“Terrified. Please don't tell my staff.” Meet Caroline Redmond, site manager of County Antrim’s Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge
The above quote is her honest answer to how Caroline felt the first time she crossed the bridge to Carrick ('rock' in the Irish language), the island that gives the bridge its name. In fairness to her, she was only seven at the time.
But she steadied her nerves and crossed the famous bridge that swings 30m above the rocky North Antrim coast.
And it does swing. It shakes a little, too. But don’t worry, it’s all perfectly safe. “Working daily on the bridge soon stops fear,” says Caroline. “It’s VERY well made.”
Crossing Carrick-a-Rede might seem like a minor jaunt. After all, it's only 20m wide. But ask anyone who's done it what they think and it quickly becomes clear that this is an experience to remember.
“I was fine if I didn't look down,” says UK visitor to the Causeway Coast, Emily Alexander, who crossed the bridge in 2012. “Once you’re out on it, it feels incredible, but it can be daunting taking the first few steps. Brilliant fun, though, and I'd definitely do it again.”
According to Kimberley Wanzer on Discover Ireland’s Facebook page, it's an event that is best described with more than a few exclamation marks: “Just went across last week! WHAT AN EXPERIENCE!!!!!! LOVED IT and in my life I've never seen such beauty.”
Kimberley is right: the bridge, the cliffs, the sea, the island take your breath away. But what on earth is a tiny rope bridge doing there in the first place?
“For over 250 years fishermen have kept a bridge here,” Caroline explains. “It allowed them to get to the best places to catch the migrating salmon. After a year or more in the deep oceans of the north, salmon swim home to the rivers of their birth on the north coast. Carrick-a-Rede is on their westward migration route.”
The year 2002 saw the end of fishermen working here when the salmon changed their migration route. Today, their legacy is an isolated, whitewashed cottage sitting on Carrick in a location that is the very definition of precarious.
“That’s the fishery,” Caroline explains. “A new project will restore it to how it was when the last fisherman left in 2002. It’s a collection of photos, memories, and artefacts from local people. Basically an amazing set of information about the bridge over its long history.”
Sirens and stamps
With 250,000 visitors in 2011, that long history looks to be getting longer. And richer. The bridge has adorned stamps, welcomed the Olympic Torch in 2012, and featured as a finalist in National Geographic photo competitions.
In a lone comment under his image, the photographer, Vinay Almani, adds to the intrigue with mention of Greek sea deities:
“If you listen carefully, you can hear the Sirens.”
One bridge, 250 years, an Olympic torch and maybe even some mythological sea sirens – worth a few nerves, surely?