VIDEO: Gobbins cliff path open for business
The facility, originally installed in 1902 by railway engineer Berkeley Dean Wise as a series of spectacular bridges and gantries, has been closed to the public for decades after it fell into a state of disrepair.
But the unique path has been reinstated at a cost of £7.5m, with Mid and East Antrim Borough Council providing more than half of the funding for the scheme.
And with its breathtaking views, exhilarating walkways and fascinating wildlife; the Gobbins really lives up to its billing as a “dramatic coastal experience”.
The Times was treated to a preview tour to get a sense of what lies ahead for the 50,000 visitors who are predicted to flock to the area every year.
The journey began at the state-of-the-art Gobbins Visitor Centre at Ballystrudder, where we met up with some Islandmagee residents and staff from the nearby Rinka shop who would also be taking part in the tour.
Following a safety briefing from our tour guides – warned those with heart or respiratory problems to think twice before attempting the arduous walk – the group was supplied with helmets and taken by minibus the short distance to a spot overlooking the cliffs.
Then began the trek down a steep access path followed by about 100 steps to Wise’s Eye, the entrance tunnel bored through the headland.
Accompanied by our guides for the entire 2km route, the group traversed the coastal path over a series of steel bridges, through a spectacular tunnel and over some thrilling water-splashed gantries that hug the cliff face.
Sensible footwear is a must, as the path is very uneven in places. It was a gloriously sunny day when the Times was granted access to the path on Friday, but walkers are advised to bring waterproof clothing in the event the weather changes.
There are no toilet facilities on the excursion and no food is allowed on the path (though walkers are urged to bring a bottle of water).
The tour stopped at various points along the route, allowing the guides to provide some informative facts about the history of the path and the birdlife which inhabits the cliffs.
The Gobbins will be a Mecca for wildlife enthusiasts, as it is the only nesting site for puffins on mainland Ireland. The cliffs also support significant populations of kittiwakes, razorbills, guillemot and other species.
After making our way across a few bridges (including the iconic tubular bridge) and marvelling at the spectacular scenery, we came across undoubtedly one of the most breathtaking and thrilling parts of the walk, a narrow cave passing through the cliffs known simply as ‘The Tunnel’.
Here, walkers are plunged into an eerie darkness. As your eyes adjust to the sudden blackness, you can eventually make out a ray of natural light creeping in at the far end of the cave. This leads to a steel staircase, guiding you out of the gloom and back to the outside world.
The path comes to an end after crossing a stunning suspension bridge, and at this point walkers must retrace their steps to the entrance and climb back up the steep access path to the waiting transport.
The minibus takes the scenic route back to the Visitor Centre, giving tourists a chance to take in the surroundings in Islandmagee and beyond.
The full excursion can last up to three hours, though for the less adventurous a cliff top walkway with viewing points is also available.
Speaking after the tour, Islandmagee resident Michael Carson told the Times: “The Gobbins really is a world-class attraction. It puts Islandmagee on the map and gives us something to be immensely proud of.”
To book a tour of the path, phone 028 9337 2318 where staff at the Visitors Centre are ready to welcome enquiries. Tickets must be pre-booked.
Tours start on the hour from 10am, with the last tour taking place at 3pm. The tour is priced at £8.50 for adults, and £6 for seniors and children.
A family ticket (two adults and three children) costs £23, while registered carers have access for free. It should be noted that the walk is not for young children, so anyone under 1.2m in height will not be admitted.
The Gobbins is a strenuous outdoor experience, with Mid and East Antrim Council advising that a “moderate level of fitness is required”.
For more information, visit www.thegobbinscliffpath.com