Wise’s Eye opens again after over six decades. The narrow hole in the rock became the entrance as long ago as one hundred years. This is the starting point of the route designed by Berkeley Deane Wise: the Gobbins Cliff Path. The then chief engineer of the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway Company wanted to use the railway extension to advertise the Islandmagee coast in Northern Ireland. He designed a route that ran along cliffs and through tunnels and caves, which he connected using metal walkways. Visitors would walk just a few metres above the sea.
The first part was completed in August 1902 and covered the 1.2 kilometres that separate Wise’s Eye from Gordon’s Leap. The project was a masterpiece of engineering. The ingenious bridges were positioned without using cranes and the rock was carved just using picks and spades in the cliff itself. This allowed Edwardian tourists to get unbelievably close to the Irish Sea. Sepia-coloured photographs show men and women dressed exactly in the style of Downtown Abbey posing at the exit of Sandy’s Cove, where people used to have picnics, or peeping out between the thick bars of the bridges. The scene is repeated nowadays, with the long skirts and top hats being replaced by fluorescent coats and walking boots.
The ingenious bridges were positioned without using cranes and the rock was carved just using picks and spades in the cliff itself.
The Gobbins Cliff Path was closed after the Second World War. Its high maintenance costs meant that the company ended up abandoning it to its fate, although it never completely died. Climbers and lovers of danger were the first visitors to the cliffs until its reopening in 2015. 10.6 million euros were invested in its reconstruction. The new route is faithful to the original, although it has been necessary to change the bridges and structures. The most famous, Tubular Bridge, has been replaced by an almost exact replica of the bridge designed by Wise and is suspended ten metres above sea level. Others, like the Swinging Bridge, have inherited the name of their predecessors. New materials and even more walkways have been used, but the landscape hasn’t changed and the path is an endless source of historical anecdotes. The Gallery Bridge was the spot where workers from the nearby shipyards used to take their breaks. From there they could see the ‘first steps’ in the sea of the ships that they had been building throughout the year. One of them was the Titanic.
Schoolchildren, local residents and Internet users have been asked for their help in naming the three new bridges.
Its blend of nature, history and adventure makes the Gobbins Cliff Path an unmissable stop on the Causeway Coastal Route. “Berkeley Deane Wise thought that this path could be one of the world’s attractions – I agree with him”. Billy Ashe, the council’s mayor, is confident that the engineer’s dream will come true. 50,000 visits a year are expected