… places in Northern Ireland: Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and Giant’s Causeway
This summer, a friend of mine and me spent our holiday on a three-week tour around the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. I knew beforehand that Rupert had once mentioned enjoying going to Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, but as major tourist attractions they were on our list of places to visit anyway.
So, here is a report along, with some of the pictures we took (a selection from over 411 pictures…) to give you an idea of what Rupert might have loved about those two places.
Carrick-a-Rede itself is a small island separated from the main land by a deep gap. The name Carrick-a-Rede translates to “Rock in the Road” (carraig = rock, rade = road). At least 100 million years ago, the area was covered by a calm and warm sea, and the skeletons of the small creatures having died there formed a lime-rich mud which eventually was compressed onto the white limestone, or chalk, forming the coast. Changes in sea level shaped the cliffs, and when a volcano blew depris into the air around 60-55 million years ago that created a conglomerate upon settling down, dark boulders (known as “volcanic bombs”), today’s scenery (or at least a very similar one) was completed.
Numerous seabirds can be found on the island, where they breed from May to July. Most of them are guillemots, razorbills, kittwakes and fulmars. From the early 17th century until 2002, Carrick-a-Rede was a place for commercial fishing, as salmons on their way to the rivers of their birth swam close to the coast and had to swim around the island as it obstructed their way (this is also the most popular explanation for the island’s name). Fishery was also the reason why the Rope Bridge was built about 250 years ago. Fishing ceased in 2002, as the average number of salmons had decreased to 200 a year (compared to 300 fish a day in 1962). But back in the days when the bridge was serving its purpose, the fishermen could get onto the island during the summer, while the bridge was dismantled in winter to protect it from damage done by the weather.
Even nowadays, the bridge is re-erected each year before Easter and taken off at the end of September. It may also be closed during the windy or rainy weather. For many years, the bridge only had one handrope. A second one was added a few years ago to enable the less-courageous tourists to cross the bridge as well…
You arrive at a car park just on top of the cliffs and have to walk for about twenty minutes to get to the bridge. On the way, you can already see the cliffs and get occasional glimpses of Carrick-a-Rede island, and sometimes you can even see the rope bridge. If you are lucky and you are alone, all you hear is the sea on the shore and the cries of birds.
After a few minutes, you have to cross a small wooden bridge across a gap in the cliff. The closer you get to the island, the more windy it becomes (although me and my friend visited the place on a really warm and sunny day), and it becomes easy to understand why the bridge is taken off during the winter months.
Steep metal stairs lead down to a small platform before you reach the actual rope bridge. The bridge itself sways due to the people walking across, but it even moves when you are standing on it all alone because of the strong wind. Due to the gap between the islands being so narrow, the scenery changes with every single step you take, and it does so both on your left and your right. So, if you get a chance to visit this place, take your time and enjoy the view.
From the other side of the bridge (on the island itself), you can also take a look back to the main land and the white cliffs and turquoise water to the northwest and the dark cliffs with caves to the southeast.
Right behind the bridge on the right hand side is the old fishermen’s harbour, which is nowadays nothing more than ruins. On the left hand side is a steep rocky wall down to the water which is covered with breeding birds. The birds’ cries are so loud that you can barely hear the sea, and you have to raise your voice when talking to someone. The island itself is almost like a raised platform, as the cliffs are so steep that you have to stay on the central part, which is covered in grass. If you are brave enough, you can walk up to the edge of the island (carefully, of course!) and see the “volcanic bombs” scattered around.
To get back, you have to cross the bridge once again. After that, make sure to walk back by taking the slightly longer way (towards the left), because you get an amazing view of Carrick-a-Rede island from that side!
[Here’s a clip of what it is like to cross the bridge. Staffer Karo is the person on the bridge. Watch her hair to get an idea of how windy it was (although, according to the staff members there, it was NOT very windy…)]
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Like the area around Carrick-a-Rede, part of the landscape at Giant’s Causeway was created about 60 Million years ago and is made of white limestone. When the continental plates pulled apart (separating America from Europe), hot magma surfaced along the fissures and spread over the landscape. When the lava cooled down, it cracked, similar to dried mud, with the difference of the cracks in the cooled lava going all the way through and therefore creating tall basalt columns. Most of these have five or four sides; some have more, others less, but only one is said to have three sides.
After the last ice age (15000 to 10000 years ago), the sea level was raised and formed the seaside landscape. The landscape with basalt columns spreads along the coast for several miles. For example, you can find the Organ (see the picture on the right), the Harp, the Chimney Tops or the Horse’s Back.
According to a legend dating back to the Third Century, the giant Finn MacCool (his Irish name is Finn mac Cumaill) wanted to battle with Benandonner, a rivalling giant living on the scottish island Staffa (one of the Outer Hebrids), and built a huge bridge across the sea to enable Benandonner to come to Ireland. Upon seeing the much bigger giant approaching, Finn MacCool fled and hid in a huge cradle, asking his wife to tell Benandonner that the “baby” was actually Finn’s son. Upon seeing the “baby”, Benandonner assumed that Finn was gigantic and fled in terror, destroying the bridge so that Finn would not follow. The remnants of the bridge are said to be the the columns at the Giant’s Causeway, as well as similar basalt columns found at Fingal’s Cave on Staffa. Another, more romantic legend tells us that giant Finn MacCool built the bridge across the sea to visit his beloved girlfriend on Staffa…
If you happen to visit this place, you will arrive at the visitor centre and then either take a walk (for about 10 minutes) or take the bus to the Giant’s Causeway, which actually consists of the Little, the Middle and the Grand Causeway (each spreading more or less into the sea).
The basalt columns differ in shape (4-8 sides) and height, some being below the sea level and others being up to 10 feet high. They also have different colours, from black to grey, others are reddish.
There are also little ecosystems on the columns, when rain has accumulated in a socket and algae have grown and or shells have been washed onto the columns with a huge wave. Grass and flowers grow in-between some of the columns set further away from the water. You should also keep an eye out for bird and other animals…
Make sure to climb onto the high columns and see how they lean to the side, and how high they actually are.
By following the path, you reach the organ and, by climbing up to the top of the cliffs, you can walk along the coast to take a look at the other Causeway areas, or walk back to the visitor centre and see the Giant’s Causeway from above.
Disclaimer: Information taken from Explore The Giant’s Causeway and Explore Carrick-a-Rede by The National Trust. Pictures and video clip by Karo and Lars. Please do not reproduce without permission.