A new bridge for a new season – the famous Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, which is recognised as one of Northern Ireland’s most breath-taking attractions, will be erected by the National Trust on Sunday 24 February, weather permitting.
This year, a brand new bridge constructed from wire rope and Douglas fir timber by Heyn Construction in Belfast will be erected at a cost of over £16,000. Once again the Trust is offering the public the opportunity to witness this spectacular process.
Originally a practical link to allow fisherman access to Carrick Island, a natural barrier to migrating Atlantic salmon, the bridge is now a seasonal challenge for the intrepid visitor.
Mike Dobson, National Trust Property Manager for the North Coast said: 'The erection of the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is a key event on the tourism calendar, which involves a substantial amount of planning and organisation. If you think it’s frightening crossing the bridge itself, you should see the process involved in putting the bridge up in the first place.
'The enjoyment and safety of all who cross the bridge is paramount to the Trust and we are delighted that this attraction continues to be a huge success with visitors. We are continually encouraged by the thrill the rope bridge experience provides to all who cross it. It also presents a marvellous opportunity for people to discover more about how their forebears lived and how they earned a living.'
'Carrick-a-Rede' means 'the rock in the road' and refers to the island as an obstacle faced by migrating salmon on their return to spawn in the Rivers Bann and Bush. A rope bridge has existed here in some form for over 350 years and provides the only access to Carrick-a-Rede Island. It was used originally by generations of fishermen to cross the 30m chasm to fish for salmon. Designs have varied over the years, and the latest model (engineered in 2004) is considerably safer than earlier versions, but the trepidation and exhilaration experienced by visitors remains the same.
Fifteen people ranging from riggers and rope access specialists to National Trust wardens and volunteers will take almost two days to complete the whole construction process. Suspended across a 30m deep and 20m wide chasm separating the North Coast mainland from the Carrick-a-Rede Island, it is little wonder that this famous attraction welcomed over 227,000 visitors in 2007.
The process begins with a specialist abseiler lowering himself down the cliff face, walking across to the facing cliff at low tide and climbing up the far side. Once there, he attaches lines to the bridge anchors on Carrick-a-Rede Island and a pulley system is used to pull three steel ropes across the gap. The bridge is attached to two of these and the workmen attach their safety harnesses to the other.
The bridge will be rolled out flat at the top of the wooden steps leading down to the cliff edge and then the hard work really begins with a team of around 12 people involved in carrying the bridge down the steps. Once attached to the steel ropes across the gap, another steel rope is tied to the bridge and two men on Carrick-a-Rede Island haul it across the gap.
If you wish to go along to watch this event, work is set to begin at around 9.00am on Sunday 24 March. However, as the event is weather dependent please call 028 2073 1582 to check that the work is taking place before travelling. The rope bridge will be open to the public from Saturday March 1, 2008.