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Carrick a rede rope bridge
We recently flew to Belfast and were staying close to The Giants Causeway so decided to go and have a go on this rope bridge.
The attraction itself is about a 20 minute drive from The Giants Causeway and is well sign posted as long as you are going in the right direction. It is one of the National Trust attractions so members can access the bridge free of charge. For non members it costs around £5.00 for adults and I think about £2.60 for children. There is a decent sized car park and toilets close to the car park as well as the obligatory café and gift shop.
Tickets are purchased at the small entrance kiosk and then visitors start the walk towards the bridge. It states at the entrance that the walk is 1km but we walked quite quickly and it definitely seemed further than a kilometre. The scenery on the walk however is fabulous, with views out to the sea and there are several view points as well as telescopes and binoculars for a fee. It should be noted that much of the path is uneven and there are several stone steps to negotiate so the walk would probably not be suitable for wheel chair users and may be difficult for people with pushchairs.
Once at the bridge, there is another small kiosk type thing where a man is manning the bridge and telling people when they can go onto the bridge as it holds only 8 people at any one time.
The bridge doesn't look to bad when viewed from the path but once close up, it does start to look a bit more scary. There is a very steep set of metal stairs down to the bridge and because they head straight into the ocean, I was definitely not liking it, and more especially because I was wearing gloves. My advise would be that regardless of how cold it is have bare hands to get a good and not slippery grip on the bars.
The bridge itself is definitely made of rope but intertwined in the rope are metal bars and there is a very secure looking walkway across the bridge. However, that said, the sides of the bridge are just made of rope and at my height they come to just above waist height. Because of the metal and the fact that the bridge wasn't all rope, I was starting to feel a lot safer about this journey and stepped happily onto the bridge. All was good for the first few steps until I got close to the centre of the bridge and the wind got hold of the bridge and it started to swing. Definitely made of rope and not a completely stabilised bridge! Suspended 30 metres above the wild water and with a 20 metre walk across it was not a pleasant feeling.
Once at the other side there is a short walk to the top of the cliff. Again, absolutely spectacular views across the ocean but with no fence it's definitely not for the faint hearted as it's a sheer drop into the water. After standing on the cliff for a while, its time to cross the bridge again and take the walk back for a well deserved cup of tea!
The rope bridge is open every day of the week but opening times differ at different times of the year. The weather is obviously instrumental in decisions about the bridge being open, so its not open on very bad weather.
This is something I am glad I did but don't know that I would want to do it again. Fabulous scenery, a great walk and an exhilarating experience.
Recommended if in the area.
Thanks for reading
It might come as a surprise to some that I am a bit feeble when it comes to heights, particularly as I spend a good part of my holidays up mountains, in cable cars or admiring the view from teletowers and other high structures. When descending a metal staircase - the type where you can see below you - I feel extremely nauseous and I become sickeningly vertiginous when anywhere near a sheer drop.
So, you might ask, why do I put myself through the terror when I could easily go and do something else? Quite simply I hate the idea of, as I see it, being beaten. I'm a highly competitive person and my biggest rival is myself. I know that having made the effort to go somewhere, there's no way I'll chicken out at the final hurdle. Another reason is that shared experiences are part of the travel experience for me: I'd hate to think that Himself had done something I hadn't, especially if the only thing stopping me was being nervous.
So it was that, in spite of having trembling knees and a feeling of nausea welling up inside me, I set out to cross the wobbly rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede on a very windy day. Now, a rope bridge may not seem very alarming but this one carries you across a twenty metre wide, thirty metre deep chasm above the swirling waters of the Atlantic. It's not for the faint-hearted.
