It’s been a while since Explorer Beastie got out anywhere, hasn’t it? So, when we were offered the chance to get away for a day and see The Gobbins Cliff Path in beautiful Co. Antrim, we were both pretty excited! We’d heard a lot about this place from other people… and from other Beasties, too. BeastieBlog long-timers might remember Paddy and Plunkett paying the place a visit in its early days, back in 2015! The path has recently reopened after being closed for repairs and upgrades for a lot of last year, and we were champing at the bit to see this unusual attraction for ourselves.
But first – safety! Even adventurous Explorer Beastie was a tad unsettled when he read this…
“Arduous?! I thought this was supposed to be fun!”
But a quick look around the exhibition perked him up again…
…Especially when he found this part of the original walk named after a certain tangerine-hued world leader!
Good spooky picture, too! So, it wasn’t long before Explorer Beastie was back to his usual carefree self.
But let’s get on with the main event, shall we? We met our guide and hopped into the minibus, which brought us to the beginning of the trail. We were really lucky with the weather, and as we headed down towards the shore, it was so clear that we were able to see Scotland in the distance. Closer to home, we caught a glimpse of the Copeland Islands, which are just off the coast of Co. Down. Can you see them? They’re the three dark grey lines on the horizon in this photo:
I spent some happy summer days there when I was younger… but what I didn’t know is that they were the inspiration for Laputa, the floating island in Gulliver’s Travels! Thanks to a trick of the light, it often looks like they’re hovering slightly above the surface of the sea.
Before beginning the cliff walk itself, we were able to take advantage of one of the newest additions to the Gobbins – a viewing platform that looks out over the sea, and gives you a bird’s-eye view of the starting point. It was amazing… but don’t look down!
As we approached the entrance, we walked past hedgerows and cliffsides just bursting with beautiful wild flowers. This place isn’t merely a novelty attraction – it’s also an area of special scientific interest, with a huge variety of resident flora and fauna.
And look, here we are at the entrance!
This is Wise’s Eye, the gateway to the Gobbins. The gap in the rock behind me was the official entrance back in the walkway’s turn-of-the-century heyday, and I would have had to pay sixpence to get inside! It’s named after Berkeley Deane Wise, the man who designed and created the pathway. He was an Irish railway engineer who, in order to get people to make better use of the rail networks, created numerous attractions and resorts around Co. Antrim that they would want to visit. The Gobbins Path was the most ambitious of these – a series of bridges, steps and tunnels cut out of the cliff face itself. Cut out by hand, I should probably add – which is perhaps why Wise’s Eye is so narrow!
One of the features that appealed to the first tourists to visit this area was the “unusual landforms” along this stretch of coast… Like this stony face that greets you as you round the corner from Wise’s Eye! Can you see it?
Although most of the original pathways are actually still in use today, the bridges that were here when the Gobbins first opened all needed to be replaced. The new bridges have been designed to withstand the worst that the local climate can throw at them, and weather in such a way that they’ll gradually blend in with the landscape.
Further along, the high cliff walls separate you from the rest of the land, so you feel completely surrounded by the smell and sound of the sea.
The water looks quite inviting, doesn’t it?
Another cool thing about this area is its geology. Here, we’re not so far from the world-famous Giant’s Causeway, and you can actually see similar (but smaller and less regular) columns of basalt rock in the cliffs!
And what’s Explorer Beastie looking at so intensely in the second picture? Well, he’s trying to find Gobbinsite, a mineral that was discovered right here in this very area. Deposits have subsquently popped up all over the globe, but it still retains the name of the place where it was seen first. What someone should probably tell Explorer Beastie is that Gobbinsite is one of a group of minerals that all look very similar, and can only be differentiated by looking at the crystals under a microscope… But the promise of poking around some Beastie-sized caves should probably distract him nicely from that small technicality!
There are human-size caves here as well, although we weren’t able to access them this time around. Apparently they were once used by smugglers, and I read that they were a popular destination for picnics and tea parties back in the day too!
In the picture on the top right, you can also see the remains of part of the old path, which hugged the cliff line much more closely than the current one. But the most striking part of the walk is just around the next corner – the impressive Tubular Bridge!
This is a reconstruction of the bridge that occupied this stretch of the original walk, and which quickly became the trademark of the Gobbins path. The updated version is twice as wide as its predecessor, but thanks to the fact that it’s made from stainless steel rather than wrought iron, it actually weighs less… And it no longer needs to be repainted every winter to protect it from the elements!
Unfortunately, ongoing maintenance works meant that the Tubular Bridge marked journey’s end for us this time around. Perhaps just as well, since a certain little woolly monster was starting to fall behind the rest of the tour group…
Still, when you’re so small, it’s easy to hitch a ride home. And that leaves you perfectly refreshed to pose cheerfully with the sign on the way out…
… And play on the beach for the rest of the afternoon!
We had such a great time exploring The Gobbins last week, and Mark, our guide, was friendly and super-knowledgeable! There are only a few days left in the current tour season, but the full path is due to reopen in the Spring, so be sure to book your tickets if you’re heading to this part of the world! Oh, and Game of Thrones fans will probably be interested to learn that the bus trip back to the centre takes you within Jon-Snow-stalking distance of Castle Black… Just sayin’!
Has anyone else headed to the Gobbins this summer? What did you think? Let us know in the comments! And we’ll have more monster fun for you next Tuesday, so we’ll see you then!