March 26, 2008 — Way too many of the oddities on this site are of the man-made type, so it’s refreshing for me to write about one that’s formed by the mighty and mysterious forces of nature itself...even if the end product still looks completely man-made. Nature is such a copycat.
The Giant’s Causeway is a stretch of coast line along County Antrim in Northern Ireland made up of a matrix of polygonal, interlocking stone columns of varying heights that, taken together (and you have to), appear like the ruin of some ancient giant causeway that once connected...oh. That’s what they mean. All right. Now I need a new simile.
Giant’s Causeway article for O.T.I.S. Take two.
The Giant’s Causeway is a stretch of coast line along County Antrim in Northern Ireland made up of a matrix of polygonal, interlocking stone columns of varying heights that, taken together (still have to), appear like the petrified honeycombs of some prehistoric and giant species of hymenopteran. Some of the columns are no taller than a stepping stone, others are taller than a man, and still others are taller than a man on the shoulders of six other men. The tops of the columns form a series of ascending and descending steps that if you Eastwood your eyes just right can seem almost Escherian...although if you take these stairs you don’t merely end up upside-down. You end up in the icy waters of the North Channel. But there’s something artistically viable about that, too. Stairway to oblivion and all that. The whole panoply of columns is aesthetically impressive enough, in fact, to make you ignore the regular bits of coastline on either side of the Causeway, which by themselves with their massive cliffs and jagged rocks and tireless breakers should be awe-inspiring were that part of the landscape not shown up by this one little bit of geometrically repetitive shore. Nature is such a showoff.
Personally, I think the Causeway looks like a life-sized (yes, the size of life) Q*bert board, except that there are no coiled snakes to chase you off the edge because, well, St. Patrick drove them all off the island years ago. The stones do change colors when you step on them, though. That’s something that I guarantee no other website about the Giant’s Causeway will tell you, but that kind of information is one of the benefits of the first-hand accounts you can expect here at O.T.I.S. Even though this sentence is only a spacebar punch away from the previous sentence, I’ll have you know that I just spent the last 20 minutes in between the sentences reading up on the history and cultural impact of Q*bert. So should you.
By now you’ve gandered at one or more of the pictures in this article, and I can tell that you’re still a little doubtful that the Causeway is completely natural in origin. What can I say? Nature’s accidents often way outdo man’s careful contrivances. But right on for disbelieving me. That’ll come in handy in reading O.T.I.S. in general. Near as I can figure it, and this is just a layman’s guess based on my one visit there, the columns are made of basalt, a type of igneous rock, which is formed from magma, so the creation of these columns is due to volcanic activity ages ago. Just kidding. That’s as near as National Geographic can figure it. Although I don’t know why I went to them for something so obviously internationally geographic.
But now that I’ve brought it up, I might as well bring other things up. For some reason, and I’m not quite sure when I arrived at this headspace, I’ve started taking any explanation of natural formations attributed to “volcanic activity” as a cop-out. Anytime I hear it from a scientist or read it in a scientific publication, my brain just replaces the answer with “I don’t know.” I mean, I’ll give you Pompeii, the One Ring, and the end, more or less, of Tom Hank’s comedy career, but…I don’t know. There are some explanations that just seem both vague and frequently touted, so I begin to be annoyed at them just for those facts, I guess.
Like every bit of nature that sticks out to us, the Giant’s Causeway has a bit of folklore attached to it. The story starts out well with two giant’s yelling curses from Ireland to Scotland, but then instead of a climactic battle that shears apart the very bridge they built to meet and fight, it ends with one of them hiding in a crib dressed like a baby. That’s right. The story of the Giant’s Causeway ends with a grown giant dressed up as a baby. If folklore had an author, I’d denigrate him publicly as a hack storyteller until he sued for mercy.
And, though I’ve never noticed it because I’ve always been distracted by the naked children, the Giant’s Causeway is also featured on the album cover of Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy. And, yes, I just took another 20-minute break to read about the history and cultural impact of that album. So should you.
The parking lot area and visitor’s center (or centre, I guess, in this case) for the attraction is located a literal mile uphill from the actual Causeway, so your initial excitement at arriving will ebb between the parking lot and the attraction. It’ll come back though once you arrive, as long as you push it out of your head that the downhill walk you just took will be uphill when you leave. If you’re infirm or a wuss, you can also pay for a shuttle bus to take you all the way. Before I arrived, I was under the impression that the columns extended for a few miles along the coast, but in reality, they’re only located in a compact space the size of a house or two. They might extend underwater for a ways further, but that doesn’t help us come and be amazed by them on our own. Of course, the small area means that in high tourist season every stone will probably have a tourist atop it, more than one of whom will probably be imitating the crane kick from The Karate Kid. If do right, no can defense, after all. I went just before the tourist season really started, so although it was a bit cold, there weren’t that many people to get in the way. However, there were still enough that I got asked way too many times to take somebody’s picture. “Way too many times” means twice, by the way. Just kidding. Even though I’ll go to extreme lengths to never ask a stranger to take my picture (like buying and carting around three different kinds of tripods and becoming engaged to someone with an interest in photography), I understand the need.
All in all, it’s the kind of place that induces wonder whether you want it induced or not. It’ll make you pull up a stepping stone, chew reflectively on the Power Bar you brought, stare out to Scotland, and think, “Man, I wish there weren’t so many tourists here.”
If you've read any O.T.I.S. article, then you know that I rarely am able to end these articles smoothly. In this particular case, I think I finally did okay, though. But instead of leaning back and savoring the accomplishment before posting it online, I am, of course, going to ruin it by continuing.
For those of you who more dig the man-made oddities featured on this site or who just want something to break up the picture monotony of me-on-rocks, here’s me-on-rope. Just east a bit down the Causeway Coastal Route is the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. This 30-foot-long rope bridge connects two cliffs, is suspended 100 feet above the jagged rocks and not-jagged-but-still-deadly-from-this-height water, and for a small fee you can cross it. Honestly, though, it sounds a lot more terrifying than it is. I don’t even remember my body contributing any adrenalin to the cause. Maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention, though. My body is its own entity sometimes.
The rope bridge is a lot shorter and sturdier than you’d think, and assuming you’ve already mastered the art of walking, is easy to walk across (it has a wood-plank floor). It’s also a lot more impressive to tell people that you crossed it than it is to actually cross it, but that’s pretty much true of everything I’ve ever done and every place I’ve ever seen, though. Don’t take that as insight into this site, please. In addition, seeing people cross it before you do takes away the uncertainty of the structural soundness of the contraption. An isolated stroll in the dead of night might change that dynamic a bit. They only allow a maximum of eight people on the bridge at any given time, and once you get to the rock of an island that it connects to the mainland, there’s nothing much really to do but return-cross it. Like the Giant’s Causeway, it’s also a mile away from where you park, but this time no shuttle bus. Such is life.
Guess I should have gone out on the tourist joke.