The emerald island has 3,171 kilometers of stunning coastline. Some of this coastline – like the Cliffs of Moher, and the Giant’s Causeway is well-known, and well visited. Other areas, however, feature pristine, off-the-beaten track gems with no tourists, and no locals. In the middle of this spectrum is the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge, the island’s only extreme historic coastal adventure. Created over three hundred and fifty years ago by salmon fishermen to connect Ireland to Carrick a Rede Island, the rope bridge was originally a single handrope which crossed the distance – some sixty feet (20 meters)– and depth – some hundred feet (30 meters) from bridge to ocean. At that time, the local fishermen crossed this rope with their fishing gear and catch to work at the fishery on the island. This fishery operated only during the summer months, and the bridge was dismantled and stored in the winter.
At some point during the course of its history, word spread regarding the perils and dangers that the fishermen faced in plying their trade, and tourists began to visit the area, including Americans. In 1851, Charles Leonard Thomassan of Kentucky visited the area, crossed the bridge, and stated: “For the boiling breakers are ever dashing themselves madly between the rocks hundreds of feet beneath, and the rope bridge is thrown about by the wind like a fabric of thread. Few trust themselves upon this airy fabrication, but Mr. Wilson and I, for the honor of old Kentucky braved all the terrors – and passed to and from the rock.” From this point, the bridge has been remade a number of times – most recently in 2008 – and is now a challenge for adventure tourists, rather than a working fisherman’s route.
Fees/Operating Hours. The rope bridge is now part of the United Kingdom’s National Trust, and is operated by the National Trust year-round from sunrise to sunset. The rope bridge has slightly different hours, but generally is open from 9 am through 5 pm. Visitors to the area should be sure to check the times online for the bridge if they are not visiting as part of a larger tour. As of 2017, it is seven pounds (around $10.00 USD) for an adult to visit the area, and cross the bridge, and 3.50 pound (around $5.00 USD). Visitors to the area should also be prepared with the proper currency, British pounds, not Euros, as the bridge is located in Northern Ireland, and not the Republic of Ireland.
Directions. The bridge is located at 119a Whitepark Rd, Ballycastle BT54 6LS, United Kingdom, which is a little over an hour from Belfast, and slightly over three hours from Dublin, and the nearest town in the area is Ballycastle. While there are a number of day – and multi-day tours that include the bridge as part of their route, tourists that are driving should strongly consider having a portable GPS unit as part of their rental package to aid in route and location finding, along with their passports as Northern Ireland is a separate country from the Republic of Ireland.
The Route/Crossing the Bridge. From the parking area at the National Trust, the path to the rope bridge follows along a well-maintained track that winds directly alongside the steep cliffs of the region. On a clear day, this walking track provides excellent views of the Atlantic Ocean, the blue-green water of the region, and Scotland. After a mostly flat kilometer, the track descends down toward the bridge, and the island. While the bridge is substantially safer today than its original predecessors, access is strictly regulated by the employees of the National Trust who control how many people are on the bridge, and when they may cross. What this means in practical terms is two things: first, that there will be no more than eight people on the bridge when one crosses; and two; that during busy tourist times, one may have a wait to both cross to the island – and to return.
From the Ireland side, one has excellent views of the bridge crossing over the ocean, and the impressive drop underneath it. Even though this should be obvious, I will say it anyways: if you suffer from vertigo, do not like heights, do not feel comfortable with bridges, drops, or anything of the sort, this attraction is not for you. While the bridge is safe, it moves, it sways, and it comes with a certain amount of risk. For me, I found the experience crossing the bridge to be fun, and an interesting historic experience, but I also participate in adventure sports. Overall, while the bridge has a certain “death-defying” feel, it is somewhat short, and it is worth noting that thousands of people – including old people and children also cross it yearly. Once over the bridge, one finds themselves on the island, and can hike along the well maintained path, view the fishery’s remains, and admire the coastal views before waiting in line to return to the mainland. Overall, the total route is just over two kilometers, with all of the uphill and downhill sections coming around the bridge area. The National Trust does an excellent job of maintaining the area, so it is very accessible to almost all skill levels.
Tips. Carrick-A-Rede is located near a number of other spots, including the Dark Hedges, the Giant’s Causeway, and Dunluce Castle, which means that if one has a car, there are a number of destinations one can visit over the course of a day. Even if one doesn’t have a car, this portion of Northern Ireland is popular enough that there are a number of tours that combine some of these sights in different combinations. If you are driving through Ireland and Northern Ireland, the best time to visit this spot is either at the beginning – or the end of the day, which lowers the chance one will get stuck in or behind a large tour. To further lower one’s chances of being in high bridge traffic, consider visiting during the off-season (November-March), however, the weather is slightly more unpredictable during those times.