WISE'S EYE

A visionary engineer himself, Berkeley Deane Wise followed in the footsteps of two titans of the Victorian period

He made it to give access to the most spectacular section of the original path. To reach today's path, visitors must once again pass through this narrow entrance. Beyond lies a thrilling world, where bridges carry you over crashing waves to sunken caves and sheer cliff faces.

  • APostcard of 'The entrance to the Gobbins'.
    Courtesy of P J O'Donnell
  • BA gate was installed at Wise's Eye to close the path. It was still in place in the early 1970s when this picture was taken.
    Courtesy of the Lennon Family.
  • CHand-tinted postcard of Wise's Eye.
    Courtesy of P J O'Donnell
  • DVisitors pay Sam Cuthbert at Wise's Eye.
    Courtesy of P J O'Donnell
  • EWise's Eye in the early 20th century.
    Photograph © National Museums Northern Ireland Collection Ulster Folk & Transport Museum
  • FA visitor glimpsed through Wise's Eye around 1900.
    Photograph © National Museums Northern Ireland Collection Ulster Folk & Transport Museum

Tickets please

The old path at The Gobbins was a fee-paying visitor attraction. Ticket collectors, like retired railwayman Sam Cuthbert, sat before Wise's Eye from 10am to 5pm each day in the summer season. If you had come by train he would check your railway ticket. If you came under your own steam, you paid a fee. A gate across Wise's Eye kept people off the old path out of hours.

Visitors pay Sam Cuthbert at Wise's Eye.

Courtesy of P J O'Donnell

Name the Bridge - 1

This is one of the new three bridges that need to be named. We have asked the local school children to help us find a good name for that bridge.

If you want to participate, you can tell us your suggested bridge name for our
"Name the Bridge -3" through our online form.

Name the Bridge - 2

This is one of the new three bridges that need to be named. We have asked the local people to help us find a good name for that bridge.

If you want to participate, you can tell us your suggested bridge name for our "Name the Bridge -3" through our online form.

SANDY CAVE

Tucked away at the back of a narrow inlet, protected by a sea stack, Sandy Cave is one of the few places calm enough at The Gobbins for sand to gather.

Sandy Cave was the exciting setting for a picnic on the old path. Benches and chairs used to be set outside (and tea served during holiday times) so visitors could relax in this dramatic natural space.

Picnickers enjoy Sandy Cave around 100 years ago.

Photograph © National Museums Northern Ireland Collection Ulster Folk & Transport Museum

Map prepared in August 1902 by Wise's office. It shows the names he gave to the features at The Gobbins.

Courtesy of Local Studies Dept, Ballymena Central Library/Libraries NI

THE TUBULAR BRIDGE

The Tubular Bridge was the most remarkable feat of engineering on Wise's original path.

Its oval shape quickly became one of The Gobbins' most recognisable sights. So when the modern path was built, creating a new Tubular Bridge was a must. Climbing the steps to the exposed bridge, visitors suddenly find themselves 10 metres above the swirling sea!

  • ALooking through The Tubular Bridge 100 years ago.
    Courtesy of The National Library of Ireland
  • BTinted postcard showing The Tubular Bridge & Man O'War.
    Courtesy of P J O'Donnell
  • CVisitors crossed the old Tubular Bridge on wooden planks
    Photograph © National Museums Northern Ireland Collection Ulster Folk & Transport Museum
  • DVisitors on the steps leading up to the old Tubular Bridge.
    Courtesy of P J O'Donnell

What's in a name?

Before Wise built the first path at The Gobbins, no one apart from fishermen had seen the cliffs this close before – not to mention the bridges, steps and tunnels Wise adorned them with. He christened some of these new landmarks himself, and imaginative locals and visitors soon came up with their own ideas. Postcards of the time reveal that some features were known by several different names.

What a
picture!

An unknown couple pose on The Tubular Bridge like so many people before and after them.

Courtesy of the Lennon Family

These daredevils were pictured clowning around on The Tubular Bridge in 1937.

Courtesy of the Lennon Family

MAN O'WAR

The Tubular Bridge leads to the Man O'War, a sea stack that, from the water, resembles a great battleship from the age of sail.

It is actually the remains of a basalt dyke, formed from the cooling of molten lava. The softer rock that once connected it to the cliffs has been worn away by the sea.

The Tubular Bridge leads across to the Man O'War.

