A couple of miles outside Ballycastle on the main Causeway Coastal Route is the secluded headland of Kinbane and a castle ruin. There are many spellings for Kinbane (Kenbane, Kinbahn Kenbahn) as is common with local place names, another name used during Victorian times was Reuben's Castle. During the Victorian era, guides from the Giant's Causeway would row here to collect a mineral known as spar, this was in fact natrolite, a beautiful crystalised deposit which they collected and sold during the summer months to visitor's on the path leading down to the Causeway Stones.
Kinbane is exceptional in its location, the castle was constructed on a limestone headland which protrudes out from below the overlying basalt cliffs, the headland has a sea cave passing through the centre. I have always found Kinbane to be a magical and haunting location where you can almost feel the past, especially as evening fall and the cliffs darken, I have many times felt a sense of foreboding as if someone was watching from the cliff tops. This may be due to my over active imagination combined with what I know about the area but I have sensed that feeling here and also down in the 'Planted Port', the next accessible small bay towards Ballycastle.
The hollow between the cliffs and the castle is known as 'Lag na Sassenach' (Hollow of the English), the name derives from an incident in the 1500s when a garrison of soldiers were sent from Carrickfergus to take the castle. Failing to get entrance they lay siege to it, those within the castle lit a fire on the headland to signal distress and call for assistance. As help arrived the garrison in the hollow found itself in an impossible situation to escape from. Surrounded by cliffs on one side and the sea on the other, their fate was sealed and all were killed in 'Lag na Sassenach'. Access is down a long series of steps, coming back up can be tough enough depending on your mobility and fitness but like all things if you take your time and rest on the way then its okay. Walking out to the headland is not advisable, you really need a good head for heights and extreme caution, it is not suitable for young children to run around on, there are no fences or safety rails, so be very aware, this headland has claimed many lives.
Kinbane Castle was built around 1547 by Colla MacDonnell, brother of James and Sorley Boy MacDonnell , this was during the height of the MacDonnell supremacy along the north coast. After Colla died in 1558 the castle passed to his son Gillaspic who later exchanged it with Sorely Boy for property on Colonsay. Sorley later presented Kinbane to the MacAlister family in recognition of their long support for the MacDonnell's campaigns through Scotland and Ireland as gallowglass warriors. The castle was last occupied by a Mrs MacAlister in the late 18th century, after which it fell into disrepair.
If you wander around you will soon notice a couple of interesting limestone outcrops between the castle and the cliffs. One, when viewed from a hundred metres or so away, resembles an old man with a staff coming out of the sea with Fair Head behind him. The other natural rock sculpture perches on a high outcrop defying the laws of nature. As a young boy my uncle Jack introduced me to the natural carving of the Old Man of Kinbane on the headland, only visible from a boat. The remains of a fishing bothy nestled in the shelter of the cliffs, unfortunately the custodians of this precious heritage asset have let it fall into complete dereliction. This wee bothy is where the salmon fishermen would spend their time in between net hauls. The ice house can still be seen in the car park area next to the public toilets. Salmon are no longer caught here but you can see the remnants of this tradition in the old winch and lifting points. In the hollow you can also make out where the kelp walls and lazy beds existed when this was an active working location.
I used to walk across the moss rodden from my home at Cloughcorr and camp here during summer months, spending a couple of days fishing and cooking on an open fire without seeing anyone, not quite the case these days as many people tackle the steep steps down and up to the castle. If you wish to stay close to this fabulous location try Kinbane Farm which is signposted and in view of the car park or alternatively try Crockatinney Guest House set in its own grounds complete with trout lake, horses and a unique famine graveyard, both are within a short walk of the castle. If you prefer to stay in a self catering cottage check Kinbane Farmhouse Self Catering Cottage with stunning views.