December 08, 2015
In 1902 the Gobbins Coastal Path in Northern Ireland was opened with the promotional tag ‘the best marine sea walk in Europe’. Now, over a century later, the path has been reopened thanks to a £7.5 million (US$11.5 million) regeneration project.
The name comes from the Irish ‘An Gobain’, meaning ‘points of rock’. In its heyday, the coastal path, with its sunken caves, gullies and sheer cliff faces, was more popular than the Giant’s Causeway, another striking marine geological feature in Northern Ireland. Over the years, under the constant battering of the Irish Sea, some of the structures collapsed and the path was closed in 1954.
Now, the new coastal path on the Islandmagee peninsula is again on its way to becoming one of Northern Ireland’s premier attractions. The walk starts with a steep descent and at the end of the one kilometre trek there’s a fairly arduous climb back to the top. For anyone who may not feel capable of tackling the narrow paths and walkways, there’s an alternative cliff-top route.
One of the main attractions, apart from the dramatic views of the coastline and, on a clear day to see all the way to Scotland, is the chance to get up close and personal with seabirds such as puffins, kittiwakes and razorbills. When the contract to develop the new coastal path—complete with 22 nickel-containing stainless steel structures and footbridges including the iconic tubular bridge—was awarded, one of the conditions was that the construction works would not interfere with the birds’ breeding season. As the location is the site of Northern Ireland’s only puffin colony, a full-time ornithologist was employed during the works.
A SPECTACULAR CONSTRUCTION
The challenges set by a project located on a peninsular with a tunnel below sea level were met so successfully by the main contractor, McLaughlin & Harvey, that the Reconstruction of the Gobbins Coastal Path was shortlisted for the UK Prime Minister’s Better Public Building Award.
The one kilometre walk has 18 bridges and four staircases, all constructed using Type 316L (UNS S31603) stainless steel with a bead-blast finish. This grade was selected because of its durability compared with carbon steel, the need for low maintenance, and the absence of a coating which could with time affect the pristine environment. All structures have a 50-year design life and, in several places, the rocks had to be stabilised with bolts to ensure visitor safety and secure bridge foundations. The duller finish was chosen as it blended in with the scenery and limited any disturbance to the nesting seabirds within this Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) site.