“I’m not going to look down. I’m not going to look down. I’m not going to look down!” repeated my daughter F as she approached a rickety looking structure 100 feet (30m) above the Atlantic Ocean. The rope bridge has a tendency to sway in the wind, or indeed when anyone puts their weight on it when walking across. It leads to Carrick-a-Rede Island and was first constructed by salmon fishermen more than 350 years ago. F walked straight across with her eyes fixed firmly on the other end. I followed and took the opportunity to wave to my wife S, who had elected to walk to a viewpoint located safely on the mainland – she’s not keen on wobbly structures suspended high above the sea.
Our day had started outside Rathmore Golf Club in Portrush, hailing down the Causeway Rambler bus as we had the day before. It was fare rise day and things were a little more complicated (and expensive) than the day before, not helped by the fact we were planning to visit 2 different places. The driver took some time working out the fare with pen and paper. He assured us he would let us know when we arrived at the stop for the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge.
In the meantime, we enjoyed another scenic ride along the Causeway Coast, passing Dunluce Castle, Whitepark Bay, the Giant’s Causeway and travelling through the villages of Portballintrae, Bushmills and Ballintoy. The driver stopped in the middle of nowhere, announcing that we had arrived at our destination.
We embarked on a walk down a narrow lane, where a National Trust Ranger greeted us in between helping cars find a suitable parking space. After obtaining 2 tickets for a timed crossing of the rope bridge, F, S and I set off on the short coastal walk towards Carrick-a-Rede Island. We rambled along the clifftops admiring the beautiful scenery until we came to a series of steep steps leading down to the rope bridge. At this point, S bailed out, leaving F and I to carry on. There was a small queue at the bridge where a Ranger was checking tickets, which give an hour window in which to cross.
Once on the island, we decided to explore the areas we had access to. Some parts were roped off, either to protect us or natural habitats. To the right was the fisherman’s cottage (the only building on Carrick-a-Rede) and a fishing boat perched well above the water. A crane like contraption had been commissioned by the National Trust to lower it into the water, probably a little more modern than the original. To my untrained eye, it seemed an almost impossible location to fish from but I must be wrong, as they did so for hundreds of years.
Walking on past the cottage, F and I arrived at the northern edge of Carrick-a-Rede where we had unobstructed views across to Rathlin Island. Scotland’s Mull of Kintyre could also be seen, which seemed to be a great attraction for visitors to get selfies standing in Ireland with Scotland in the background. In my picture of F, the Mull can be seen very faintly on the far right.
Carrick-a-Rede Island is home to seabirds including kittiwakes, razorbills, guillemots and fulmars. In the surrounding seas, basking sharks, dolphins and porpoises can often be spotted. On our visit in early September, we were unlucky from a wildlife watching point of view, failing to see any of these despite gazing into the ocean for some while with the aid of binoculars. Walking back across the island gave us a good view of the mainland cliffs and I spotted some sea caves at their base.
And so we arrived back at the rope bridge. This time, without a hint of fear, F was determined to look down at the sea below her and all around. She wanted to take in everything before she left. Once back on the mainland, we ascended the steps to meet S and returned along the same coastal path to a well earned lunch at the Weighbridge Tea Room.
Suitably refreshed, we had a decision to make. We could extend our walk past Larrybane quarry along the coast to Ballintoy harbour, and climb up to the end of Harbour Road to catch our bus. This would have bagged us another 2 Game of Thrones locations, but not being devotees of the show, we opted instead to return up the lane on which we arrived to catch an onward bus to the seaside port of Ballycastle.
Ballycastle is certainly in a beautiful setting with an expansive sandy beach, looking towards dramatic cliffs at Fair Head and beyond to the Mull of Kintyre. Rathlin Island and the harbour to the left complete the panorama. There are some places I visit where I wish there were a few less people, or better still none at all, so my family and I could have them all to ourselves! Enjoyable though our visit was, Carrick-a-Rede would fall into this category. However, I felt Ballycastle seafront could do with just a little more life. It was a Friday afternoon and nothing seemed to be going on. It probably didn’t help that we had a child to entertain and spent more time there than we had intended – more of that later.
Having said all that, we did have a pleasant stroll on the beach and found a few decent flat stones for skimming across the river that ran down onto it. The exercise machines on the front helped F and I get an additional and more rounded workout after our earlier walk. A stroll around the harbour revealed that this was one of the locations where Marconi tested his new fangled radio equipment, communicating with Rathlin Island. The first transmission is commemorated by a plaque. Walking on, I was astounded when I saw the ferry that crosses to Campbeltown in Scotland. I’m convinced I’ve seen bigger sailing dinghies! Unless the sea was an absolute millpond, I wouldn’t be too keen on using it.
Ballycastle’s town centre is somewhat detached from its seafront. We thought about walking there, but mistakenly believed we wouldn’t have time to get there and back before the bus came. Instead, we filled half an hour by having a drink in a traditional pub, where a handful of crusty old gents were watching the horse racing and checking the odds. It was the sort of place where a few years ago before the smoking ban, I’d imagine the air would have far more tobacco fumes than oxygen. The bartender though was very welcoming to our family, which can make all the difference.
After our drink, we walked out to the bus stop to wait for the Causeway Rambler – wait and wait and wait! It was 20 minutes later, when the mobile reception was strong enough to get internet access, that we found out the bus had been cancelled. Nearly an hour of milling about aimlessly ensued. If only we’d known, we could have wandered further and made more of our afternoon. The following (and last) bus was late. The driver was so keen to make up time that he did the route at breakneck speed, forgetting a few stops along the way including ours! This was the first test of F’s travel sickness on our trip and I felt like saying to her “eyes on the horizon. Don’t look down. Don’t look down. Don’t look down!” Although too late for a swim in the sea, we made it back to Portrush safely, albeit with a lot more buffeting than crossing the rope bridge.
Carrick-a-Rede is in Northern Ireland on the Antrim Coast, also known as the Causeway Coast
Ballintoy is just off the A2 road from Londonderry (aka Derry) to Belfast. The National Trust car park and bus stop are about ½ mile east of the village on the coast road to Ballycastle. The 402 Causeway Coast Rambler bus connects Carrick-a-Rede with Ballycastle, Ballintoy, Bushmills, Portrush and Coleraine. It stops at most tourist attractions and beauty spots along this coast. The nearest train stations are Portrush (15 miles) and Coleraine (17 miles). For airport information, please refer to my blog on the Giant’s Causeway
The National Trust operates a timed entry system for Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, which gives you a window of 1 hour in which to cross. You can return at anytime. At busy times, it is best to arrive early as crossings sometimes sell out for the day. Be prepared to return later or perhaps enjoy a coastal walk, if there is a gap between your arrival and crossing times. The rope bridge may close if there are high winds. Check before you go by phone or on the Carrick-a-Rede twitter account @NTCarrickarede . For further information on Carrick-a-Rede click here
Food and accommodation
There is a tea room at the car park serving lunches, drinks and snacks. The nearest accommodation is in Ballintoy, with more options at Ballycastle, Bushmills and Portrush. We rented an apartment in Portrush through airbnb
My family and I visited the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge as guests of the National Trust. All opinions expressed are my own, and the National Trust has not influenced the contents of this blog in any way