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Storm-hit Gobbins tourist path to reopen in time for summer

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By Noel McAdam

The disaster-hit Gobbins cliff path is to reopen in time for Northern Ireland's peak summer season, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

The historic cliff-side walkway will be back in business at the end of June - after being shut down over most of its first two years.

But the restored path will not include a small section at the far end, because of restrictions linked to bird nesting.

And in future, seasonal opening will be a feature of the white-knuckle walk to allow for annual off-peak maintenance work.

So far, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has spent around £500,000 repairing and restoring the spectacular site at Islandmagee.

And councillors, who last night decided on the reopening date, have also allocated some £2m for maintenance work on the attraction.

Bookings for the walk, which can take up to three hours and is not for the faint-hearted, are to begin in May.

The latest major tourist magnet first faced disruption in 2015 when the extreme weather conditions of Storm Frank caused a major rock fall which damaged the steep access path.

It then missed out on the Easter period last year and shut again on June 20 because of increased levels of rockfall - involving 3,000 tonnes of rock and soil.

A major cliff-side operation involved workers dislodging partially loose rocks to ensure visitor safety.

Mayor Audrey Wales said: "We're very excited to have a reopening date confirmed. The Gobbins is so special within Europe. It sits within an Area of Special Scientific Interest on account of its wildlife and habitats.

"It is one of the only mainland sites in Ireland where puffins nest and, as such, we will always be restricted by the bird nesting season. We will be unable to open a small section at the end of the 2km path in time for June because of the environmental sensitivities within this area and the associated planning restrictions, but we will work on those areas during the off-peak season later in the year.

"Seasonal opening will be a feature of the Gobbins going forward and will be necessary in order for the council to carry out its annual cliff maintenance work off-peak."

The Gobbins was brought back to life at a cost of £7.5m - just under half of the funding coming through the European Union's INTERREG programme - with the former Larne Borough Council providing £4m and further funding of £200,000 from the Ulster Garden Villages charitable trust.

The brainchild of Irish railway engineer Berkeley Deane Wise, the Gobbins first opened in 1902 and remained a major attraction until the 1930s.

Carved into black basalt cliffs, it is an engineering triumph, connected by a network of walkways and bridges, the most iconic of which is the 'tubular bridge'.

Councillor Wales added: "We have spent about a quarter of a £2m budget to date - which is a significant investment in growing the local economy in Mid and East Antrim through the creation of sustainable jobs and tourism."

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