In 2014 the Geological Society of London named its top 100 geological sites in Britain and Ireland. Some of the most popular tourist attractions in the north of Ireland are included in this list.
Our journey begins in Derry from where we travel through Benevenegh Mountain, the first of a chain of basaltic ridges running along the entire north east coastline which were formed by volcanic explosions 65 million years ago. We eventually arrive at Castlerock beach which backs onto a sand dune system on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. In Portrush, a world famous site because of its contribution to the evolution of geologic thought, you can look for fossils in the rocks of Ramore Head and be captivated by the White Rocks (cliffs made of chalk or Ulster White Limestone).
The Giant’s Causeway is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in the north of Ireland. The site originates from consecutive flows of lava crawling toward the coast and cooling when they contacted the sea. Layers of basalt then formed columns with the pressure between these columns moulding them into polygonal shapes that grace the coastal path. Other processes also led to the formation of other materials such as bauxite which can be viewed during your visit.
Going further through the Causeway coastal route (one of the top ten road journeys in the world) you will view huge limestone quarries, learn of the mining of porcellanite (unique to the north of Ireland) and learn and see how the Ice Ages created the Nine Glens of Antrim.
We eventually meet the Gobbins Path, an area of basalt sea-cliffs, up to 60m in height, on the eastern coast of Island Magee. A steep walk downhill to the beginning of the reef path will be rewarded by the feeling of walking on water and indeed living on the edge!
We end the day in Belfast where Cavehill Mountain (formed of lias clays, limestone and basaltic ridges) looms large over the city.
Here you will discover the landscapes as Mourne Mountains and Slieve Gullion but also see how the area’s geology has led to a rich cultural heritage (from quarrying to drystone walling) dating back to the Neolithic period, and how it has influenced the use of the land ever since. Moving towards the Ring of Gullion you will be delighted by a series of granite ranges created as a result of explosive volcanic activity.
The next stage of the journey includes a tour of the famous Marble Arch Caves, famed for its underground limestone formations, a visit to Cuilcagh Mountain Park, (known for its unique limestone landscapes) and through Lough Navar Forest where the Magho Viewpoint overlooks the glacial valley of Lower Lough Erne, undoubtedly one of the finest vistas in Ireland. Tonight we overnight in Enniskillen on the edge of Lough Erne for a well earned rest!
It begins with a visit to the Sperrins Mountains, an ideal location to see the impact of the Ice Age on the landscape. Here you will see numerous twisting ridges of sand and gravel, known as eskers, and learn of the geological processes which saw the Sperrins become a key source of gold during the Bronze and Iron Ages.
The last stretch of our journey takes us into the Donegal Highlands, which once formed part of a chain of ridges including the present day Appalachians and Scottish Caledonian mountains.
Errigal Mountain, the highest peak in county Donegal is well known for the pinkish glow of its quartzite rocks and dominates the northwest corner of Ireland. Here you will have the chance to scale a section of the shallow side of the mountain for spectacular views of Dunlewey lake and the other mountains in the Highlands chain including Dooish and Muckish (translated from the Gaelic term for ‘The Pigs Back’), a huge flat topped mountain where evidence remains of the quartzite mining on the flanks of the mountain. We finish our tour back in Derry for an overnight stay before departure for home!