A Walk for the Weekend: A cliffhanger on Gobbin’s Walk in Antrim

Billed, a new white knuckle path that will leave visitors “feeling like they are walking on water”, the Gobbins is currently being touted as the next big thing for Northern tourism

Consisting of a series of bridges, tunnels, walkways and staircases clinging tenaciously to vertiginous, basalt cliffs, the path offered a close and personal experience of coast and cliff

Consisting of a series of bridges, tunnels, walkways and staircases clinging tenaciously to vertiginous, basalt cliffs, the path offered a close and personal experience of coast and cliff

 

A t this moment documenting Ireland’s most captivating trails seems the best endeavour in the world. The sun-kissed, south Antrim coastline is awash with autumn russets as I traverse the renowned Causeway Coastal Route towards an innovative outdoor attraction.

Billed, a new white knuckle path that will leave visitors “feeling like they are walking on water”, the Gobbins is currently being touted as the next big thing for Northern tourism.

Except, of course, it isn’t new. Constructed in 1902 by railway engineer Berkley Deane Wyse, it was designed to attract visitors to the then sequestered Islandmagee peninsula. Consisting of a series of bridges, tunnels, walkways and staircases clinging tenaciously to vertiginous, basalt cliffs, the path offered a close and personal experience of coast and cliff that proved irresistible to Edwardian thrill-seekers.

The early 20th century was the glory time for the Gobbins, but following the second World War the path declined as domestic tourism conceded to Mediterranean sun. Closed in 1954, the Gobbins has now been re-imagined as a £7.5 million “fabulous and special encounter with nature”.

Wondering if the hyperbole could be true, I arrive at the Gobbins visitor centre and am soon among a group going through a health and safety briefing. We must wear strong footwear and waterproof clothing, while rucksacks and walking poles are not permitted. A bus transfer followed by a steep descent conveys us to our start point. Here we come upon a tree with a strange custom of hammering coins into the wood before making a wish.

Shoe-horned through a tiny rock aperture known as Wise’s eye, our reward beyond is not only an oversight of Antrim’s rugged coastline, but also a dappled vista across the Irish Sea to the mist-laden Scottish Hills. Our guide, Laura, is a wellspring of knowledge about the path and the biodiversity provided by the caves, ledges and outcrops.

The first accessible cavern is Sandy Cave, where Laura tells us that the ever-proper Edwardians stopped for a formal lunch. Crossing a spectacular cylindrical bridge we pass beneath the aptly named Man O’War sea stack. The sheltered waters of the Aquarium prove an opportunity to point out the abundant marine life before entering the eerie gloom of the tunnel which takes us briefly below sea-level.

Finally, a suspension bridge elevates us to a last spectacular viewing point just below an expansive nesting place for seabirds. Having to retrace our steps proves an anti-climax that is enlivened somewhat by the appearance of a seal showboating spectacularly in the nearby waters. The final re-ascent to our bus proves a real conversation killer, but soon after we are back over coffee in the visitor centre.

Here, I conclude while the Gobbins doesn’t exactly amount to “walking on water”, it is a most remarkable place offering access to an edgy, unforgettable seascape that otherwise would remain the exclusive playground of seabirds.

Getting there: Take the A2 from Belfast to Larne. Go right onto the B90 for Islandmagee and then follow the signs for the Gobbins~
The walk: Moderately challenging with a guide. Helmets must be worn
Distance: 7km return
Time: 3 hours
Information. Open daily from 9.30-5.30. Booking required. Adults £8.50, children £6, family £23.
thegobbinscliffpath.com

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