Monster Q*bert: The Giant’s Causeway

March 26, 2008 — Way too many of the oddities on this site are man-made, 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.

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.  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.

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.


Personally, I think the Causeway looks like a life-sized 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. I

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. The columns are made of basalt formed from magma, so the creation of these columns is due to volcanic activity ages ago.

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 instead of the story ending in 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.

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.

 The parking lot area and visitor’s center for the attraction is located a 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, although they do offer a shuttle bus. 

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.  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.

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 would love to be playing Q*Bert while listening to Led Zeppelin.”

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 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 frothy water, and for a small fee you can cross it.  Honestly, it sounds a lot more terrifying than it is, even if I couldn't get my wife to go across.

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. 

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 walk around the rock and return-cross it.  Like the Giant’s Causeway, it’s also a mile away from where you park, but this time no shuttle bus.

This sentence is just here because  never want to end a post on the words "shuttle bus."