Wednesday 14 August 2019

Carrick-a-Rede and Larrybane

For at least 18 months after I started this blog I had a very elaborate scenario planned out in my head. I would befriend someone at the National Trust and one day they would meet me somewhere - maybe in a lay-by outside Swindon, or by the Capri Suns in Poundland - and hand me a brown envelope containing a list of every single National Trust property and how many visitors each property got last year. I could think of NOTHING I wanted more, if only I could get my hands on this highly sensitive and potentially devastating document.

And then about two years into the project, I discovered that this list is freely available in the National Trust annual report. So if you ever want to lose two hours of your life going all John McEnroe and yelling "That CANNOT be the third most popular NT place in Britain!", you can download the list of visitor numbers from here.

But there was one name on the list that I didn't recognise at all, and it was in the Top Ten: Larrybane. After a couple of years the Trust started listing it as Carrick-a-Rede. And suddenly it all became clear: Carrick-a-Rede is the rope bridge that's 8 miles down the Antrim coast road from the Giant's Causeway. So while 700,000 people last year visited the GC and made it the NT's most popular property, a whopping 435,000 of them also popped along for a nerve-shredding wander across some wooden slats hanging 30 metres over the waves and rocks below.

Carrick a Rede

Would those people have gone to Carrick-a-Rede if it wasn't near The Big GC? It's not really for me to say, and anyway it's immaterial because it IS near The Big GC and those people DID go there, making it the 6th most visited property last year, one above Waddesdon Manor.

There were two surprises waiting for me at Carrick-a-Rede. One was a tea room. I first went to Carrick-a-Rede about 12 years ago and I'm certain that there was NOTHING there, except the bridge swaying mockingly in the wind and a cow in a field that the Scone Sidekick stared at for about 20 minutes. (I just checked and I still have the 8 billion photos he took of it on my computer - it was a "nice" cow apparently.) 

This meant that I hadn't actually included Carrick-a-Rede on my list of places to visit for the Grand 2019 Tour of National Trust Scones of Ulster. It was total luck that I happened to see someone else on Twitter enjoying the cafeteria and I was able to make a last minute addition to the itinerary.

The second thing was surprised me was the guide book. I had been to a couple of places recently that didn't have their own guide book, which always makes me a) a bit sad that nobody cares enough to write one and b) very worried, because what am I going to talk about? I really didn't expect to find one at Carrick-a-Rede (see above for rope bridge + cow = not much to write about, even if the cow is exceptional). 

But there was a guide book - 32 pages no less - and it was brilliant. Here are a few things I learned:
  • The beauty of the whole area is down to its mind-blowingly old geology
  • Mesolithic hunters lived on Larrybane 9,000 years ago to take advantage of the flint embedded in the limestone cliffs
  • The limestone had been created 100 million years ago but it was in the 20th century that people discovered that lime reduces the acidity in soil to make it more fertile
  • Between 1930 and 1970 a huge amount of headland was blasted and quarried to produce quicklime. The quarry closed in 1970 and Larrybane was taken over by the NT in 1978.
  • Larrybane was used in Game of Thrones as the spot for Renly Baratheon’s camp in Season Two: 
  • From the top of Larrybane you can see across to Rathlin Island. Robert the Bruce hid in the caves here in 1306 and it's where he spotted the famous spider trying six times to build her web and failing before finally suceeding. "If this small creature has the tenacity to keep trying till it succeeds, then so can I." He went on to win the Battle of Bannockburn.  
  • Carrick-a-Rede means 'Rock in the Road' but it's not any old road - it was actually a 'road' used by salmon
  • Salmon used to spawn in the Bann and Bush rivers and then float down river to the sea where they can swim deep and feed without being eaten
  • They then return to freshwater using their unrivalled homing instincts - to do so, the Atlantic salmon would swim around the outside of the island 
  • Fisherman had to work out a way of catching the fish as they swam past and so a rope bridge was built - the first one was set up in 1755
  • The fisherman could then make their way to the other side of the island and set up nets to trap the fish as they made their way home
  • There is a strict limit of 8 people on the bridge at a time today but in the past men, women and children would run back and forth carrying baskets of salmon
  • Sheep were also carried across so they could graze
  • Fishing stopped in 2002 as there were no fish left
It's fascinating to think of the vast history of the area and the use of its resources over time. Almost as fascinating as watching people stride out confidently and then lose their nerve completely when they step onto the bridge. Needless to say I didn't go anywhere near actually standing on it. 

Rope bridge Carrick-a-Rede

The Carrick-a-Rede scone
But on to the scone. This was my 7th scone in three days and so all scientific consistency fell down between the ropes; there was a choice of fruit or raspberry and white chocolate and I opted for the latter. I asked for some cream with it but the lad serving said they didn't have any. 

Carrick-a-Rede Scone

I was half way through the scone when he suddenly appeared with a little pot of whipped cream, and very glad I was to see it. The scone was unfortunately dry - I don't think it was fresh, but I've been wrong about that before - and the cream helped to alleviate things.

But it was great to have a cup of tea and a scone back at a place that holds so many special memories.

Carrick-a-Rede/Larrybane: 5 out of 5
Scone: 4 out of 5
Cleverness of the Atlantic salmon (until they were practically fished out of existence): 5 out of 5

Other stops on my tour of Northern Ireland: Crom, Castle Coole, Florence Court, Springhill, Cushendun, Divis and the Black MountainThe Argory, White Park Bay

1 comment:

  1. I also had a rather dry scone there, but enjoyed it nonetheless!