Monday, May 21, 2012

Two Bridges

derrybridge2
It is exciting to see new things happening in an old city, especially when these developments change the dynamic of the landscape completely. The Peace Bridge in Derry/Londonderry is so named for connecting different parts of the city that have historically been divided due to the religious and political conflicts that have plagued Northern Ireland in years past. And the fact that it is a car-free bridge for walking and cycling adds an additional layer of symbolism: Unlike motorists, the pedestrians and cyclists crossing are unshielded by anonymity. It is the ultimate gesture of mutual trust and connectedness. Along the river bank, a new bicycle path is being built that will link this bridge to another further down the river for an even greater sense of unity.

derrybridge1
I have never been to Derry prior to the construction of the new bridge. But as a first time visitor I cannot imagine it not being there. Not only do the modern shapes of the contemporary structure harmonise with the historical buildings in the background (from some vantage points, the bridge even appears to "hug" the old city center), but its usefulness and influence on local culture were apparent.

derrywall
People walking and riding their bikes, some in a hurry and others strolling with newspaper in hand while enjoying the view - the city feels alive and my impression is that this liveliness is recent. Walking through the city center early on a Sunday morning, my impression was that the city was waking up in more ways than one.

derrybridge3
Being in Derry, I truly felt it as a living organism in the process of transition. The city wants to be vibrant, it is on the verge of it. The air is electric with change and potential. It is an exciting place to be while this development is happening.

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
As a funny contrast to the Peace Bridge in Derry, I had earlier visited the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge on the Antrim coast. In decades past a precarious bridge built for for local fishermen to cross from a tiny rocky island to the mainland, it is now a tourist attraction. For a fee of £5.60 you can cross the bridge, circle the island and come back.

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
The tug of war between this being a tourist attraction for which an admission fee is charged, while still being part of nature and therefore inherently dangerous, is interesting to observe.

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
Not all who attempt to cross the bridge are able to, as it sways and feels rather unstable. And so in a sense it is also a test of courage - accentuating differences between those who attempt to cross it. Some grasp the rails in a panic, others dance across mockingly. I am told that once the coast guard had to be called because a tourist had a panic attack on the other side of the bridge and could not cross back.

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
Most visitors get to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge in a car. There is a huge car park by the road, next to it a tea house. From there a scenic path leads down to the bridge itself. The path is maybe a 15-20 minute walk, downhill, with beautiful views throughout. I had gone there in late afternoon and the last group of tourists was still about. Walking down the path, one woman said to her husband "My God, why couldn't they make this thing closer to the parking lot? This is ridiculous!"

That is my story of the two bridges. 

32 comments:

  1. I didn't know they had started charging people to use the rope bridge.
    BTW, we have no such thing as a National Guard. Coastguard?
    Anyway, safe home and thanks for doing such a great job.

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    1. Coastguard it is : )

      Yes, they've started charging. Possibly this is new this year. I think the car park is also relatively new? Anyhow, both the rope bridge and the Causeway are fairly "Disneyfied" for lack of better word. I understand what Antrim is trying to do with this system, but I think it is working against them. Visitors are just not experiencing the area at all. The local tourism board should be promoting the walking trails and cycling network instead of expanding the car parks and visitor centers. Who-ever is responsible for what's happening in Derry has the right idea.

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    2. The rope bridge and area is owned by the National Trust (http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/carrick-a-rede/). The money is supposed to help with the maintenance of the bridge
      (they dismantle the bridge over the winter) and the area.

      On Londonderry/Derry, the BBC presenter Gerry Anderson refers to the city as Stroke city. The city's name is contentious and the BBC (trying to be impartial) when referring to the city call it Londonderry first in a report and then as Derry. I quite like it as Stroke city!

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  2. Those are gorgeous bridges!

    The Disabled Cyclist

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  3. "The cliffs on this island are NOT fenced" reminds me of a time I was visiting Northern Ireland and stayed in a seaside hotel. There was a path along the cliffs to the town, with about a 40 foot drop-off to the sea below. The path was unlit, but they'd embedded rocks along the edge, so you could feel when you were getting near. Pretty impressive.

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    1. I well remember visiting Ireland as a law student on my honeymoon in 1979 and noticing how many castle ruins had high staircases with a wall fallen off or a corridor that ended at a precipice, and no railing; and how you could go right up to the edge of the Cliffs of Moher (where the hail fell up!) with no restraints or warnings. These seemed to be the way things were everywhere there. (Readers of a certain age will recall the common scenario when a sozzled Andy Capp stumbling home on a neighboring island would fall off the quay into the harbor or canal in the dark - there being no railing or streetlight.) I attributed this in my mind to the doctrine of Sovereign Immunity.

