The waters around Carrick-a-rede are home to Atlantic salmon, they are the largest breed of salmon in the world. They lay their eggs in freshwater rivers and when old enough, they swim to saltwater often travelling hundreds of miles to get there. The name Carrick-a-Rede or Carraig-a-Rade, is Scots Gaelic for ‘The Rock in the Road’. This is in reference to a water road used by migrating salmon as they make their way back to their spawning grounds. Alternatively, it may derive from the Irish; Carraig Dhroichid, meaning ‘the Rock of the Bridge’, or even Carraig an Raid ‘the Rock of the Throwing’.
Atlantic Salmon have been fished at Carrick-a-rede since 1620, but it was not until 1755 that fishermen started using a rope bridge instead of boats. The early bridges were very basic and even more hair-raising than today’s, with just one handrail and huge gaps between the slats. In the 19th century more than 80 fishers, 21 salmon fishers and 10 fish carriers were working in the parish of Ballintoy, of which Carrick-a-rede is a part of. They could catch hundreds of salmon a day. Unfortunately due to fishing pressure at sea and river pollution, the salmon population began to decline. A local fisherman recalled how they would regularly catch up to 300 fish a day, but in the final season before closing, they only caught 250 fish in total from Spring to Autumn.
Thankfully the old bridge has been replaced with a modern one that measures 20m (66ft) in length and is suspended 30m (100 ft) above sea level. Today the Carrick-a-Rede Ropebridge is a popular tourist attraction in Northern Ireland, with hundreds of thousands of people crossing it every year. Crossing the bridge is a thrilling experience and brave explorers will be rewarded with stunning views, however, be careful when taking selfies, many expensive cameras and phones have made their way to the salmon below!
The beautiful site of Carrick-a-rede is cared for by the National Trust. Even the walk to the bridge is enjoyable. The path meanders along the cliff, offering spectacular views of Rathlin Island and Scotland. Seabirds such as guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, and fulmars fly overhead and if you’re lucky you might catch a glimpse of dolphins or basking sharks in the water below.
The car park for the rope bridge was once Larrybane quarry. The white stone you see is Ulster white limestone which is created from marine sediment that built up on the seabed and was compressed over millions of years to form hard rock. The limestone was quarried in the 19th century and was burnt in limekilns. Lime from the stone can be used for white-wash and to balance the Ph of agricultural fields. You can still see some of the drill holes in the quarry, showing where dynamite was inserted into the rock. Larrybane quarry was also used as a setting for the Iron Islands and Renly’s camp in the hit series Game of Thrones.