Photograph © National Museums Northern Ireland Collection Ulster Folk & Transport Museum

THE GALLERY

When building the original path at The Gobbins, Wise was met with a cliff face that was virtually sheer.

He had to use metal brackets to support the path along this section. Part of today's path works on the same principle - it too has been named 'The Gallery'.

The Gallery, a section of path fixed to the cliff face.

Courtesy of The National Library of Ireland

THE AQUARIUM

As the path veers out to a small sea stack and back, you can look down into a small natural 'aquarium' of seawater.

Today this part of the path offers the perfect chance to spot some of the many species of fish that live in these waters - just as it did on the original path.

  • ATinted postcard of the path at The Aquarium.
    Courtesy of P J O'Donnell
  • BThe path at The Aquarium around 100 years ago.
    Courtesy of The National Library of Ireland

The Tunnel

Descend the steps into the gloom of The Tunnel, hearing only the eerie sound of waves slapping against the rocks outside.

Constructed as part of the original path, part of The Tunnel is below sea level. Back then, the railway company employed a man to pump out excess water.

“It was like a dungeon ... you had to go about 20 to 30 yards in total darkness, and you could hear the plunge of the water underneath. It was a very eerie experience you might say.”

Local man James Kane, Interviewed by BBC Radio Ulster Courtesy of BBCNI Community Archive

  • AWise built wooden steps down into The Tunnel. Incredibly, many of them survived the harsh marine environment for over 80 years.
    Courtesy of Belfast Telegraph
  • BVisitors at the entrance to The Tunnel in June 1937.
    Courtesy of the Deputy Keeper of Records, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland D4122/B/61
  • CThe path beyond The Tunnel.
    Courtesy of P J O'Donnell

SPLEENWORT CAVE

This cave gets its name from the clusters of Sea Spleenwort which flourish inside.

Spleenwort is a fern that grows in rocky coastal crevices. It stays green throughout the year, clinging to the damp cliffs. Around the time the old path was built, there was a craze for collecting ferns. Wise erected railings at places like Sandy Cave to stop visitors pulling out the plant and taking it home with them. Thankfully most of the growth in Spleenwort Cave was very high up, which helped deter wily fern-hunters!

OTTER CAVE

Discovered by accident when the original path was built, Otter Cave revealed a grisly secret.

Inside, Wise and his men found a bizarre collection of bones, including those belonging to deer, ox, sheep, dog, rabbit and hare, as well as birds. How the bones ended up here was a matter of great speculation at the time. At first people thought the bones had been hidden by hungry sea otters - which is how the cave got its name. Naturalists pointed out this was unlikely, but the name stuck!

Today the cave is once again covered by a landslip, leaving the mystery unsolved.

  • AWise provided benches at various spots along the path, including in Otter Cave.
    Courtesy of the Lennon Family

Landslip

The landslip which blocks the entrance to Otter Cave typifies the changing face of this coastline and the difficulties it gives to path builders - both today and in the past.

Mainly formed of basalt, created by the cooling of volcanic lava, and sculpted by the sea, the extraordinary geology of The Gobbins offers an unforgettable experience for the visitor.

It also helped determine the route that engineer Wise chose for his path. After careful study, Wise used the rocks to his advantage, often running his path along the top of ancient flows of lava.

Today the path hugs the coast as it crosses sea stacks, chasms and caves, whose great height was caused by differing sea levels over millions of years.

View of the landslip which blocked the Otter Cave.

Courtesy of Larne Borough Council

Name the Bridge - 3

What is your suggested bridge name?

The Swinging Bridge

The final bridge on today's path is known as 'The Swinging Bridge'.

It has been given the same name as the striking suspension bridge which Wise installed on his path at this point. On the old path, well-heeled visitors were tortured by local mischief- makers, who would wait until they had stepped onto the bridge before jumping up and down to shake it!

  • AThe Swinging Bridge over 100 years ago.
    Photograph © National Museums Northern Ireland Collection Ulster Folk & Transport Museum
  • BTinted postcard of The Swinging Bridge.
    Courtesy of P J O'Donnell
  • CUnknown visitor on The Swinging Bridge. This picture was given to John H Lennon after one of his many lectures about The Gobbins.
    Courtesy of the Lennon Family

GORDON'S LEAP

Today's path ends just beyond Gordon's Leap. We know that Wise planned to extend his path several miles further north, to a bay called Heddles' Port.

There, visitors would be able to climb a path to the country road and enjoy a looped walk back to Hill's Port, near Wise's Eye.