      Sovereign Immunity was a common law (i.e., English) principle that it's oxymoronic to sue the king in his own courts - "The King can do no wrong" was the maxim. In a word, this meant that governments (national, state/provincial, local) were immune from suit for torts (injuries from dangerous conditions, negligence, etc). From this it would follow that they did not give a damn about warnings and safety features. I could be wrong, but it seems to be human nature that if you are not legally liable, you will not take pains to protect the public. You spend the money on such things only when failing to do so will cost you more.

      Related to this was the old idea that you did not have to warn about the obvious and if people go up to the edge, it's their own damn fault. Here in the US we provide warnings that the coffee is hot (I should hope so), or that the lawnmower blade is sharp and one should not reach underneath while it is running.

      I imagine that Sovereign Immunity is pretty much gone now.

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  4. Did you visit Belfast at all or just Derry? I was looking forward to moody B&W shots of both!

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    1. I have not been to Belfast other than the inside of the train station. Maybe next time. I briefly visited Derry early on a Sunday morning. I have shots of various murals and the "free Derry" sign per popular demand, but feel silly putting them up. Will try to post some moody shots of the areas around the city wall.

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    2. Got it. What are your general impressions of Derry other than the bridge? Do you feel it is safe there? Is there much going on as far as arts and culture? I was in Belfast a couple of years back and really did not feel great there, so I wonder how Derry compares.

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    3. You know, I didn't intentionally NOT visit Belfast while here, I simply did not have time. But it's odd how many people have told me negative things about it.

      I was not in Derry long enough to answer your questions in depth. But it seemed safe, and there were loads of trendy places, cafes, arts centers, etc - all of them closed on a Sunday morning unfortunately. I would love to visit it again for longer and see more.

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    4. I was in Belfast a couple years ago and quite liked it. Perhaps I wasn't there for long enough to get much of an accurate impression (was staying with friends in Portadown for 3 days) but it was a lovely city from what I did see. Got to go to a local craft and farmers market in the city center which was really awesome.

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    5. Great photos. I take it whether you make something black and white or color depends on weather conditions?

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    6. re Derry and arts and culture. Derry is the UK City of Culture for 2013. loads of great stuff going on there anyway but especially in the coming year.

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    7. Anon - Yes. For the blog pictures that is. I intentionally use BW film photography for other purposes.

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  5. whoa... looking at the last picture I have a hard time believing this is Ireland!!

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    1. This is truly what the Antrim coast looks like. The spot in that picture was where another tourist said "honey doesn't this look just like Hawaii?" Funny.

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    2. I noticed the same thing when I was in Ireland, having also spent some time in Hawaii previously. The reason for the similarity is that they are both volcanic islands, though in Ireland's case the volcanoes are long gone. But you see similar red soil, and of course the Giant's Causeway is a volcanic formation.

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  6. 'a hard time believing this is Ireland' I would love to hear that comment unpacked. This is the Ireland I know.

    Ireland, including the cities is safe for tourists. Crime levels are low and road deaths have even fallen incredibly low, to about 50 a year in the North.

    I'm really interested in your interpretation of the planning for tourists and think people should hear you making these points. On the other hand, they might argue that the cycle routes recommended by Sustrans (Sustainable transport) while well mapped out are little used. I have cycled routes that are so quiet you could imagine you were back in the 1950s, Heaven for cyclists, yet met very few other cyclists on them.

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    1. I stayed in Belfast in the summer of 1998. Despite the violence that summer, including the bombing at Omagh, I felt safe as an American going about my business working for a Youth organization and doing touristy things. I followed the advice of friends and avoided certain areas. In general, I worried much less about crime and road safety than I do in my hometown of Portland, OR.

      The pictures above are certainly representative of the Ireland I knew in my short time there. Makes me realize that it's been far too long since I visited!
      I visited!

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    2. As far as planning for tourists, I think the area is making a mistake in increasing focus on golf tourism and accommodating daytrippers who want quick, packaged experiences. This approach threatens to undermine the area's most valuable resource, which is its rugged, natural, still largely intact (but for how long?) beauty. If all the coastal towns look like Portrush and they build enormous parking lots designed for daytripping tour buses next to every natural rock formation, it won't be the same. They need to find a way to promote long, meaningful holidays, to promote the unique landscape. Families staying by the sea because it is healthy and inexpensive and child friendly. Foreigners with Irish ancestry rediscovering their roots. Bicycle tourists. Road cyclists looking for a holiday chock full of scenic and challenging hill climbs. Hikers. Avid bird watchers. Various researchers. You get the idea. That's what I think at least.

