Page last updated at 05:55 GMT, Thursday, 11 September 2008 06:55 UK

6m plan for historic cliff walk

Pic from 1908, Courtesy University of St Andrews Library ref JV_60269
The sections were built in Belfast then floated to the Gobbins

By Arthur Strain
BBC News

In its hey-day it was a tourist attraction to rival the Giant's Causeway, but the public has been barred from walking the majestic Gobbins Path in County Antrim for more than 50 years.

The path was designed by Berkley Dean Wise for the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway Company as a way to attract passengers to use their rail link between Belfast and Whitehead.

Bracing walks along the seafront were a staple for the Victorians, and the company linked the town of Whitehead with the promontory at Blackhead to tickle the fancy of day-trippers.

Then as now there is always another challenge beckoning and Wise struck on the idea of a series of suspension bridges to head from Blackhead along the cliff-face of the Gobbins.

A tricky engineering project, it involved tunnels being built in Belfast then floated to Whitehead for installation.

Also accessible from the nearby Ballycarry railway station, the cliff path opened in 1902 in a blaze of publicity, promising new thrills for promenaders.

The action of the sea and rust took its toll on the path over the years and as the cost of maintaining it increased the path was closed in 1954.

Now what little remains lies derelict and inaccessible, but no longer forgotten with plans to reinstate it gathering pace.

Rusted, cracked safety rail

There is a 6m plan to reinstate the path, and the tendering period for the project is to end later this month, with the aim being for planning permission to be granted in Spring next year.

Larne Borough Council hopes it will attract 70,000 paying visitors on guided tours and become an internationally recognised visitor attraction.

Applications are being made for European and Heritage Fund money as well as to the Northern Ireland government departments to secure the funding needed to bring the project to life.

A survey into bird life on the cliffs to ascertain how the project may affect their habitat is also being undertaken.

Chief executive of the council Geraldine McGahey said the project had a lot of potential.


Built 1902

Abandoned 1954

Reinstatement cost 6m

"In its hey-day it attracted thousands of visitors to its spectacular cliff paths linked by bridges which were feats of architectural engineering at the turn of the century," she said.

"We are excited by the potential the Gobbins offers and look forward to making progress with the next steps in securing the funding needed for this project."

While the Gobbins Path is closed its sister pathway, Blackhead Path, remains a popular walk for the residents of Whitehead, part of the neighbouring Carrickfergus Borough Council.

Wise was the designer of this path as well, which linked Whitehead to Blackhead and opened in 1892. The path was one of the routes to the Gobbins and retains a flavour of the original engineering innovation involved.

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