TOUR DIARY: Irish Fantasy

We're in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and today was one for the books. We had a rare day off, and The Mastersons were cool enough to go along with my plan for a road trip on the Coastal Causeway Route. I'd read that it rivaled the Pacific Coast Highway among the world's most beautiful drives, but I had no idea just what I was in for. This place was like Big Sur drunk on Bushmills. We left Belfast around 10:30 in the morning and headed for Larne, where we met up with the A2 and began our seaside journey. At first, the route is low-lying, right at sea level with narrow, twisty/turny roads that hug the hillsides and weave in and out of small harbor towns. We stopped at a church originally constructed in the 1400's and soaked in the scenery near a rocky beach, but we kept the stops short because we'd heard the real magic was ahead of us. It was all pretty mellow until we left the comfort of the A2 for a rough farm road barely wider than one lane. Other than the farmer who nearly barreled straight into us driving a trailer full of sheep, this stretch of the journey was isolated for miles and miles. Through sharp turns and switchbacks, the road quickly gained in elevation as we approached Torr Head, and the scenery was nothing short of spectacular. I even made friends with a herd of sheep on our way to the top.

At Torr Head, we experienced a dramatic change in the weather. It was still impossibly sunny, but our new elevation exposed us to brutal winds that whipped up seemingly from all directions. We’d barely needed a coat just 20 minutes earlier at the church, but now we couldn’t feel our fingers or faces. We climbed a steep, muddy slope to an abandoned building where I temporarily overcame my fear of heights enough to scale the rusted staircase that led to the roof. The view was worth it, with sweeping green hills, rocky cliffs, and ruins dating back to the sixth century all visible at once.

Next, we headed to the famous Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, where my fear of heights was put to the ultimate test. The bridge is exactly what it sounds like: flimsy wooden planks suspended by rope 100 feet above the crashing waves. A one-mile hike led us along sheer white cliffs and past massive rock formations jutting out of the ocean to this breathtaking spot. Originally constructed by salmon fisherman in the 1700's (when it had just ONE rope railing), the bridge is terrifying and exhilarating all at once. I'm glad I worked up the courage for this one because it may have been my favorite spot of the day.

After a quick lunch on the cliffs near the rope bridge, we loaded back up in the van and rolled along the coastal route to the Giant's Causeway, which is likely the most recognizable spot along the drive. Roughly 60 million years ago, there were volcanic eruptions here that resulted in one of the most bizarre rock formations I've ever seen. Thousands and thousands of polygonal columns rise out of the sea here to varying heights and widths. In some places it looks like a massive game of Jenga, in others like the pipes of an organ. Both the Irish and the Scots have a myth to explain it that involves giants (one named Finn McCool, which should probably be a band name if it isn't already). 

The light was fading fast, so as the sun set on the Giant's Causeway, we booked it for one last stop along the coast: the ruins of Dunluce Castle. Perched on the edge of a cliff, the castle must have been majestic when it was built in the 1500s. During its history, it was seized by warring clans, saw its kitchen tumble into the sea during a particularly bad storm, and became the seat of the earls of County Antrim and the center of a small town, which has all but vanished. The sky turned a pinkish orange behind the castle walls as the last rays of the sun hit it.

As darkness fell, we made our way (appropriately) through The Dark Hedges, one of the most photographed spots in Norther Ireland. If you watch Game of Thrones, you’ll likely recognize this location, where intertwined beech trees planted in the 18th century form an ominous tunnel through the countryside.

This was one of the most memorable days of exploring I've ever had on tour, and I want to give a huge thanks to The Mastersons, who were game to use their day off to tackle Northern Ireland with me. To be surrounded by such beauty and history was the most invigorating and rejuvenating thing I could have done with my day off. Tomorrow, tour resumes right here in Belfast with a gig at the Errigle Inn!

Anthony D'Amato