Spectacular Gobbins walkway reopens after 60 years
A spectacular coastal walkway that was a tourist magnet in Edwardian times has reopened to the public after 60 years lying closed and derelict.
The Gobbins path was first hewn out of the basalt sea cliffs near Islandmagee, Co Antrim, in the 1900s and the thrill of traversing its suspension bridges and navigating its dark tunnels and caves drew visitors from far and wide. In its heyday it was reputed to attract more tourists than the iconic Giant's Causeway further up the coast.
But the creation of imaginative railway engineer Berkeley Deane Wise fell into disrepair in the 1950s and access was officially closed off in 1954.
After a £7.5 million investment project, the Gobbins today reopened and welcomed its first paying visitors in six decades.
Typical of a Northern Ireland summer, the weather was not kind on the ten walkers in the historic first tour - but the torrential rain failed to dampen the spirits.
Two of the visitors used to sneak on to the abandon paths and bridges of the Gobbins as children 50 years ago.
Retired paramedics Dave Hope and Gus Geddes, both originally from nearby Whitehead, hailed the transformation.
"As kids we used to scramble along it at risk of life and limb," said Mr Hope.
"It's great to see the way they have re-engineered it. It makes you even more appreciative of the feat of engineering back then, more than 100 years ago."
Lissey Barnett from Cheltenham completed the two hour walk with her father and two sisters.
"It was really fun, I think the rain actually made it more enjoyable," she said.
Eleanor Sgotta from Italy was the first continental visitor on the new-look path.
"The weather was not a problem," she said. "It was a good experience."
The rescue of the Gobbins was led by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, which hopes to establish it as a global tourist attraction.
Borough mayor Billy Ashe said: "We have brought back an exhilarating experience that reinforces the strength of Northern Ireland's tourism offering and in no time The Gobbins will become the respected tourism giant it once was all those years back."
The re-imagined Gobbins is complemented by a new interactive visitor centre and cafe.
"It is with great pride and excitement that we open the doors of the Gobbins and share its majestic story with a new generation," said Mr Ashe.
"There has always been a huge interest in the attraction even long after it closed and today that interest has been heightened dramatically. The demand to experience what is a truly amazing jewel in the Antrim coastal crown has stretched beyond Northern Ireland as far afield as Australia.
"Bookings are coming in fast and the demand has been phenomenal. I have no doubt that the enthusiasm for The Gobbins will continue to grow rapidly for the foreseeable future."