The northern coast of Ireland is astonishing. I’ve been to some incredible locations in my time, and I’ve seen some beautiful places, but the countryside of Ireland is perhaps the most consistently beautiful, and the coastline – with its dramatic cliffs and otherworldly rock formations, as well as its gorgeous crashing seas and lush green hills – is the most breathtaking. This is the second time I’ve been to Northern Ireland, and while my trip this time is in some ways a repeat of what I did while visiting in 2007 – going to the Giant’s Causeway, eating at the Bushmill’s Inn – I have no problems with repeating all of this.
It isn’t all repeats. I’ve also done new stuff, including visiting the ruins of Castle Dunluce, a real life medieval fortress (or what remains). But most exciting was crossing the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge.
The rope bridge hangs almost 100 feet above the crashing waves of the cold North Atlantic, connecting the mainland of Ireland with a tiny rocky island. While the bridge is a tourist attraction now it once served a real purpose; salmon fisherman would use it to check their nets. Most Irish salmon is farmed today, and over the years the bridge – which is only up until November, due to weather concerns – has become a popular spot for folks like me, who want to pretend they’re brave. It would have taken real bravery to cross the bridge back in the 70s, when it had a single rope rail and when the slats were spaced apart. Today the bridge is rated to carry 10 tons, and you can have up to 8 people at a time on it.
But that doesn’t change the sheer exhilaration of making the journey. The coast is windy, and the rocky formations near Cerrick-a-Rede whip up serious gusts. You can feel the bridge swaying beneath your feet, and you can feel the wind tugging at you, hoping to bring you over the side. Well, probably not, but when you can look down at your feet and see the remarkably clear green seawater one hundred feet below, you start to feel like you’re going against nature’s will.
The walk is quick – as you’ll see in the silly video below – but it’s thrilling. And once you get across the bridge you find yourself on a wonderful tiny but tall island, with stunning views of the sea and the mountains. What’s especially great about this little trip is that there are almost no employees or security types – a National Trust warden sells you a ticket, another stands at the top of the steps leading down to the bridge, and that’s it. It gives the feeling of being on a real adventure, not being part of a cattle-call tourist trap.
Maybe I’m biased, being one of those half-Irish people who has an overblown sense of connection with their ‘homeland,’ but I think Ireland is a must-visit destination for anyone. Belfast and Dublin are both great cities (especially Dublin), there is so much awesome history it’ll make your head spin (seriously, castles and ancient shit up the wazoo here. In 2007 I visited Dublin Castle, where they had excavated down to a Viking settlement. Unreal history), and the natural features are stunning. There’s no place on Earth like the Giant’s Causeway, and I mean that as literally as possible. You visit that rock formation and feel like you’re in another world. There’s palpable magic at the location, the old pagan stuff.
There are a couple of people you should know in the video below. Drew McWeeny, formerly of Ain’t It Cool and now with Hitfix, overcame his own fear of heights to go the distance. Mike Sampson of JoBlo ran across the second half of the bridge. Michael Tully of Hammer to Nail is the other guy filming everything, and Lindsey Mesenbourg, the wonderful Universal PR person (yes, I’m in Ireland for work) is the only lady at this sausage party. Behind me are Eric “Quint” Vespe of Ain’t It Cool News and the guy in the sunglasses is Hunter Stephenson of Slashfilm. I hope that one day you get a chance to visit Ireland and run across this bridge. And finish the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom reference I started making – “I’ll see you in hell!”