All along this part of the coastline you can find evidence of Wise's men at work, such as cut steps and bridge supports that suggest his dream may have been, at least partly, realised. But later landslips broke bridges and cut off these northern works. Sadly, we can't be certain from the available records just how far the path reached.

The Swinging Bridge crossing the cave just before Gordon's Leap.

Courtesy of The National Library of Ireland

How far did it go?

We know that Berkeley Deane Wise wanted his path to finish at Heddles' Port, a bay several miles north of the Seven Sisters Caves, but we cannot be certain how near he came to reaching his goal.

When the original path opened in 1902 it took visitors to just beyond Gordon's Leap but Wise was determined to reach his target by the next summer season. Long lengths of path were cut and new bridges built but the task proved harder than expected.

There were other problems too. In 1903, the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway was swallowed up by the English- based Midland Railway of Great Britain. Expensive tourism ventures in Ireland became less of a priority and it would be another two years before Wise was granted £750 to continue his work.

Records show this extension opened in 1906, but not how far it went. It was Berkeley Deane Wise's last contribution. That year he suffered a breakdown and his condition gradually worsened until his death three years later. Wise's colleague Bowman Malcolm took over his role, but the project had lost the drive of its visionary creator.

Company seal of the London Midland and Scottish Railway Company - Northern Counties Committee.
From The Northern Counties Railway by J R L Currie (drawings by J D C Charlton and E N Calvert-Harrison)


The Heughs, south of The Gobbins, where Wise intended to link his paths.
Courtesy of the Hawkins family, The Rinkha

SEVEN SISTERS

A series of seven spectacular caves, the tallest found along The Gobbins cliffs.

Today the Seven Sisters are only accessible by boat. Some say they are named after the mythological Greek sisters who gave their name to a famous star cluster.

  • ASeven Sisters seen from the sea.
    Courtesy of the Lennon Family

KRAKEN CAVE

Named after a giant sea monster from Norse mythology.

John Lennon, an expert on The Gobbins path, found holes and supports for a bridge here. Did Wise mean to bring visitors to his path past this largely submerged cave?

  • AThe submerged Kraken Cave, photographed by John H Lennon
    Courtesy of the Lennon Family

AFTER WISE

Further works...

Wise's successor at the railway company, locomotive engineer Bowman Malcolm, completed further works on the original path in 1908.

It was to be the last new construction at The Gobbins for over a century. The same year, a landslip damaged one of the bridges and blocked the path.

Today the path reaches as far as Gordon's Leap, just short of the Seven Sisters. Could visitors once have walked beyond this point? Ordnance Survey maps of the time show several footbridges along an extensive further section of the old path, but also reveal several gaps, while company records are inconclusive. The remains of metalwork and bridge supports suggest the original path did once extend considerably beyond the Seven Sisters, a view shared by some locals.

Demise

Wise's successor at the railway company, locomotive engineer Bowman Malcolm, completed further works on the original path in 1908.

The high cost of maintaining it became increasingly unattractive to a railway company whose profits were hit by both the Depression of the 1930s and the increasing popularity of cars.

With no spare manpower available to oversee it, the path was closed during the Second World War and fell into disrepair. In 1951, a section of the path re-opened, under the control of the Ulster Transport Authority. However a major landfall, soon afterwards, made it impossible to venture as far as Gordon's Leap. The path was closed in 1954 and finally abandoned around seven years later.

  • APhoto of the path in disrepair taken in the 1980s.
    Courtesy of the Lennon Family
  • BPoster from 1938, warning people that the path is closed.
    Courtesy of the Lennon Family
  • CThe old Tubular Bridge before it collapsed.
    Courtesy of the Lennon Family

...

Seven Sisters

A series of seven spectacular caves, the tallest found along The Gobbins cliffs.

Today the Seven Sisters are only accessible by boat. Some say they are named after the mythological Greek sisters who gave their name to a famous star cluster.

  • ASeven Sisters seen from the sea.
    Courtesy of the Lennon Family

KRAKEN CAVE

Named after a giant sea monster from Norse mythology.

John Lennon, an expert on The Gobbins path, found holes and supports for a bridge here. Did Wise mean to bring visitors to his path past this largely submerged cave?

