Review: The Gobbins
The Gobbins, Islandmagee, had been the most popular local tourist attraction in its day 100 years ago, and now with its reimagining, the buzz around the reopening has been incredible. So of course, it had to be attempted!
We walked the walk on its second day reopening and on its first full tour. It was no walk in the park as they say, but it didn’t help that I’d just taken off my fracture boot for a broken foot a week before. Bad move! When your confidence has been knocked and you’re scared where you walk, my Gobbins journey meant I was being overly cautious and feeling anxious about each step, every step of the way. But through that anxiety, the Gobbins still managed to blow me away with its stunning exhilarating beauty.
Arriving at the Gobbins Visitor Centre for our tour bang on time (those Carrick road works and diversions extended our journey by 20 minutes!), we rushed in to the briefing room, watched the video, got our helmets fitted, and boarded the bus to go Gobbins walking.
A short journey later and you’re dropped off at the roadside to began the descent of a very steep hill, knowing full well that the return walk up the hill was going to be a killer. (It was! I compared it to the last ascent before you get up to the top of Slieve Donard, but that could be me being anxious again!)
What followed was an awesome cliff face white knuckle walk along the 100 year old tracks carved into the dramatic Antrim coastline. They were first enjoyed in 1902 by the Edwardians following its original development by visionary Berkeley Deane Wise, Chief Engineer of the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway Company.
The walk has been refurbished with new railings and bridges in a £7.5 million investment by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council. The project has taken a few years to complete, and it’s easy to see why, the working conditions certainly wouldn’t have been ideal with a very narrow walkway, cliffs on one side and the Irish Sea (or is it the North Channel?) on the other. It’s not the most accessible of projects to work on. I liked that the original railings and bridges haven’t been completely removed; the developers have left evidence of these along the route.
I couldn’t help but think how on earth the Edwardian visitors at the turn of the last century did it with their period clothing and without helmets and today’s health and safety regulations. They were much more open for an adventure!
If you like a touch of adventure, this is the one for you. As the very narrow paths hug the cliff face, you’ll cross suspension tubular bridges over crashing waves, you’ll enjoy being closer to local wildlife and appreciating a place of stunning, awesome beauty. You’ll even get up close and personal with the only mainland colony of Puffins in Northern Ireland and you’ll spot a few kittiwakes in residence on the cliff (the whiff gives their location away!)
It’s great to welcome back The Gobbins to the NI tourist trail, but one thing is for sure, you need to have a reasonable level of fitness, not be too scared of heights and enclosed spaces, and not have any foot or leg injuries. You also need to dress appropriately including trainers or walking shoes/boots, and bring a bottle of water. The route follows narrow tracks along the cliff face and you’ll be squeezing through dark damp tunnels and caves, walking up and down hundreds of steps cut into the cliff which might be wet. Oh and it might rain!! Be prepared!
60 years after officially closing to the public, it’s exciting to see this attraction open again. Definitely get up to Islandmagee and try it out and when your done you’ll deserve a delicious Rinkha ice cream from the shop just down the road from the visitor centre.
After leaving the Gobbins, I was also inspired to create a new design based on the iconic tubular bridge. The design has proven popular so far, so watch out for some stock appearing in the Gobbins gift shop before peak season 2016. In the meantime, it’ll be for sale initially on postcards at my weekend stall in St George’s Market, Belfast.
Booking is essential as it’s proving a very popular attraction. More info is available at www.thegobbinscliffpath.com
Tours depart on the hour from 10am until 3pm. Tickets cost £8.50 per person and £23 for family tickets.