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A Guide to the Often Overlooked Fair Head Cliffs In Antrim

A Guide to the Often Overlooked Fair Head Cliffs In Antrim

The Fair Head Cliffs are arguably one of the most overlooked detours off the Causeway Coastal Route.

Located on Antrim’s northeast coastline, Fair Head is an excellent spot for soaring clifftop walks with stunning coastal views.

Ancient archaeological sites and loughs add to the allure, along with views to Ballycastle and nearby Rathlin Island

In the guide below, you’ll find info on everything from the Fair Head Walk and where to park to what to look out for on the way.

Some quick need-to-knows about the Fair Head Cliffs In Antrim

Ariel view of The Fair Head Cliffs

Photo via Nahlik on shutterstock.com

Although a visit to the Fair Head Cliffs is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.

1. Location    

Fair Head is 4.5 miles (7km) east of Ballycastle Beach on Antrim’s northeast coast. It can only be reached on foot or by driving along the Torr Head Scenic Route. This remote area is the closest point between Ireland and Scotland (Mull of Kintyre), just 12 miles away. 

2. Height

The cliffs at Fair Head rise 196m (643 feet) above sea level and can be seen for miles around. The sheer cliffs make it a popular destination for experienced rock climbers with many single-pitch climbs, crags, columns and abseiling opportunities.

3. Parking

The land at Fair Head is privately owned by the McBride family. They provide and maintain rights of way, footpaths and stiles. To help offset the cost, they make a charge of £3 for parking and an Honesty Box system is in use on the car park (here’s the location).  

4. The Walks

There are several way-marked hiking trails and they all start from the car park. The longest hike is the 2.6 mile (4.2km) Perimeter Walk with Blue markers. More info on the walks below.

5. Safety WARNING

Parts of these walks are close to the cliff edge so PLEASE take extreme care during windy weather or when visibility is poor. Conditions can change quickly, so caution is ALWAYS needed. The ground can be wet and muddy so walking boots are recommended. 

About the Fair Head Cliffs

Unlike other areas of the coast that are owned by the National Trust, Fair Head is private farmland. It has been owned and farmed by 12 generations of the McBride family. Climbers and walkers share the land with grazing cows and sheep.

Fair Head boasts centuries of Irish history, including ancient Crannógs (artificial islands on lakes). They were constructed as secure dwelling places for kings and prosperous landowners between the 5th and 10th centuries.  

Dún Mór is the site of a fortified dwelling dating back over 1200 years and occupied until the 14th century. It was recently excavated by archaeologists from Queen’s University, Belfast.

Another prehistoric site at Fair Head is the Druid’s Temple, a round cairn with a 15m diameter and a tomb at the centre.

Now a popular place for rock climbing and hiking (there are 3 way-marked trails), Fair Head continues to deliver breathtaking coastal views in a timeless landscape.

The Fair Head Walk  

fair head cliffs

Photos via Shutterstock

There are three different walks to tackle from the car park mentioned above: the Blue Route aka the Bealach Runda Walk (4.2km) and the Red Route aka the Lough Dubh Walk (2.4km).

You’ll find an info panel in the car park with details on each of the walks, so make sure to stop and check it out. Here’s an overview:

Bealach Runda Walk (Blue Route)

The longest hike is the 2.6 mile (4.2km) Perimeter Walk, also known as the Fairhead an Bealach Runda Walk. It is over 3 miles (4.8km) long, heading out in a clockwise direction along the clifftop and returning on open grassland and minor roads.

It passes through the hamlet of Coolanlough and winds past Lough Dubh and Lough na Crannagh en route back to Fair Head Farm car park. 

The gigantic columns (organ pipes) were formed by volcanic activity and are up to 12m in diameter. This area was the famous Sea of Moyle where mythology states the Children of Lir were put under an evil spell and exiled.

