Construction on the £6 million Gobbins Cliff Path project at Islandmagee is due to commence this summer, it has been revealed.
The long-awaited scheme, which Larne Borough Council hopes will become one of the top tourist destinations in Northern Ireland, is expected to welcome its first visitors next year.
The local authority has now set out a timeline for the construction process, which will be split into three phases.
Work is due to begin on the erection of the visitors centre and community centre in mid-July, and is expected to last about 10 months.
Contractors will then begin work on the cliff path at the end of September, with a completion date of May 2014.
The second phase of the ambitious project involves the creation of a cliff top path, which the council are marketing as a white-knuckle walk across one of Ulster’s most dramatic coastlines.
Some of the key features of the path will include a 25m suspension bridge, a tubular bridge and two causeways.
The final phase will see the construction of an elaborate steel staircase, which will form an intrinsic part of the project by providing a direct link between the upper and lower paths.
When the first visitors set foot on the Gobbins next year, they will be given short history of the path and a health and safety briefing, before boarding a minibus for a trip to the top of the path.
They will then walk down to the cliff path entrance at Wise’s Eye, where they will be treated to a guided tour with breathtaking vistas.
The minibus will then take walkers back to the Visitors Centre, where they can avail of the craft shop and cafe facilities.
The total tour time is anticipated to last around two hours and cost about £6 per person; although that price is to be reviewed. All profits will be reinvested in the path.
The Gobbins Cliff Path was built in 1902 and in its heyday attracted more visitors than the Giant’s Causeway.
The three-quarter-mile path was linked by a series of spectacular metal bridges which were incredible feats of engineering, but the attraction fell into disrepair after WWII. The path was closed to the public in 1954.
Larne Council has allocated £2 million to the restoration scheme, and a further £200,000 of funding has come from Ulster Garden Villages Ltd.
The initiative also aims to develop links between the Gobbins and Sliabh Liag in Donegal, and has received about £3.5 million of European funding.