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Shake, Rattle n Roll at Carrick-a-Rede Ropebridge
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge (Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland)
Member Name: fizzywizzy
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge (Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland)
Advantages: Fun, exciting, access to great views, easy to get to
Disadvantages: Not for everyone, lots of steps to get to it
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.
Summary: An exciting must see expereince on the North Antrim coast