  • AThe submerged Kraken Cave, photographed by John H Lennon
    Courtesy of the Lennon Family

Heddles' Port

Henry McNeill was a key promoter of tourism out of Larne, and started running motor tours in 1911. In the late 20s and early 30s the well known tour company Devenny's include the Gobbins on its 'North of Ireland Tours', operating our of the Royal Hotel, Whitehead. Isladmagee locals got in on the act - in the early 1920s Stewart Heddles of Heddles Port operated a Hackney motor car from Ballycarry station, later bought by the Belfast Omnibus Company. From 126 Robert Strahan ran bus services, also from Ballycarry station, jealously guarding his passengers.

The railway company, by now part of the London, Midland and Scottish (LMS) group, took passengers on its own grand circular tours, by rail to the Giant's Causeway, then by coach back to Belfast via the Glens and Gobbins.

AFTER WISE

Further works...

Wise's successor at the railway company, locomotive engineer Bowman Malcolm, completed further works on the original path in 1908.

It was to be the last new construction at The Gobbins for over a century. The same year, a landslip damaged one of the bridges and blocked the path.

Today the path reaches as far as Gordon's Leap, just short of the Seven Sisters. Could visitors once have walked beyond this point? Ordnance Survey maps of the time show several footbridges along an extensive further section of the old path, but also reveal several gaps, while company records are inconclusive. The remains of metalwork and bridge supports suggest the original path did once extend considerably beyond the Seven Sisters, a view shared by some locals.

Demise

Wise's successor at the railway company, locomotive engineer Bowman Malcolm, completed further works on the original path in 1908.

The high cost of maintaining it became increasingly unattractive to a railway company whose profits were hit by both the Depression of the 1930s and the increasing popularity of cars.

With no spare manpower available to oversee it, the path was closed during the Second World War and fell into disrepair. In 1951, a section of the path re-opened, under the control of the Ulster Transport Authority. However a major landfall, soon afterwards, made it impossible to venture as far as Gordon's Leap. The path was closed in 1954 and finally abandoned around seven years later.

  • APhoto of the path in disrepair taken in the 1980s.
    Courtesy of the Lennon Family
  • BPoster from 1938, warning people that the path is closed.
    Courtesy of the Lennon Family
  • CThe old Tubular Bridge before it collapsed.
    Courtesy of the Lennon Family

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Untitled

The Gobbins path will be open for the summer season, Council Confirms.

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has announced that the internationally-unique coastal path at The Gobbins will re-open at the end of June, just in time for peak visitor season.

The Gobbins closed unexpectedly last year, when extreme weather conditions caused higher levels of rock fall along the path. Council brought forward its programme of planned maintenance in the interests of visitor and staff safety, which it says are paramount.

Mayor of Mid and East Antrim , Councillor Audrey Wales MBE outlined what has been happening in Islandmagee over recent months: “We were very disappointed last year to miss our first peak season due to the unavoidable closure. Our visitor figures had already well exceeded our targets for the period and out feedback worldwide had been, and continues to be, extremely positive.

“The Gobbins is an outstanding natural and sometimes unpredictable attraction and the only guided adventure walk of its kind in Europe. Over recent months we have been working to dislodge loose rock through scaling and the majority of that work is complete. We have been looking at options for the areas around the ends of the bridges, to ensure that they aren’t damaged during the scaling process and we will now move to complete that element of the maintenance work.

“Council had budgeted around £2 million for its maintenance work, which included work to restore the access path following Storm Frank in 2015. We have spent about a quarter of the budget to date, so the next phase to get The Gobbins open represents a significant investment in growing local economy in Mid and East Antrim through creation of sustainable jobs and tourism. Mid and East Antrim has a fantastic range of tourist attractions, from Carrickfergus Castle to Slemish mountain and we have been committed, together with our partners in Tourism NI and Tourism Ireland, to promoting all our assets on a world stage.

“The Gobbins is so special within Europe. It sits within an area of Special Scientific Interest on account of its wildlife and habitats. It is one of the only mainland sites in Ireland where puffins nest and as such we will always be restricted by the bird nesting season. We will be unable to open a small section at the end of the 2 km path in time for June because of the environmental sensitivities within this area and the associated Planning restrictions, but we will work on those areas during the off-peak season later in the year. Seasonal opening will be a feature of The Gobbins going forward and will be necessary in order for Council to carry out its annual cliff maintenance work off-peak.

“We’re very excited to have a re-opening date confirmed. Booking lines will be open again early in May and we look forward to bringing people back to The Gobbins and to Mid and East Antrim for an exhilarating and exciting raw experience with nature” she said.

 

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