spent a bit of time prowling the grounds looking for the best light and angle to shoot it from.
The Church, originally known as Tamhlacht Oirthear Arda, became known first as Teampall Chadáin or St Cadan’s Church, and this through similarity in pronunciation was altered to St Aidan’s. St Cadan was a follower of St Patrick and his grave lies under the gable of the medieval ruins. The water from the nearby holy well is said to cure ills when applied to the afflicted area.