Spectacular Gobbins cliff path back on tourist trail after a £7.5m facelift
Puffins, eerily carved cliffs and crashing waves - it's only a matter of months now until the spectacular Gobbins cliff path opens to the public for the first time in more than 60 years.
The Belfast Telegraph was granted a behind-the-scenes look at the final stages of the work which is going on to revive the Edwardian tourist attraction on Islandmagee that once drew more visitors than the Giant's Causeway.
But forget those images of crinoline-clad ladies picnicking in the Sandy Cove back at the start of the 20th century - the restored attraction is strictly for thrill-seekers and those who can handle a bracing climb.
It's going to be "daredevil stuff", according to the team behind the ambitious £7.5m project, with visitors scaling narrow, winding steps cut from the basalt cliffs, braving the 23 metal bridges and water-splashed gantries installed along the sheer face and plunging down to a series of steps that drop below sea level.
And it won't be a mass attraction packed with long caterpillars of visitors shuffling along. Access to the Gobbins path will be strictly controlled, open only to groups of 12 visitors at a time who have booked a fully guided experience tour at the new visitor centre in nearby Ballystrudder.
Most visitors will book their tour online before travelling to the Islandmagee centre which offers an interpretative display re-enacting the sounds and sights of the spectacular rock face, from puffins to projections of gulls performing courtship rituals on the high cliffs and even a tunnel that children can crawl through.
After a safety briefing, they will be taken by minibus to the road overlooking the cliff before walking down a steep lane to the starting point at Wise's Eye, the entrance tunnel bored through a basalt headland by Berkeley Dean Wise, the visionary chief engineer of the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway Co who designed the original path.
Yesterday, a yellow crane jutted from the cliff edge above the attraction and workmen industriously installed cabling along the precipitous walkways. Because work is still in progress, there was no access to the path or the clifftop route that will also be open to the public - but the Belfast Telegraph did get to venture round the second headland to cross the first of the bridges.
The narrow route uses the original uneven steps that were carved out of the cliff by pick and shovel more than a century ago.
The new Mid and East Antrim Council, which took ownership of the attraction from Larne Borough Council, hopes to attract 50,000 visitors in each of its first two years, rising to 70,000.
The Gobbins is an area of basalt sea cliffs, up to 60m in height, on the east coast of Islandmagee. The name comes from the Irish An Gobain, meaning 'the points of rock'. Legends associated with the Gobbins include mythical figures such as Gobbin Saor, a terrifying giant who lived in the cliffs. The project will revive the original Gobbins cliff path, installed in 1902 by Berkeley Dean Wise, and consists of a series of spectacular bridges and gantries.