Trail of the unexpected: Northern Ireland

A new kayaking trail presents a different view of Ulster's dramatic shores.

Great journeys always used to be made by sea – and arrival was something to be savoured. You'd be standing on the deck, watching a strip of land appear on the horizon, before it gradually mushroomed into view and finally filled the frame. Sounds would reach out in waves towards you, and scents of something new and enticing would fill your nostrils. You'd arrived.

I was reminded of this as I paddled my kayak along Northern Ireland's dramatic Causeway Coast towards the geological oddity that is the Giant's Causeway. I realised that the sea kayak provides a far more detailed perspective of your destination. Visit this area by road and you'll be whisked along to the Causeway in a jiffy; but explore by kayak and you'll understand its context as you negotiate the geology of the coastline that surrounds the otherworldly basalt towers.

I was previewing the North Coast Canoe Trail, which launches this Thursday, and runs 70 nautical miles from blustery Magilligan Point to Waterfoot at the base of Glenariff. The trail has been created by Northern Ireland's Countryside Access and Activities Network to open up this dramatic and geologically diverse stretch of coastline to all kayaking abilities – even to beginners like me.

In the seaside resort of Portrush, I clambered aboard the kayak that I was to share with my guide, Steve, for the next two days.

The Giant's Causeway seemed elusive – more than 10 miles away. There were a lot of jutting headlands and craggy outcrops to navigate before we would get even a glimpse. Sea kayaking, Steve instructed me, is a fast-growing pursuit. Because a kayak has bulkheads, it doesn't take on water in the way that an ordinary canoe might, even in the choppiest of seas. What's more, kayaks are small and light, with hardly any of their mass submerged in the water, meaning they can be manoeuvred into the tightest of spaces – be they caves, rock channels or shallow pools.

And so it was on our first day. We backed slowly into narrow grottos at White Rocks, which only moments before had seemed a solid part of the cliff. We got within touching distance of mini causeways of basalt, towering ridges of bright limestone and glinting fissures of deep black flint. We even saw an apparently dull rock face light up with shades of rose and russet as we paddled out of the daylight and into Cathedral Cave, dodging the sharp black rocks that jutted out like giant teeth. And all the while my senses sung with one, unassailable truth – we couldn't have seen this any other way.

Not content with navigating the craggy coastline, Steve got us into what can only be described as a tight spot near the picturesque village of Ballintoy. Having been convinced to do some of what he called "rock hopping" – paddling very close to the rocks and slipping through the narrow channels between them – in the shallow waters that lap at the spiky basalt cliffs, I found myself scouring the rocks for gaps we could squeeze through. We got up close and rather personal with some barnacles, tangled in sticky patches of seaweed and ended up beaching ourselves on a smudge of sand concealed under the waves. But in doing so, we got to see a gannet dive into the water, landing so close I felt the salty splash on my face.

It's not just seabirds that kayakers can get close to here. Dolphins regularly surface to check out any interloper in their waters, and Steve has seen basking sharks breaching within 100 yards of his kayak. There was one moment of wildlife-generated rapture, which came as a welcome pick-me-up after a long paddle out to the offshore islands of the Skerries. Just as I was starting to tire, Steve gestured excitedly towards something off to our right.

I turned my head just in time to see a grey seal's head disappear beneath the even greyer waters. It returned to the surface three or four more times, on each occasion snapping into view suddenly in an entirely different place from the last.

Other vivid images punctuated the trip: the moment we saw hikers on the cliffs just above Runkerry Cave, then realised that they couldn't hope to glimpse the cormorants we had just seen nesting below them. And, of course, there was the moment we rounded the corner that brought the Causeway's headland into view. Arriving from the water, I saw the 40,000 or so basalt columns of the Causeway in a way most people never do – towering above me in pillars of all sizes like some spooky stage set. Bobbing rhythmically on the vast calm of the Atlantic and detached from the visitors ashore, I felt like I had the place to myself. Steve told me the legend most people already know – of giant Finn McCool, the Causeway's architect. But for me, the reality was far more dramatic than a myth could ever be.

Getting there

* The most convenient airports are City of Derry and Belfast International, served from a wide range of British airports.

Kayaking there

* Simply Sea Kayaking (07773 359773; simplyseakayak.com) operates tours for all abilities along the North Coast Canoe Trail.

* The North Coast Canoe Trail opens on Thursday: 028 9030 3930; canoeni.com

More information

* Tourism Ireland: 0800 039 7000; discoverireland.com

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth gamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game