48 hours on the Ulster-Ireland International Appalachian Trail
The International Appalachian Trail Ulster-Ireland (IAT Ulster-Ireland) starts at the magnificent Slieve League Cliffs in Donegal and ends in Larne, County Antrim. This cross-border trail is 449 km (279 miles) long.
The trail can be divided into 11 sections and last week we took part of the Causeway Coast Way and Portstewart.
For more information on the full trail, check out The International Appalachian Trail Ulster-Ireland: Everything You Need to Know About This Coast-to-Coast Walk.
On day one, Mark Rodgers of Dalriada Kingdom Tours was our guide for the Causeway Coast section of the International Appalachian Trail Ulster-Ireland. He showed us around the Giant’s Causeway and surrounding trails while sharing with us his many experiences on the trail. We were treated to a three hour tour on the stormiest but amazing day. The waves were higher than our heads in places but the sun was beating down. I can’t even begin to describe how perfect the scene was. The full Causeway Coast section is 52km but we were only able to do 10km due to the stormy day. However, this 10km was one of the most beautiful trails we have ever hiked.
Our second day involved a stroll along Portstewart Strand and some beach hopping to find the perfect swimming spot. The walk along Portstewart was beautiful and although it was a stormy day the beach was still full of life, like all the other beaches we visited. White Rocks Beach was the one we chose for our sea swim and it did not disappoint. The view of massive sand dunes and white rocks as you looked back from the water was breathtaking.
Where to eat and drink
1. Bothy, White Park Bay
Our first stop to eat was Bothy Cafe. A beautiful little cafe near Ballintoy Harbor and White Park Bay. The cakes and pastries here are absolutely amazing. That’s what they’re known for, but what really made this place for me was their filter coffee. I wouldn’t say this lightly but it was the best filter coffee I’ve had. Absolutely delicious and a must for any coffee connoisseur.
2. Bar O’Connors, Ballycastle
Our second stop to eat was for dinner at O’Connors Bar, Ballycastle and we were blown away by their food. O’Connors is a lively bar in the center of Ballycastle and has beautiful decor as well as amazing food. The highlight of the bar for us was either the seafood chowder or their perfect pint of Guinness.
3. Lost and Found, Portstewart
Lost & Found Cafe in Portstewart was our last fine dining stop of the trip and it did not disappoint. We had lunch and coffee here after our walk along Portstewart beach. Again the filter coffee was amazing and the breakfast was to die for. Spicy chorizo, fried eggs, ballymaloe relish, and arugula all in a brioche bun. It’s perfection in my books and to top it off the views from the cafe are stunning.
where we stayed
We stayed in the North Shore cabins. More specifically, “the cabin” and “the surf hut”. Two absolutely gorgeous cabins just off the coast of the causeway. They are self-contained but the owners make sure every little detail is there to make your stay as pleasant as possible. They leave out snacks, fresh bread and a selection of coffees and teas for you to choose from and we even had a mini bottle of wine to welcome us on our stay.
There are so many places to swim along this section of the Ulster-Ireland International Appalachian Trail, including Portstewart Strand, Portrush Beach, White Rocks Beach and Ballintoy Harbour. Always check if swimming is allowed on the beach where you are before getting in the water. In the 48 hours we were on the trail, we swam at Ballinatoy Harbor and White Rocks Beach. They were both amazing swimming spots and we highly recommend them.
Tips for taking the trail
- Check out IAT Ulster Ireland: their website showcases the best bits and helps you plan the trip.
- Take your time: You don’t need to take this challenge like a sports challenge and crash to the ground. You can choose any section and relax discovering the many beautiful walks in the area.
- All Weather Pack: After all, we are still on the island of Ireland and our weather forecast is unreliable.
- Hire a Local Tour Guide: If you’re unsure of anywhere along the trail or are an inexperienced hiker, simply hire a guide. There are so many amazing companies and tour guides just waiting to help you along the way.
- Have fun: The most important advice we can give you is to have fun. You don’t have to push yourself too hard and there are plenty of places to relax along the way.