With years of gracing the covers of travel brochures and magazines, Carrick-a-Rede has to be the supermodel of bridges.
It has a classic striking profile: light rope bridge hanging precariously over a chasm of rocky cliffs and blue-green waters. It’s tall, like any leggy model, at 23 metres above the crashing Atlantic. And it has changed with the fashion of the times, from a single handrail in 1890 to the current 2008 wire rope affair – with the latest in safety chic.
Though to be fair, this bridge has good genes – it sits among other ultra-photogenic heavyweights as The Giant’s Causeway and Mussenden Temple, all part of the ultimate head-turner in seaside beauty – Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coastal Route.
I felt it was about time we learned the facts behind this enigmatic wonder, in a proper behind-the-ropes exposé.
Firstly, drawing visitors (247,000 last year) to its spectacular curves wasn’t always the day job for Carrick-a-Rede. Site manager Caroline Redmond explains the bridge was erected for fisherman to get to the island and fish the superhighway of salmon going past:
“Carrick-a-Rede – literally meaning the rock in the road – obstructed the salmon migration route, so they had to swim around this small volcanic archipelago. Commercial salmon fishing took place here until 2002, when daily catches had declined from 300 per day in the 1920s to 200 fish per year.”
Records of the bridge can be traced back to 1784, when it was a knee-jangling single rope and wide wooden slats. Thankfully by the 20th century there were two ropes to hang on to, but the bridge was only hung in summer and packed up every winter to protect it from storms.
The latest caged bridge is a good bit sturdier, and up all year round. Contrary to its death-defying appearance, Caroline assures me no one has ever been injured on the bridge:
“I think it’s actually the safest place on our site! People have hurt ankles and legs on the island, on steps, and at other places, but not the bridge itself.”
Comforting to know, but it doesn’t make the crossing look any less daunting. I ask Caroline about her first time crossing, was she even a little scared?
“Absolutely terrified. Please don’t tell my staff.”
So why go through all that heart thumping? Well, you see Carrick is much more than a flashy bridge; it’s also an island of outstanding natural beauty. There’s diverse birdlife, including fulmars, kittywakes, guillemots and razorbills (the excuse to say them aloud is worth the crossing alone!) and a breath-taking uninterrupted view across to Rathlin Island and Scotland.
The little white cottage on the side of the island is another curiosity.
“That’s the fishery. It’s part of a new project that will restore the fishery to how it was when the last fisherman left in 2002. We’re collecting photos, memories, and artefacts from local people and by next year we’ll have an amazing set of information about the bridge over its long history.”
Of course, the adventure doesn’t end there, as the only way off the island is the way you came… Has anyone been unable to face the walk back across the bridge?
“Not in my time here – we generally are able to talk people back. Our wardens are dedicated to soothing visitors’ fears and ensuring their enjoyment of this wonderful place.”
So final question, what time of year makes the best views; when does Carrick look its best?
“Everyday. Seriously: spectacular in winter, peaceful in autumn, bursting with life in spring and bustlingly busy in summer.”
I should have known a pro like Carrick would have a look for all seasons. There’s no excuse then, not to see this ultimate covergirl for yourself. If nothing else, it will make for the best holiday snap you’ve ever taken.
Take the whistle-stop tour of all the other seaside beauties on Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coastal Route
Another of Northern Ireland’s many beautyspots, The Mourne Mountains, inspired the great writer CS Lewis and his magical world of Narnia.
Another stunner in the area is the Geopark that’s practically a theme park. Don’t believe us, take our photographic tour of the caves, forests and cliffs of the Marble Arch Caves Geopark.
And food? Well, you have to tuck into some of the local specialties