Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is a white-knuckle crossing, a windy rope bridge from sheer cliffs over a deep chasm to an island that rises sheerly out of a turbulent sea. The chasm is a little over 75 feet deep and almost 66 feet wide. And it seemed more.
When I got to the parking area for Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, there was a little office selling tickets to cross the bridge. I wasn’t sure I was going to cross, but when I found it was a nearly a mile, I decided to use some of my scant sterling to buy the ticket. Oh, and I learned it is pronounced Carrick-a-Redee, long e at the end.The walk was stunning, just absolutely beautiful. Take your time. Twice groups rushed past me, like the bridge might not be there if they waited. The area you walk through has been designated an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI). This is a conservation designation for Northern Ireland areas protected for special nature and geology conservation. Carrick-a-Rede is noted for geology, flora and fauna. The cliffs are amazing. There are unique plants and wildflowers. Sea birds, such as fulmars, kittywakes, guillemots and razorbills breed on the cliffs and islands.
Once I got there, a line had formed to allow crossing. People took turns, crossing over to the island and coming back. Not long after I got to the bridge, a woman completely freaked out. She got to the middle of the bridge and melted down. Her friends tried to reassure her, but her complete panic just escalated. The bridge attendants walked out and calmly talked to her while they pried her hands off the ropes and carry/dragged her back. About ten people in line decided the view from this side was enough for them.
You walk down some very steep steps. Then, the bridge attendants assist you to get a good grip on the bridge and across you go. The wind was pushing me backward, not to the side, which was good. It was REALLY a long way down. And you have to look down, to make sure your feet are on the boards. You have to hold on, which was hard, since my wrists still really hurt from the car wreck.Carrick-a-Rede Island was a peaceful grassy island. It might be the only place in Ireland with no sheep. The view of the sea, the cliffs and other islands was most amazing. There was some overheard conversation about how much it would cost to get a helicopter to take you back off the island. That group was still on the island when I left. I asked about it when I got back to Ardaghmore Guest House. My hostess, Genevieve McLernon, said it happens all the time. She said they can send a boat. I think the climb down and the boat might be scarier than the bridge.
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge History
Salmon are born in fresh water rivers and streams, migrate to the ocean, then return to where they were born to reproduce. Many salmon returned to the River Bann and the River Bush, passing by Carrick-a-Rede and other islands at the headland of north Ireland. The name Carrick-a-Rede means “The Rock of the Road,” probably the rock in the middle of the road of salmon during their spawning season each year from June till September.
Fishermen from the little village of Ballintoy took boats out into the sea and fished from the steep rock islands.
In 1731, Alexander Stewart, an Irish landowner and ancestor of the family of the Marquess of Londonderry, inherited a lot of property, some 3,505 acres, all tied up in debt. He did everything he could to increase income from his lands. Probably sometime around 1755 he had foremen erect a bridge to the island to increase the catch. (Some argue there was a bridge before this.)
The bridge was rebuilt many times over the centuries. It was put up in the spring, with the first of the salmon and taken down in the autumn, at the end of the run.
Carrick-a-Rede is a volcanic plug, the neck of an ancient volcano. The surrounding rock is very hard basalt. These sheer islands are made of even harder dolerite. Over centuries, the surrounding rock has eroded, leaving sheer cliffs and small islands on the north coast or Ireland. Underneath there are large caves.
The 400-year-old Salmon Fishery at Carrick-a-Rede has been restored. It was a shelter for fishermen working on this island. You can listen to oral histories collected from local people. Hear memories from Achi Colgan, the last fisherman at Carrick-a-Rede.