The Larne Times been treated to a preview of the restored Gobbins cliff path ahead of its official opening this summer.
Elected representatives and council officers took their first steps along the dramatic coastal path last Thursday, where Larne Mayor Martin Wilson unveiled a plaque dedicated to those responsible for the reinstatement of the Islandmagee tourist attraction.
And the Times was granted access to the path to get a sense of what lies ahead for the tens of thousands of visitors who are predicted to flock to the area when the Gobbins opens to the public later this year.
The journey begins at the state of the art Gobbins Visitor Centre at Ballystrudder, where walkers will meet their tour guide and be placed into groups of no more than 12.
Following a short safety briefing, they will then be transported by minibus the short distance to the road overlooking the cliffs, before trekking down a steep slope to the entrance of the path at Wise’s Eye.
From this point, visitors will be able to traverse the coastal path over a series of bridges, through a tunnel and over some thrilling water-splashed gantries that hug the cliff face.
The full excursion is estimated to take several hours, though for the less adventurous a cliff top walkway with viewing points will be available.
The Gobbins path was originally designed by visionary engineer Berkeley Dean Wise and built in 1902, but fell into disrepair following the Second World War and was closed to the public in 1954.
It is being reinstated at a cost of £7.5m, with Larne Borough Council providing more than half of the funding for the scheme.
After walking along a section of the path to the iconic tubular bridge, Councillor Gregg McKeen said: “It was a fantastic experience and really surpassed my wildest expectations.
“I think people are going to be really pleasantly surprised by this experience, which offers spectacular scenery along the coastline and across the Irish Sea.”
Once they have completed their walk along the rugged cliff path, tourists will return to the Visitor Centre, where they can complete their experience by making use of the interactive exhibition, cafe and gift shop.
The facility also features a large hall for community use, which East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson described as a “fantastic asset for local people”.
He added: “The Gobbins path is destined to be a major draw for tourists, and this building is a wonderful addition to the whole experience. The fact that it also doubles as a modern community centre for local groups is great.
“When the Gobbins opens later this year, it will attract tens of thousands of visitors to the area and will provide a thrilling day out for families.”