Monday, 30 July 2012

More Causeway controversy!

Not many weeks ago, the National Trust was in the news for one of the exhibits in its new visitor centre at The Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland.  It seems that they have included a deluded creationist account of the formation of the stones in their exhibition.  Apparently God did it!  You can read a bit more about it here, in The Guardian.  Maybe they are now 'reconsidering', but until they have completely corrected the offensive error they should be treated with great suspicion.

Making a visit to the site this week I would say that the organisation is also treading dangerously close to a legal dispute that has been going on for over a century.  If it was anyone other than the highly respected National Trust I am sure that they would be on the losing side of the argument too.

Giant's Causeway, hexagonal columns of basalt, visit it free!
The Giant's Causeway - amazing hexagonal columns of basalt.

I have been to the causeway many times before, and noticed that the National Trust's strangle-hold on one of the candidates for the title of 'the eighth wonder of the world' has been tightening.  Now you might reasonably say that the maintenance of the site must be paid for, and I would generally agree with that.  But the cost of maintenance can't possibly be as much as they are now asking people to pay.  Arriving at the entrance to the car par, you find that there is no option simply to park and pay a reasonable fee as there used to be.  The parking is apparently covered by the entrance fee. Now that deal sounds very reasonable until you know some of the background (and the magnitude of that fee for services that you do not need and might not want).

Giant's Causeway, hexagonal columns of basalt, visit it free!
The Giant's Causeway - open access!

It turns out that free public access to the Causeway has been a hot potato for much more than a century.  Local people have of course wanted to cash in by selling their services to the visitors and nobody can blame them for that.  However, various attempts have been made by consortia to buy the land over which access must be gained, trying to monopolise the benefits.  In each case there has been something of an uproar.

In 1897, one lengthy legal battle between the syndicate known as the the Giants Causeway Company and local people went to the High Court of London. The court ruled that the road to the stones had existed for public access to the foreshore, proof came in the form of contractual documentation between Antrim Borough Council and a contractor for the upkeep of the stretch of the road between Dervock and the Causeway Stones. Read on.

So it seems that you have a right to access the Causeway legally and free, but The National Trust has to be congratulated for the way that it hides this information.  Using clever weasel words it implies that the visitor MUST buy a ticket to the new visitor centre in order to reach the famous site itself.  If you read their web site, there is very little if anything to suggest that this is not the case.  In fact, the only clues are in the gaps - the things that they do not say.

Now don't get me wrong.  I wouldn't object to paying a fiver to park the car for an hour or two.  That would cover my contribution to the upkeep perfectly equitably.  If I wanted to visit their creationist-friendly visitor centre and read the pseudo-science posters aimed at primary school children I might even be prepared to pay the going rate. 

But I didn't want that.  I wanted to go down to the coast and see this remarkable thing and not to be misled by a supposedly reputable organisation.  This is not an option that they make easily available.  Instead, for a group of four adults to visit, The National Trust would like you to believe that there is no other option than to pay £8.50 each.  That is a total of £34 to park for an hour or two, in order to see something free!  Even Central London car parking is not as expensive as that.

So - if you are visiting, the trick is to get someone to drop you by The Causeway Hotel, or to spend the £30+ getting a nice lunch there.  Alternatively, get the Park and Ride bus from Bushmills.  Whichever way you arrive at the site, walk to the Coastal Path which you can find by going to the left of the hotel.  Walk round the back of the hotel and down the steps to the road down to the Causeway.  It is perfectly legal and there is no reason to be ashamed of doing it.

Then you get to see an amazing site like this . . .

Giant's Causeway, hexagonal columns of basalt, visit it free!
The Giant's Causeway - open access!

without being ripped off by an organisation that has gone way down in my estimation this year.

Another tip - look up the time of low tide and visit within 3 hours of that time if you want to see the full glory of the Causeway as you can see in these photos.

Do visit! Support local businesses - but boycott The Duplicitous National Trust if you can!

Related post:  Includes a view of Fingal's Cave - according to legend it is the other end of the causeway and it is equally impressive.

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