Carrick-a-Rede is situated near the village of Ballintoy on Northern Ireland's Antrim Coast. The cliff walk is part of the Causeway Coast Way, which runs between Port Stewart and Ballycastle, and also the Ulster Way. The rope-bridge and the little rocky island of Carrick are owned by the National Trust and there's a car-park and visitor centre with toilets and refreshment facilities just at the Ballycastle end of Ballintoy. You pay at the little hut and then it's a ten to fifteen minute walk down to the entrance to the bridge. There are quite a few steps (nearly two hundred in total) and the footpath is uneven in places so you do need to wear appropriate footwear even if you don't intend to cross the bridge.
The path to the bridge is very scenic with terrific views. There are illustrated boards to tell you about the bird and plant life and occasionally there are places to sit down for a breather or to take in the views. Even if you're not going to cross the bridge it's worth taking the cliff top walk. Dogs are allowed on the path but may not cross the bridge so you'll need someone to stay behind if you bring a dog with you.
Only eight people at any one time can be crossing the bridge and National Trust staff are stationed at either end of the bridge to control the flow of traffic, allowing it to move in one direction for a few minutes, then the other. On busy days you may have to queue for a while before you can cross and you should take this into account if you have children who become quickly bored - perhaps then you could try to get an early start and avoid the queues.
The bridge is a very simple rope and plank construction. There's been a bridge here linking tiny Carrick (the name Carrick-a-rede means "rock in the road") with the mainland for centuries and in the past it was only a seasonal structure, put up at the appropriate time by salmon fishermen because the fishing was better off Carrick, and taken down at the end of the season. Over the last few years there have been various versions of the bridge, the current incarnation having been built in 2008.
I have to admit that our experience was heightened because of the fairly high winds; you shouldn't be alarmed by this - there does actually come a point when it's ruled too windy to cross though that point must be pretty shocking as the wind really cut into us as we crossed and, on the outward walk in particular, we couldn't really enjoy the experience much because we were trying to keep our faces out of the wind. That said, even for me, walking the bridge would be, in my opinion, a bit of a doddle in calm weather. You really need at least some light winds or some joker jumping up and down on the bridge to make it more exciting. That shouldn't be seen as a criticism, just that the element of danger heightens the whole thing. When it's windy the sound of the wind in your ears, and the swirling waters crashing against the rocks below does give value-added terror to the proceedings.
I was desperate to get off the bridge so it really didn't help that some jokers in fromt were posing to have their photographs taken, blocking my escape. Himself had taken the camera and when we successfully reached dry land on Carrick I asked to see what he had taken: he had to admit that the camera had remained firmly in his pocket as it was all he could do to hold on and not look down. Happily, on the return the camera did come out as we felt more comfortable.
A lot of the young kids doing the walk appeared very scared and while they all managed to cross unscathed, there were some tears. I saw one parent go across with his daughter and then go back for his son and he didn't look like he was enjoying it that much himself.
Once on the island you can have as long as you want to walk (or sit while your legs stop trembling) around, though Carrick is little more than a grassy rock. However, the views over to Rathlin Island, and beyond that Scotland, are really special and you do get a perspective that you don't get on the mainland. The rock is also a breeding ground for some birds and the island has been designated a site of special scientific interest (SSSI).
After your return walk, and on returning to the visitor centre you can pay £1 to get a certificate proving you did the walk. I didn't feel the need: I certainly won't forget it.
The bridge is open daily from 10.00am or 10.30am depending on the time if year, closing times vary depending on the season. Members of the National Trust get free entry but admission is £5.60 for adults and £2.90 for children (including Gift Aid) otherwise. Car parking is free of charge.
Carrick-a-Rede ropebridge is a bittersweet experience; crossing the bridge is a terrifying but exhilarating experience but it's worth going through the queuing (which only increases the nerves) and the terror for the views. They're certainly well-earned. Make a day of it by combing a visit to Carrick-a-Rede with a trip to the nearby Giant's Causeway and experience the dramatic beauty of the North Antrim coast.
The Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge is one of the Antrim (Causeway Coast) must see attractions. The bridge itself is accessed near to Ballintoy, which is only a few miles from Giant's Causeway on the north coast. The bridge is now under the care of the National Trust (NT), which is great for those with membership as of course it means free entry - otherwise adult admission is £5.60 (Apr 2011) with the usual concessions available.
The bridge itself is a suspension bridge, made of rope and wooden planks, which crosses "The Atlantic", or more accurately about 75 feet of it, between the mainland and Carrick-a-Rede Island. The bridge itself stands 30 metres above the sea and the rocks below.
We visited in late April, on a gloriously calm sunny day. We arrived at lunchtime and were able to park up easily in the spacious car park, which is free to all, I understand. There is a nice lawned area nearby and we opted to stop and picnic here after the walk. There is also a NT café and shop area which has some wonderful black and white photos of the bridge during its construction.
Access to the bridge requires walking approximately 1.5km from the car park and ticket office, along the side of the cliffs. The walk itself is pleasant and part of the experience, indeed we took around 45 minutes to walk the return journey, resting occasionally to take in the view (and rest the legs which were rather wobbly for a good hour or two after the ordeal of crossing the bridge!) Would be bridge crossers need to have a moderate level of fitness, mainly as there are 180 steps down to the start of the bridge area - which of course means 180 steps up on your return. The steps down are in three sections, including a final "ladder" section before you join the bridge, which would be approximately 30 steps, I guess. For this reason, it is not suitable for those in wheelchairs, although the path is passable until the first flight of steps. You may also encounter NT staff who sometimes wander along the path selling ice-creams to the walkers.
You can see from the pictures of the bridge, that it has a very simple structure, and is made from rope with just sets of wooden planks along the middle for walking along. The bridge was originally used by salmon fishermen, to allow them access to the island for the best catches, and therefore the bridge was erected and taken down at the start and end of the fishing season. Nowadays it is not used for this purpose, as unfortunately the salmon catch is nowhere near where it used to be. Because of its lightweight construction, only 8 people are allowed on the bridge at one time, however this needs to be self managed by the bridge crossers. There are NT staff on either end controlling the flow to the Island and back again.
Eventually, the terrifying moment comes when you need to actually step on the bridge and walk over. I have to say it was absolutely terrifying. The bridge did wobble, even on a very still day, and I have heard tales, from clearly much braver friends than I, that they crossed it in wind and gale..It does of course take less than a minute to cross, but it was a very terrifying minute! My hubby had walked over much quicker than me, meaning I had no one ahead of me for several metres, which was frightening in itself, he was dealing with his own issues, namely the two women in front of him wanted a photo - so they stopped, meaning he had to as well! The worse part of crossing the bridge is that there is only one way back.... On our return trip, we were behind a family with 2 adults and 3 kids. The kids were a little scared, meaning poor father had to cross and return three times, holding their hands and only holding on himself with one hand. My advice, do not take kids with you unless you will be able to cope with doing the same! Of course braver souls seem to get their kicks from gently making the bridge wobble..Both hubby and I had jelly legs on our return, and I am sure we were not the only ones, judging by the way people congregated before beginning the 1.5km walk back to the car park.
The island itself is small, and there is a path to the top, and you can spend a few minutes or as long as you want admiring the view and the flora and fauna. On your return, for an additional £1 you can get a certificate confirming your bridge crossing. There is an alternative walk back, which takes about five minutes longer, but does have slightly fewer steps, and it also has a great vantage point for taking some bridge pictures, as taking them while on the bridge is generally not the best idea.
I have to say I found the experience a bit scary, and I don't think I would choose to go over this bridge ever again. That said, I do think it is a must do attraction in the area, and so I still rate this five stars. I advise to take a picnic and traverse the bridge on the sunniest, driest, wind-free day that you can! Take heart that no one has actually fallen off the bridge; although rumour has it some people have had to be rescued by boat. I certainly could have imagined that it could scare some people enough to have to practically crawl back over it.