Ben Bulben & The Giant’s Causeway

We seem to be on a Landform Tour lately: The Cliffs of Moher to Ben Bulben to the Giant’s Causeway.

Ben Bulben is a mountain just outside Sligo, Ireland. Sligo is known as the hometown of the Yeats brothers:  W.B. the poet, and J.B. the painter. We couch surfed with two young Polish ladies named Marta and Magda, plus their dogs Benji and Rua, who went mad every time one of the seven next-door cats appeared.

Here’s a picture of the riverfront in downtown Sligo.

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We popped into an old, tiny bookshop, which was empty except for the owner, sitting at a desk. As we browsed further into the stacks and shelves we heard a door open somewhere and a man’s quiet voice say, “John, would you like a wee bowl of soup?” There was a long silence, and finally the reply: “Hmmm….ok.” As we left, there sat John at the desk with his bowl of soup.

That evening, Marta drove us and the dogs to a trailhead from which we hiked along the base of Ben Bulben.

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Sheep grazed high up on the steep slope, probably stuck there forever to dine upon the same patch of grass even to the end of their days. Their pitiful bleats echoed across the valley.

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Benji and Rua ran and explored into the forest on their own, but always came back.

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By the end of the hike a cloud had literally descended upon the ground, and we took the opportunity to visit W.B. Yeats’ grave in the foggy gloom.

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Next we took a coach tour from Belfast up the coast of Northern Ireland. We passed a filming location for Castle Black and part of the Wall in Game of Thrones, a llama stuck in with a flock of sheep because the farmers figured out that it helps keep them calm, and a lake that vanishes by seeping away through porous limestone. The first stop was at a castle with a boat in front…

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…then the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, the oldest rope bridge in the UK (“Not the best way to sell it,” Ryan commented)…

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…then finally the Giant’s Causeway, a fantastic formation of over 40,000 geometric basalt columns.

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Our guide gave us two different explanations for the formation:

1) SCIENCE: The columns were formed by an ancient volcanic eruption and the subsequent cooling of the lava.

2) FOLK TALE: [here’s Wikipedia’s excellent summary] The columns are the remains of a causeway built by a giant. The story goes that the Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool) was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Fionn accepted the challenge and built the causeway across the North Channel so that the two giants could meet. In one version of the story, Fionn defeats Benandonner. In another, Fionn hides from Benandonner when he realises that his foe is much bigger than him. Fionn’s wife, Úna, disguises Fionn as a baby and tucks him in a cradle. When Benandonner sees the size of the ‘baby’, he reckons that its father, Fionn, must be a giant among giants. He flees back to Scotland in fright, destroying the causeway behind him so that Fionn could not follow. Across the sea, there are identical basalt columns (a part of the same ancient lava flow) at Fingal’s Cave on the Scottish isle of Staffa, and it is possible that the story was influenced by this.

Whichever story is true, it was an incredible place, almost unreal. Almost more unreal than the wee bowl of soup in the bookshop. Let’s play Find The Ryan.

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We’ll leave you with a sketch.

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See you in Scotland!
  – k&r

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