Before driving into Belfast we had an appointment at another Northern Ireland tourist hotspot – The Gobbins Coastal walk Experience. An odd name for a tourist attraction you might think but the explanation is that it comes from the Irish word Gobán meaning headland.
The Gobbins is a cliff face walk up and down difficult and uneven steps, across iron bridges and through a tunnel that at one point runs below sea level. It all sounded rather exciting.
So we arrived at the visitor centre at the appointed time and after being booted and suited were given the first of a series of health and safety lectures followed by a bus ride from the centre to the east coast and the starting off point for the adventure.
The Gobbins was created by an Irish railway engineer called Berkeley Deane Wise. He designed and built the path as a tourist attraction for the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway Company and it first opened to the public in 1902 with visitors paying 6d to enjoy a ‘perfect marvel of engineering’.
Almost immediately the Gobbins drew worldwide acclaim, with one newspaper review extravagantly declaring that ‘the varied beauty of this cliff path baffles all description’.
Because of its proximity to Belfast with convenient railway links for a while the Gobbins Path was even more popular as a tourist destination in Northern Ireland than The Giant’s Causeway.
Thousands visited The Gobbins in the first few decades of the twentieth century advertisements of the time declared ‘the new cliff path along The Gobbins Cliffs, with its ravines, bore caves, natural aquariums … has no parallel in Europe as a marine cliff walk’. High Praise indeed. However, the railway company got into financial difficulties during the 1930s, essential maintenance slipped and the path was closed in 1936 and gradually fell into serious disrepair.
There was a restoration project between 2011 and 2016 which restored a part of the pathway. The cost was almost £8m with over half of the funding coming from the European Union. Who says Brexit was a good idea? Where is the money going to come from for these sort of projects in the future?
There was a long steep path down to the entrance and then the walk began. It was interesting but not nearly as exciting or dramatic as I had imagined it would be with long stops for explanations from the tour guide which were impossible to hear because of the wind and the pounding of the waves and these frequent stops made it rather tedious at times.
And then there was an unexpected rain shower, more of a nasty squall than a shower as it happened that lasted for ten minutes or so and being exposed as we were on the cliff face managed to soak us all right through. I enjoyed most of it except for the part where we walked through a tunnel of roosting pigeons and lots of bird shit to try and avoid.
An interesting experience but I wouldn’t do it again. The best bit was when Kim spotted a pod of dolphins swimming close to the land. There is something special about seeing dolphins.
From the visitor centre we drove directly to Belfast and to the Premier Inn Hotel. I like the Premier Inn hotels, they are reasonably priced and you know exactly what you are going to get – a quiet room, a comfortable bed and no nasty surprises.
Later we walked into the City in search of somewhere to eat but is was rater busy which shouldn’t really have surprised us because measured by population it is the twelfth largest city in the United Kingdom. We struggled to find somewhere that could accommodate us and without success finished up at a Wetherspoons bar where the food is cheap and includes a free drink but it is not what you would call by any stretch of the imagination a fine dining experience.