Thursday, 16 July 2015

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge ...

Yesterday Emi, my father and I visited one of my favourite childhood haunts, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, just outside Ballycastle in County Antrim. I remember coming here as a little girl and being both scared out of my wits and exhilarated with the challenge of crossing the bridge. Reaching the other side safely always felt like a really big deal to my eight or nine year old self.

The wobbly bridge swings in the sea breeze between the mainland and Carrick-a-Rede island, some 100 foot or 30 metres above the waves spanning the 60 foot/ 20 metre chasm over the sea that makes Carrick-a-Rede an island. These days the nice people at the National Trust award Crossing the Bridge certificates to the brave folk who make it out and back again. 
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, County Antrim

Carrick-a-Rede is an anglicisation of the Gaelic Carraig-a-Rade, which translates as rock in the road. The road here is the sea route of the Atlantic salmon, which follows a westward journey past the island, and the island is the rock in that road. 

And for over 350 years the fishermen have strung a rope bridge above the sea at this point to allow them access to the best spots on Carrick-a-Rede island from which to fish for Atlantic salmon. They used to lay out nets, one end fixed to the land and the rest spread out like a great arc into the salmon highway. It was a lucrative business, which, in its heyday, supported over a hundred families in the area. 

Of course back then the bridge wasn't quite so elaborate as it is today. Health and safety regulations didn't feature large in the battle for survival in the famine-ravaged land of my ancestors. They would have walked along a few planks suspended across the abyss with only a single hand rope to support themselves as they carried their haul of fresh fish, nets and kit back home to the mainland. 

I guess must-do is a good master, and you can get used to a lot of things if you have to. The fishermen developed a head for heights that saw them able to cross back and forth with ease during the salmon-fishing season. 

I think this is a kittiwake with her chick

Today it's a very different business. Orderly queues form on either side and friendly guides from the National Trust control the traffic flow allowing a dozen or so people to take turns to pass across. It would be a bit hairy scary if they didn't operate a strict control. I really wouldn't want to have to rely on a sharp pair of elbows to muscle my way through in a free-for-all suspended up there above the void.

I think these are razorbills, but I'm not much of an expert on seabirds

And when you get across to the island you're rewarded with the most amazing sea cliffs that are positively teeming with birds. There's also a strong, organic smell that definitely isn't seaweed but, instead, comes courtesy of our feathered friends.

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, County Antrim

Going way back in time, about 60 million years, give or take the odd millennium, Carrick-a-Rede island was once a huge volcano. As you walk across the bridge you are in fact spanning the mouth of that ancient volcano. You can see the tortured black basalt rise up into a vertical pillar of solidified lava on the mainland, where it stands starkly against the white chalk of the cliffs. 

Sea Caves at Larrybane, County Antrim

 For my money it creates a very dramatic landscape with rocks that look as though they were forged in the pits of hell, and were then miraculously transported to the very peaceful Larrybane Bay.

Larrybane, County Antrim

And (photo below) out across the Sea of Moyle you can see Rathlin Island, one time refuge of Robert the Bruce. Way back in 1306 the Bruce was driven out of Scotland by Edward I of England. Battered and disheartened he sat alone one day on Rathlin and watched a spider persevere again and again to bridge a chasm with its web. Undaunted by setbacks and failure it kept going until it achieved its goal. The Bruce is said to have drawn inspiration from the little arachnid's determination, and to have returned to the fray with fresh forces and renewed vigour to regain his crown from the Sassenach King in 1314.

Rathlin Island from Larrybane

And closer to hand we had lovely views of Sheep Island and Stackaboy (the smaller island just in front).

Sheep Island with Stackaboy (looks like a rocky cupcake) in the foreground

But, turning our attention back to the mainland, we were enchanted by the fields of wildflowers that clung to the hillsides.

Wild flower meadow at Larrybane, County Antrim

I don't think I've ever seen quite so many meadow orchids growing in one pasture.

Wild flower meadow at Larrybane, County Antrim

If you'd like to visit Carrick-a-Rede you can find the website here: Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

1 comment:

  1. How fascinating! I do have vertigo at times, but would still love to go there one day, hehe!
    Your photos are all truly lovely, the pretty seabirds, the gorgeous wild orchids.... wow! Thank you for taking me there with you, Bonny. :)