Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
119a Whitepark Road, Ballintoy, County Antrim. BT54 6LS
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is a rope suspension bridge near Ballintoy, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. The bridge links the mainland to the tiny Carrick Island. The site is owned and maintained by the National Trust, spans twenty metres and is thirty metres above the rocks below. Today the bridge is mainly a tourist attraction, with 247,000 visitors in 2009. The bridge is now open all year round.
Take the exhilarating rope bridge to Carrick-a-Rede island and enjoy a truly clifftop experience. This 30-metre deep and 20-metre wide chasm is traversed by a rope bridge traditionally erected by salmon fishermen. Visitors bold enough to cross to the rocky island are rewarded with fantastic views.
Carrick-a-rede means ‘rock in the road’. It is thought salmon fishermen have been erecting bridges to the island for over 350 years. It has taken many forms over the years. In the 1970s it featured only a single handrail and large gaps between the slats. A version of the bridge, tested up to ten tonnes, was built with the help of local climbers and absailers in 2000. A subsequent design was engineered in 2004 and offers visitors and fishermen alike a much safer passage to the island. The current wire rope and Douglas fir bridge was made by Heyn Construction in Belfast and erected early in 2008 at a cost of over £16,000. Although no one has fallen off the bridge, there have been many instances where visitors, unable to face the walk back across the bridge, have had to be taken off the island by boat.
It is no longer used by fishermen during the salmon season, which used to last from June until September, as there are now very few salmon left. In the 1960s, almost three hundred fish were caught per day, but by 2002, only three hundred were caught over the entire season. The salmon return via the area to spawn in the River Bann and the River Bush.
The area is exceptional in natural beauty with stunning views of Rathlin Island and Scotland. The site and surrounding area is an Area of Special Scientific Interest, with unique geology, flora and fauna. Underneath large caves are visible, which once served as home for boat builders and as shelter during stormy weather.
Life and Legend
The car park is at the base of Larrybane Head, which once had its own promontory fort more than a thousand years old. Over the years it has been quarried away, leaving a stark quarry face, filled with flint and fossils. Beneath there are large caves, which were used for winter shelter and one was a boat builder’s yard for a time. The walk along the cliff top is wonderful, even without the thrill of the bridge at the end.
In summer, the sea below has every shade of green and blue, a series of Mediterranean lagoons that make the walk to the bridge so much shorter. The bridge was originally put up by fishermen who worked a salmon fishing station here in the summer months. Their whitewashed cottage, complete with a wooden stairway to the path and its winch nestles in the only shelter on the rock. Once, 300 salmon a day were landed here, but the fish stocks have dwindled and only the occasional fisherman visits now.
The bridge is one of the north coast experiences.
Even on the calmest day, every step seems to make the bridge move a little and to begin with, the 20 metres of its length seem like a test in an adventure film. You can almost imagine seeing Indiana Jones at the other side. The bridge was originally made of rope and it had only one handrail, but the fishermen made a good job of it and no one was ever hurt. The only ropes on the modern bridge are the latticework sides, the lashings that hold the Douglas fir boards in place and the netting beside it. Its strength comes from its steel upper hand rails which are built to withstand 10 tons, so unless you are very overweight, it is very safe.
It has almost a quarter of a million visitors every year.
The terror of the bridge is in the thought of it, that only a board not much more than an inch thick stands between a visitor and the rocks and waves, 30 metres below. Once on the island it is an experience all its own. It is almost like being at sea. Although the same fantastic views of Rathlin and the Scottish Isles can be seen on many other places on the coast, the island has an isolated, undisturbed quality.
The rocks are the usual mix of basalt and limestone, but the basalt takes different forms. Some of it stands in tall precarious crumbling columns, almost like the Causeway’s and other parts are smooth as though it had been made of plasticine.
The permanent residents of nesting fulmars, guillemots and razorbills are worth a visit, but don’t get too close, leave them in peace to bring up their families.
After all you will have to concentrate on your own next adventure…
Getting back to the mainland!
Video produced by Ambient Light Productions