The Emerald Isle: Carrick-a-Rede Island
Thanks to jetlag and an overwhelming desire for a massive breakfast, we had an early start on our second morning in Ireland. We rented a room in an Airbnb house in Portrush with a large picture window that framed the striking landscape of Whiterocks Beach - a sight worth waking up to in the morning to be sure!
We broke our fast in Portrush. While tucking into a delicious 'full Irish breakfast' (complete with soda bread) at the Causeway Hotel, we chatted with our friendly local waitress about what we could do in the area on our drive back to Dublin. "It's a gorgeous drive, you can just follow the coast road and stop and go whenever you please. Although," she said, affixing a beady eye at the overcast skies, "you might be going more than stopping today." She wasn't wrong - it was drizzling lightly as we set off.
I kept an anxious eye on the sky. Our next stop was the rope bridge near Ballintoy (fun fact, Ballintoy was the film location for Pyke in Game of Thrones), which connects the mainland cliff to the tiny, uninhabited island of Carrick-a-Rede. It's a rope bridge about 20 metres long and 30 metres above sea level, meaning it's prone to swaying in windy weather. We were keeping all our fingers and toes crossed that we could still go despite the rain. But when we arrived at 9am, we realised we needn't have worried. The Irish have an attitude towards bad weather that's endearingly similar to the Kiwis' ("It's just a bit of rain"). So, tickets in hand, we began the long walk to the bridge.
We were determined to be the first visitors to the island that day, so we set off at a brisk pace. The drizzle petered out and the only sounds were of the surrounding sea and the occasional bird overhead.
The path is imbued with a special history - it's one that the local fishermen took several times a day to get to Carrick-a-Rede Island after the bridge was erected 350 years ago. "Carrick-a-Rede" means "the Rock in the Road" - the island was literally an obstacle in the migratory route of Atlantic salmon as they searched for the river of their birth. Before the bridge was built, it could only be accessed by boat and was consequently one of the most difficult fishing sites in the region.
Neither Ash or I had seen photos of Carrick-a-Rede, which is probably why we were completely undaunted by the thought of crossing a rope bridge suspended 30 metres above the Atlantic Ocean pounding against the wicked-looking rocks below. Ash and heights don't mix well (quite interesting considering he's an airline pilot) so maybe it was for the best that we didn't know what to expect. The walking route from the ticket booth doesn't give you a good view of the bridge from afar, but we stopped to take the below picture on the way back to the car park. I'm not sure we'd have been so confident about crossing if we'd seen this on the way there:
The rain meant that the ladder leading down from the little gate was quite slippery - and it's quite a steep climb. Ash and I just got on with it. Being a giving and generous person by nature (haha) I let him do the honours and cross the bridge first.
Once over the bridge, we still had a 8-10 minute walk to get to Carrick-a-Rede Island, made a little longer thanks to the rain. As we were the first ones across, we were lucky enough to have the entire island to ourselves for a few minutes. There are no protective barriers on Carrick-a-Rede save for a few small areas that were sectioned off due to the rain - and the island was ours to explore. It felt as though we'd stepped onto the very edge of the world. The sky was still a moody grey, but it made the surrounding views that much more dramatic. We even saw a seal paddling near the island.
On the way up from the bridge, we walked past a little fisherman's hut down below as well as a dilapidated little dinghy and a winch system. This is part of a restoration project of the salmon fishery that ran here until 2002 - the year the last salmon was caught on Carrick-a-Rede Island. I swear we could still smell the fish while walking up the path! It's beyond my imaginative capabilities what it must have been like trying to make a living off fishing here hundreds of years ago in bad weather. We joked that they must have had a blackboard with one of those safety signs up saying, "It has been X days since someone last plummeted to their death from Carrick-a-Rede Bridge." But the local fishermen in Ballintoy, then and now, know their trade, so it's doubtful this happened very often.
We picked up a terrible tea-and-scones habit while we were in Ireland - which entailed drinking copious amounts of tea with milk and sugar, accompanied by freshly baked scones. After our mini-hike (okay, not really any sort of hike but we're city folk with corresponding fitness levels) we were ravenous, so we had no choice but to indulge hobbit-style in "second breakfast" at Weighbridge Café. I was practically jumping up and down when I glimpsed the gorgeous Victoria sponge cake in the cabinet...it's been yonks since I've had a good Victoria sponge and I wasn't about to miss out on this golden opportunity. Needless to say it was heavenly! Just talking about it is giving me a wild hankering for a slice, and I'm tempted to dig out the recipe. Definitely my next rainy day project...
Looking back, it's hard to believe we crammed in so much of Northern Ireland in just two days, particularly after a 13-hour flight. We would have done even more if the weather hadn't been so iffy - every time we spotted something we wanted a closer look at, it started raining sideways. In the end, we settled for enjoying the drive along the winding country roads of Country Antrim, with views of the coast and countryside. Rolling green and gold fields and large, rambling farmhouses against a backdrop of stunning seascapes and dramatic cliffs...this was Ireland.