Imagine it’s the turn of the century—the 20th century. As Chief Engineer to the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway you’ve built new stations and expanded the railway in the north of Ireland. Now you ponder how to attract more people to this beautiful part of Ireland. How do you do it? If you’re Berkley Deane Wise, you use your engineering skills to create The Gobbins (thegobbinscliffpath.com), which we visited in August, 2018.
The Gobbins opened in August, 1902. An advertisement from the time proclaimed, “New cliff path along the Gobbins Cliffs, with its ravines, bore caves, natural aquariums etc, has no parallel in Europe as a marine cliff walk.” We couldn’t agree more!
The Gobbins is located just a few miles north of Carrickfergus on the southeast coast of County Antrim. We stayed at Walter’s Place (waltersplace.co.uk), a lovely B&B just a short stroll away from Carrickfergus Castle.
One hundred plus years ago we might have scheduled a special excursion train to Whitehead or Ballycarry Station, hired a jaunting car to the Gobbins, stopped for breakfast at one of two path tearooms, then paid the toll collector seated at the entrance before ducking through Wise’s Eye.
Instead, we booked a tour online, had breakfast at Ownies Bar and drove our hired car to The Gobbins Visitor Centre (GPS 54.780767, ‐5.707604) where we viewed the Historical Photo Archive, collected our hard hats, had our footwear approved and received a welcome and safety talk from our guide Will. We then hopped aboard a van for the five-minute drive to the top of the path.
The walk down to the entrance is rather steep, promising a bit of a taxing hike back up at the end:) The path itself includes more than 1,000 steps, many of which are roughly cut into the rock, but is mostly level. We walked the path to the end and back in a little over two hours.
We stopped at key spots along the way as Will explained the history of the path, quizzed us on the names of the bridges (the first two are Bridge 1 and Bridge 2) and pointed out various birds and geological facts. There was even a dragon!
From Bridge 2 we could see the remnants of one of the original bridges as well as the entrance to Sandy Cave. While we couldn’t access the cave, Will explained that there used to be tables set up where families could picnic. Fortunately, there are a number of old photos in the museum portion of the Visitor Centre giving a glimpse of The Gobbins in its original state.
Among the highlights of the path is the Tubular Bridge. The original bridge, with a wooden plank floor and designed to resemble a railway tunnel, was hoisted in place from sea by ropes and manpower. It collapsed into the sea in 1981. The wider replacement bridge was lowered into place from the cliffs above.
The path continued down and around the cliffs to The Gallery. On a clear day you can see Scotland (we couldn’t). And, if you had been standing there on April 2, 1912 you would have seen a large passenger liner sail past on her sea trials. That ship was the RMS Titanic!
We descend into The Tunnel and emerge to cross the remaining bridges to the end of the path. Berkley Wise originally intended for the path to go past the caves known as the Seven Sisters. Will suggests if we want to see them we can kayak by them—though it’s safe to say we’ll wait to see if The Gobbins extends the path in the future:)
On the return trip, we experience the path and bridges from a different perspective and have a chance to ask Will any lingering questions, including, “What’s it like in bad weather?” Apparently, there’s a waiting list for just such days and we hope to return to experience it!
The final walk back up to the drop-off point is steep but Will pauses to let us catch our breath and takes the opportunity to point out the fairy tree along the way. The beautiful scenery gives us another chance to pause and take a few photos.
The Gobbins was closed in 1936 after the Great Depression, reopened briefly after WWII, but closed again in 1954 due to lack of funding and maintenance. Fortunately for us, major renovation led to reopening of The Gobbins in its current state in 2014. The entire experience is spectacularly well run and worth a visit next time you’re in Northern Ireland.
Ireland is an amazing country. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you discover The Gobbins! We’d suggest you put it high on your Ireland must-see list.