A strong wind coming off the sea whipped my scarf around my face and I gripped it tight to keep it from blowing away. I watched the bridge in front of me sway from side to side, and heard its wooden boards creak with the weight of the people currently crossing it. Suddenly, the island on the other side looked to be 600 feet away instead of 60.
I felt an all-too-familiar knot form in the pit of my stomach as I took my position at the front of the queue. Looking back, a few dozen faces stared back at mine, waiting for me to move forward. Reluctantly, I turned to face the task ahead. Just why did I think crossing Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge was a good idea again?
What is Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge?
Once serving as a way for salmon fisherman to reach the island of Carrick-a-Rede from the mainland of Northern Ireland, these days the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, a bridge made of nothing more than rope and carefully spaced wooden slats, is a tourist attraction maintained by the National Trust. Several versions of the bridge have existed over the past 250+ years since the first one was erected. The current Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, built in 2008, stretches 65 feet in length, and hangs suspended around 100 feet above the chasm below.
Between the thrill of crossing a seemingly perilous bridge and the phenomenal panoramic views of Northern Ireland’s coast offered from the island on the other side, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge sees quite a few visitors every day. Tickets are timed entry and sold on-site at the ticket booth near the parking lot. To ensure you can cross the bridge at the time of day you prefer (especially during peak season), it’s best to arrive fairly soon after they open in the morning to purchase your tickets. Current ticket prices can be found here.
Getting to Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge is located in the town of Ballintoy along the coast of Co. Antrim. You can reach the bridge on foot by walking the Causeway Coast Way, but there is also a parking lot where you can park for free if you choose to drive. (The bridge is about 7 miles east of the Giant’s Causeway.) Google Maps directions here.
After parking and purchasing your ticket, you’ll need to walk about 15-20 minutes along the Carrick-a-Rede coastal walk to reach the bridge. It’s an easy path to follow with lovely views the entire way of the coast and fluffy sheep grazing on the hillsides. If you’re nervous about crossing the bridge, this walk is a great way to distract yourself from what’s coming next. :)
Crossing Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
Depending on your relationship with heights, crossing Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge will either be exhilarating or some combination of nauseating, harrowing, and panic-inducing. Suffice it to say, if you suffer from vertigo or an extreme fear of heights, this probably isn’t the bridge for you.
Heights and I haven’t seen eye to eye since I was about 25 years old, so typically I avoid situations such as this one like I would any other life or death situation. But in this case, the prospect of being able to capture scenic photos of the coastline from the other side was just too tempting. I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t do it, which leads me to where I left off in the introduction – crossing the bridge.
Taking into consideration the popularity of Carrick-a-Rede, chances are there will be a queue for the bridge when you visit. Whether or not that is a good thing is up for debate. On the one hand, it offers the opportunity to watch several other people successfully cross the bridge without spontaneously tumbling over the side. On the other hand, if you’re a ‘let’s-just-get-it-over-with’ sort of person, the wait is agonizing.
When it was finally our turn to cross (no more than 8 people are allowed on the bridge at a time), I passed my camera off to Cory. I didn’t want anything in my hands but the handropes. (Don’t let my smile fool you. That is my tense, death-grip-on-the-ropes smile.) Which brings me to the proper way to cross this bridge. Hint: It’s not how the man looking over the edge is doing it. He has clearly lost his mind and needs help.
Proper Carrick-a-Rede Bridge Crossing Etiquette:
- Wipe sweaty palms on clothes.
- Place one hand on each handrope.
- Grip tightly so if bridge spontaneously snaps, you can hang on Indiana Jones-style.
- Do nothing to make the bridge sway more than it already does.
- Walk across bridge without stopping.
- Look straight ahead, and do not look down.
- I said, DO NOT LOOK DOWN!
- Pretend it was all nothing once you reach the other side to save face.
The View from Carrick-a-Rede Island
Once you reach the other side of the bridge you can start breathing again because you’re officially back on solid ground. And your reward for your bravery is one of the most beautiful views in Northern Ireland.
The cliffs along the coast are stunning here, particularly in the spring when they’re covered in tall, green coastal grass and blooming wildflowers. Looking down, you’ll be able to spot several sea caves carved into the sides of the cliffs, and if you’re lucky, maybe even a few dolphins and porpoises playing in the water. Speaking of the water, its color is more like something you’d find in the Caribbean than the UK – so many vivid greens and blues, and so clear you can see straight through it to the rocky bottom of the seabed. Looking out to sea, the closest landmass is Rathlin Island four miles away, but on a clear day you can even see all the way to Scotland!
Meaning the Rock in the Road, the island of Carrick-a-Rede is really quite small. Besides an old fisherman’s cottage, there isn’t anything to see on the island save for the views. (A path winds around to all corners of the island. If you stray off the path, be careful. It’s a steep drop down.) After a little over half an hour, we were ready to head back over. Well, as ready as you can be to do the same scary thing twice in one afternoon.
Crossing Back over the Bridge
Just like on the way over, you’ll likely have to queue up before crossing back to the mainland. I mentioned earlier that only 8 people are allowed on the bridge at a time, but I think I forgot to say they all have to be going in the same direction as well. So you’ll never have to actually pass people on the bridge. Thank goodness.
Oddly enough, I had a more difficult time crossing the bridge on the way back over than I did the first time. Maybe it was because I didn’t heed my own advice of not looking down and made the unfortunate observation that it is indeed possible to see through the bottom of the bridge, which is my greatest fear with heights. (If I can’t see through the bottom of whatever I’m standing on, I’m normally okay. If I can, disaster ensues.) Or maybe it was because the bridge was swaying a whole lot more this time around. Whatever the reason, I was this close to sitting on my butt and scooting my way across the bridge, because I am a ridiculous human being when I’m scared.
If you’re struggling, too, just keep in mind the fishermen used to cross this bridge when it had only one handrope while carrying their fishing gear and catch of the day in their other hand. You’ve got two handropes and a much sturdier bridge – you’re going to be fine.
Hiking near Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
Once safely back on the other side, instead of walking straight back to your car, I recommend taking a little detour and heading east on the Carrick-a-Rede coastal walk first. You won’t have to walk far to get a much wider view of the passage you just crossed. Back at the car park, the Carrick-a-Rede coastal walk joins up with the Causeway Coast Way (full route here), so if you’re up for a lengthier hike, walking a portion of that would be a great way to explore more of the coast.
Tell me, would you be brave enough to cross Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge?
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