Northern Ireland

£6m project to restore Gobbins coastal path on Islandmagee

Artist's impression of new path
Image caption An artist's impression of what the restored path would look like

A £6m project to restore an historic coastal path in east Antrim is due to begin this summer.

The Gobbins cliff path on Islandmagee is about half a mile long. It was built in 1902 and in its heyday was more popular than the Giant's Causeway.

It was a commercial venture from the start, designed and constructed by Berkley Deane Wise.

But the attraction - with 15 bridges and a path carved into the cliffside - fell into disrepair after World War II.

It was closed to the public 60 years ago.

Several attempts have been made over the last 40 years to raise the funds needed to restore the path, but all efforts have been in vain, until now.

Work on a new visitors centre will start this summer and work on the cliff face path will begin in September. It is hoped both will be completed and open to visitors by May 2014.

Larne Borough Council is contributing £2m to the project which is also receiving £3.5m from the Special EU Programmes Body and additional funding from Ulster Garden Villages Ltd.

The cliffs are home to the largest seabird colony along the coast of mainland Northern Ireland - only Rathlin Island has a larger colony.

Tubular bridge

Ian Enlander, from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, said it is a unique place.

"It's designated as an area of special scientific interest because of the breeding kittiwake and razorbill," he said.

The new path will include reconstructed versions of the tubular bridge and a 25-metre suspension bridge which were once part of the route.

Morgan Haylett, the project manager from RPS Consulting Engineers, said he believed it would be a challenge to construct the new path.

"Access is either from the top of the cliff or via the sea," he said.

"Back in the days (when it was built), the bigger bridges were floated in and then lifted into place and it may very well be that that has to happen this time round too."

Visitors will be transported from the visitors centre in groups of 12 by minibus to the entrance of the path. They will then be given a guided tour.

Final ticket prices have not been set, but the estimate is £6 per person.

Image caption How the path looked during its heyday

Geraldine McGahey, chief executive of Larne Borough Council, said the new path would bring thousands to the area.

"In the first year we expect around 50,000 visitors, now that is a very pessimistic projection, but we like to err on the side of caution. Underestimate and overachieve," she said.

"This is the pinnacle of everything that the council have aspired to give to the ratepayer as a legacy of what the council stood for and delivered."