The Lough Dubh Walk (Red Route)

The Lough Dubh Walk is another popular option. This is a circular trail that boasts spectacular views and gorgeous loughs and it also follows farm tracks. Leave the car park and ramble along the road until you reach Doonmore.

This is a 65-foot grassy summit that has a little info panel in front of it detailing the history of the area. Keep tipping along the path and you’ll reach the stile.

Cross it and you’ll land in what’s often a very mucky field. Follow the way-markers and, after a short incline, you’ll be greeted with gorgeous views of Ballycastle. Here’s where lots of care is needed – you’ll then follow the way-markers on a trail near the cliff edge (stay WELL CLEAR of the edge).

You’ll see Rathlin Island on the horizon if the day is clear. Keep going and be on the lookout for Lough Dubh. There’s another stile here to be crossed. Follow the way-markers and you’ll arrive back at the car park.

The Game of Thrones link 

game of thrones filming locations

Map via Discover NI

Fair Head was one of several Game of Thrones filming locations in Ireland. It was a natural choice for filmmakers looking for a dramatic set to film the Game of Thrones.

The rugged Antrim landscape frequently stars in this TV Fantasy Drama series which was filmed between 2011 and 2019. It continues to attract fans to this dramatic area of Northern Ireland to see where the series was filmed.

Fair Head features as the cliffs of Dragonstone in Season 7, Episode 3: The Queen’s Justice. It was the backdrop when John Snow negotiated with Tyrion Lannister over dragon glass. The spectacular cliff featured again in Episode 5: Eastwatch when John met Drogon and Daenerys and they are reunited with Jorah Mormont.

What to do after the Fair Head Walk

One of the beauties of the Fair Head Cliffs is that they’re a short spin from many of the best places to visit in Antrim.

Below, you’ll find everything from a scenic drive (not for nervous drivers!) and a very hidden gem to food and more.

1. Torr Head    

torr head scenic drive

Photo left: Shutterstock. right: Google Maps

Remote Torr Head headland is topped with a long-abandoned 19th century Coastguard Station. Part of the Causeway Coast Route, it can only be accessed from the single-track Torr Head Scenic Road. It offers stunning views across the sea to the Mull of Kintyre, 12 miles away. 

2. Murlough Bay

Murlough Bay

Photos via Shutterstock

Remote and picturesque, Murlough Bay is accessed from the narrow, winding Torr Head Scenic Road. The road descends steeply to a parking area and from there you can walk down to the sandy cove. It’s an area of remarkable beauty with old lime kilns and a ruined church. 

3. Ballycastle

Ballycastle

Photo by Ballygally View Images (Shutterstock)

The pretty coastal resort of Ballycastle is at the eastern end of the Causeway Coast. Home to around 5,000 people, the seaside town has a harbour with regular ferries serving Rathlin Island. There’s plenty of things to do in Ballycastle and there’s a tonne of great restaurants in Ballycastle, too!

4. Rathlin Island

rathlin island antrim

Photo by mikemike10 (Shutterstock.com)

Rathlin Island is an L-shaped offshore island, home to around 150 people who are mainly Irish speaking. The island marks the northernmost point of Northern Ireland and is within sight of Scotland on a clear day. It’s easy to reach by ferry or catamaran from Ballycastle, 6 miles away.

FAQs about visiting the Fair Head Cliffs in Northern Ireland

Over the years, we’ve had mails asking everything from what is Fair Head in Antrim formed from (it’s formed from a rock known as dolerite) to what height is Fair Head (it’s 196 metres in height).

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

Where do you park for the Fair Head walk?

There’s some dedicated parking near the cliffs. It’s privately owned and there’s an honesty box with a £3 charge.

Are the Fair Head walks hard?

The walks here vary from moderate to strenuous. However, it’s the windy that can make these trails very challenging in places.

Is Fair Head dangerous?

The cliffs at fair head, like most in Ireland, are unguarded and therefore there is always a danger here. So, please, please, please stay well clear of the cliff edge.

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