Walking on air as work at Gobbins Path walkway starts in Islandmagee
The first sod on the new Gobbins Path in Islandmagee is being cut today – the first step in the revival of a crumbling Victorian coastal attraction that once drew more visitors than the Giant's Causeway.
By next summer thrillseekers will be able to navigate the spectacular cliff-face path once again, thanks to a £6m project led by Larne Borough Council.
Work is due to start shortly on the prefabricated steel sections of bridge and walkway that will eventually span the towering cliffs on the east coast of the Co Antrim peninsula.
The first of these sections is expected to be installed in mid-January, and some will have to be lifted in by helicopter.
Larne Borough Council chief executive Geraldine McGahey said ecological surveys had been carried out to examine the impact on the Gobbins cliffs – a rich habitat for breeding birds such as puffins and peregrine falcons.
"Northern Ireland Environment Agency says work on the north end of the path must be finished by March, so there is a very tight window of opportunity to get this stuff in place," she said.
The first sods will be cut on both the path and a nearby community/visitors centre in Ballystrudder today, she added.
"Tracey Brothers from Co Fermanagh are doing the visitors' centre in Ballystrudder and people will see that piece of work progressing first," she said.
In 1902 railway magnate Berkeley Deane Wise constructed the breathtaking Gobbins Path walkway along the face of the towering cliffs on the east coast of Islandmagee, with half-a-mile of paths, steps, bridges and tunnels running high along the outcrops, spanning waterfalls and plunging to within a few feet of the Irish Sea.
In its Victorian heyday the walkway was one of the most popular attractions in Ireland.
But by mid-century maintenance of the route had come to a standstill and over the years nature took its toll. The path closed to the public in 1954.
The new walkway will veer away from the original path in some sections and will feature around 15 bridges, including a tubular bridge and a suspended bridge.
The Gobbins is an area of basalt sea cliffs, up to 60m in height, on the eastern coast at Islandmagee, Co Antrim. The name comes from the Irish An Gobain, meaning 'the points of rock'. The cliffs command panoramic views across the North Channel, from the Outer Hebrides in the north to the Lake District and the Isle of Man in the south. Legends associated with the Gobbins include mythical figures such as Gobbin Saor, a terrifying giant who lived in the cliffs.