The Gobbins team welcomes sightseers back to ‘the most dramatic cliff path in Europe’
A Mid and East Antrim visitor attraction loved by the Edwardians is set to enjoy renewed popularity with bookings restored following closure during lockdown.
The Gobbins in Islandmagee reopened on September 1 with a ‘Good to Go’ certificate in place to ensure customer confidence during the Covid pandemic.
This official UK mark ensures the attraction is following and upholding Government and industry Covid-19 guidelines regarding the maintenance of cleanliness and social distancing.
Tours are limited to a maximum of 10 per group. Visitors and staff must wear face coverings in the visitor centre, on the minibuses and on the path where hand sanitiser is provided by staff.
A minibus is used to transport visitors from the centre at Middle Road to the attraction on the coast nearby.
The cliff path was originally the brainchild of visionary engineer Berkeley Deane Wise of the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway Company who recognised the potential of bringing visitors to remote beauty spots.
The extension of the railway to Larne with its new steamer service to Scotland helped Wise to develop the area as a tourist destination. He transformed Whitehead, building a promenade, auditorium and bandstand and imported sand to create a beach.
Also in his sights further along the Antrim Coast was Glenariff which could then be reached by rail to create a a series of scenic paths and rustic bridges. Wise created shelters with coloured glass to view the spectacular waterfall. He even built a tearoom with a dedicated darkroom for photographers.
Wise designed and built The Gobbins cliff path as a tourist attraction for the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway Company. It opened in 1902 and was hailed as a “perfect marvel of engineering” with visitors enjoying its “ravines, bore caves and natural aquariums” and featuring bridges, tunnels and caves.
Upkeep declined after the railway company got into financial difficulties during the 1930s and it closed 1n 1936. Railings were painted black to prevent the coastal path being used as a landmark for air raids during World War II.
It was reopened by the Ulster Transport Authority after the war but closed in 1954 and abandoned seven years later.
It continued to decline over the ensuing decades. Antrim County Council planned a major restoration but there was no progress until Larne Borough Council agreed to add to funding from the European Union’s INTERREG IVA Programme in 2011 along with support from Ulster Garden Villages Ltd to make the project a reality.
The “reimagined” path was built in 2014 and opened the following year at a cost of £12.5m. The three kilometre path now includes 15 new bridges and a 5.4 tonne tubular bridge as well as a 22 metre tunnel with a section that runs below sea level with viewing platforms providing panoramic views across the Irish Sea to Scotland and over Belfast Lough to North Down.
Clinging to the cliff face, It is widely regarded as “the most dramatic cliff path in Europe”.
The Gobbins is also an Area of Special Scientific Interest and home to a range of birds including puffins during nesting season, razorbills, cormorants and guillemots.
Since opening in 2015, The Gobbins coastal path has welcomed almost
100,000 visitors, steadily increasing from 7,863 in 2015/2016 to a record 31,592 from around the world in 2019/2020.
On Wednesday, visitors from the England, Germany and the Republic of Ireland were among sightseers.
Ryan Duffy and Karen Ward, from Donegal, agreed that the £20 entry fee for adults was value for money. Bookings must be made online. Tours last approximately three hours.
Karen said she thought it was “reasonably priced”. She indicated that she had heard about the attraction by word of mouth.
The couple said it was “something different”. “We would recommend it. It was lovely.”
Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter.
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