Nothing is very far away when you’re traveling in Ireland. The so-called Giant's Causeway seldom receives a mention in comparisons of seven wonders of the world. But when you see it, you wonder why not.
Four hundred feet below us stood an extraordinary promontory glistening like burnished gold on the slanting afternoon sunlight of these latitudes. The landscape was split into perfect hexagonal columns, resembled a monster necklace draped into the sea.
We even had the luck of the Irish when a soft day (the Irish have 18 words to describe rain) on the north coast turned silvery at the Giant's Causeway. For one shining hour it was what weather forecasters term a mid-Atlantic high—I’m sure Gaelic poetry can be more lyrical.
How did this geometric phenomenon come about? It depends on whether you listen to the scientists or the Irish storytellers. In the scientific version, volcanic activity sent a ballistic outpouring up form the earth’s depths. In some unexplained manner, the lava cooled from many ventral points outward, splitting the mass into hexagonal columns of various heights about 3 feel wide.
As the Irish know, however, these columns were placed between Antrim and Scotland as ocean stepping stones for two legendary giants: Finn MacCoul and his rival Angus from Scotland.
In one version of the tale, Angus makes a foray into Ireland across the causeway, where Finn had dressed himself in baby clothes using a ship for a cradle. If this was the baby, Angus decided, he wasn't waiting around to confront the father. He returned to Scotland, tearing up the causeway behind him.
The path past the visitor center leads directly to the basalt columns. On closer inspection they vary in color from golden brown to black. Until the weather broke, we stopped often to marvel at the black seas cresting alongside the western shore under leaden skies. It rammed into the white of the coastal cliffs and unleashed a cappuccino-colored spray.
Then the sun came out on the Giant's Causeway, and we could trek the entire World Heritage vista from Weir's Snout to Giant's Gate, three miles of geography as bizarre as any you will find on earth.
On some soft days you can get wetter than other soft days, but for such specifics the Irish call upon one of 18 available descriptive words. “If this is soft,” I inquired, “then what is a 'hard' day?”
Our guide contemplated a downpour that had suddenly opened up the skies. “That expression does not exist,” he finally said. “The only time you'll ever hear that is when someone complains about a hard day at the office.”