Page last updated at 11:43 GMT, Thursday, 5 November 2009

Carrick-a-Rede is a bridge for all seasons

Carrick-a-Rede
Don't look down - 231,000 people have made the crossing so far this year

It could be a bridge too far for some, but for the first time, the owners of the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge have decided to brave the winter weather and keep the infamous tourist attraction open all year round.

More than 231,000 visitors with a head for heights have crossed the 30m deep chasm on Northern Ireland's north coast so far this year, and that number is now set to increase.

The National Trust, which looks after the rope bridge, usually faces the daunting task of dismantling and packing it away when the colder months set in, but according to the Trust's general manager for the area, Max Bryant, visitors want all-year access to top local attractions.

"Obviously, with tourism becoming more to Northern Ireland and the north coast we're having more and more people who, when they come at any time of year, want to be able to go to the iconic sites, such as the Causeway, and the rope bridge is very much up there with that," he said.

Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge
The bridge is usually closed over the winter months

And apparently they are not put off by the prospect of crossing in cold, wet weather, which is just as well perhaps.

"Given the summers we've been having recently there probably wouldn't be too much difference," Mr Bryant said.

Safety concerns

But is it really wise, or even safe to keep the bridge open during wild winter days on the north coast?

"Certainly we take health and safety very seriously and the bridge is only crossable when the wind is under a certain speed," Mr Bryant explained.

"So actually, in terms of what the crossing will be like, it will be very similar to how it would be in the summer."

He added that the views of the local landscape might look a little different at various times of the year, but he hoped it would be "no less intense and satisfying" for visitors.

"We're seeing a huge demand for access to places over the Christmas period and we think that the rope bridge will be ideal for friends and family coming to visit us at that time of year."

Popularity

In terms of additional costs to the Trust, the general manager said they hoped to "break even" with the move by serving hot soups and stews to cold tourists at the site.

The rope bridge is suspended between cliffs at Ballintoy and Rocky Island in County Antrim.

A maximum of eight people are allowed to cross at any one time.

Figures from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board showed that Carrick-a-Rede was the sixth most popular local attraction in 2008 with 241,291 visitors, up 8% on the previous year.



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