Approaching Giant's Causeway, one doesn't know where to begin. Should a story go back 200 million years, to when mudstones were laid down in nearby Portrush and White Park Bay? Or should it begin last year with the opening of an £18.5 million visitor centre?
The interim years are just as eventful. Sixty million years ago the local basalt cooled and cracked into the honeycomb forms we see today. But it wasn’t until 200AD that the legend of giant Finn McCool did the rounds. Additional drama was provided in 1588 when a Spanish galleon sunk off the coast.
But all the tales are collected in the state of the art building which opened nine months ago. “It’s not just a pile of rocks,” points out charismatic guide Neville. “There’s a lot more to it and this is bringing it to life for people.”
If anything, the building adds to the drama. With a turf covered roof and exterior colonnade to echo the rocks below, the centre is both airy and warm. On the day of my visit this provided respite from the cold Atlantic breezes.
The interpretation is both accessible and compelling. A cartoon representation of the mythical giant appears to peer out from the open plan museum-like area. But real life figures are no less intriguing, such as the Dublin artist Susanna Drury, whose visions of the coastline popularised the Causeway.
A guided tour is most recommended. Myth lovers can have fun spotting the rocks purporting to be a giant’s camel and steed. Science buffs, meanwhile, will enjoy the unlikely fact that a small distant reed bed is Northern Ireland's only habitat for the narrow-mouthed whorl snail.
But ultimately neither snails nor camels are the main draw here. Those are the rocks. In person they are less regular than you might imagine, should you not have been. The whole coastline is stunning, but the causeway itself...well, it’s just the stuff of legend.
- Open 9am-7pm until July, see opening times for more. Admission £8.50/£4.25 (free for under-5s, family ticket £21). Follow the centre on Twitter @GCausewayNT.