      As far as the safety question, it is just illogical to be from the US and think that N Ireland is in any way "unsafe," don't know what else to say. I really think Derry's ironic, Berlin-like approach to the murals and its cycling infrastructure might be the area's biggest hope for some positive PR.

      And finally re the cycle route... Okay. I feel that (1) it is not promoted nearly enough, and (2) it includes some stretches that ought to be re-routed. You probably do not agree with the latter point, but the local sustrans rangers I've discussed this with echo my sentiment, as do most of the bicycle tourists I've met in town. I have personally suggested alternative routes to several groups of cyclists who were unable to do the coastal stretch from Cushendun to the Giant's Causeway and were extremely frustrated as a result. (One woman was crying on the side of the road, because a bus would not take her bike and she couldn't go on). I am told that the network was originally designed by non-cyclists, which is why it includes such strenuous stretches.

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    3. Actually I am critical of the Sustrans routing and also of the cycle lane system in Belfast. The Torr Road should not be thought of as a cycling route. I did it but in the spirit of engaging a gruelling challenge; that's not the way to think of cycling pleasure. Some of the routes that I love are much too long; they should be mapped out as shorter trips that connect, with advice on where to stop and eat. I also think some of the signposting on Sustrans routes is poor and hard to find.
      As for the bus that would not take the woman's bike; I hope she complained and got an apology - at least. That is unacceptable behaviour on the part of the driver and I think his employers would agree.
      The Northern Ireland Executive plans a huge expansion in tourism and much of the development is on the North coast with the promotion of golf and the Giants Causeway. That will push accommodation prices up in the area and potentially jeopardise the natural character of the area that you enjoyed. Can I suggest that you at least write to the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and tell them that there are some tourists who want to cycle and savour the environment. The calculation has already been made, however, that golfers spend more money than cyclists.

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    4. I do not know the story with the bus not taking her bike; did not see the bus itself or the driver. Local cyclists complain about buses and trains accommodating bikes here; apparently they have quotas of 2 bikes per train and it is impossible to be guaranteed a spot. Don't know about buses. Seems bikes could easily fit in the enormous luggage compartment on the side.

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  7. I studied in Derry/Londonderry in 1999 and there was no bridge at that time. I like the way it frames the Guild Hall, which dominates the space outside the old city walls. There were also precious few bike paths or even other bicyclists, besides school children - although, it was winter, so maybe that was it. On rides into the surrounding hills, there were some gorgeous views as well as the spontaneous bursts of gale winds and hail that you described so well in one of your previous posts. What a joy to see such lovely pictures of the town.

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    1. The bridge is less than a year old, so very recent phenomenon. What's nice about the cycling infrastructure in Derry is that it complements the active roadcycling culture in Roe Valley. I hope eventually there will be a nice bike lane connecting Limavady and Derry, and if that happens I bet there will be many new bicycle commuters in that area.

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  8. Last summer I took the bus up to Derry, arriving Friday afternoon.

    I'd barely recognise the city. I remember barbed-wire entanglements blocking the Diamond, poor-quality dirty grey houses and flats, smoke and the stench of CS gas.

    Now things are very different, on the surface at least.
    The Diamond belongs to everyone, filled with standard multinational shops, like every other town in the West.

    The Bogside looks clean, prosperous and confident. New houses, buildings, coffee shops and boutiques, street signs in Irish, murals and monuments are everywhere.

    We walked around the city walls and looked down on the Fountain, the last loyalist area west of the Foyle. The flags and murals change but it looks reasonably similar.

    Then a group of teenagers below see us on the wall and, immediately, start throwing stones at us. They miss by a mile of course but we move on. Loyalism is not particularly subtle, how did they know we were not a visiting delegation from the UK Conservative party?

    Further on is the fence seperating the Republican and Loyalist areas. The ground is littered with half bricks and splattered with the remains of paintbombs. It appears the old Derry still lives, it's just the people at the bottom who have been changed.

    Life is so much better for the vast majority of people in Derry now that it's unbelievable. However I miss the old city. For me it will always have that indescribable tang of youth and life and love and danger.

    Go well, Derry.

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to write this comment. This is certainly a city I need to spend some time in to understand.

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  9. Did the person you overheard saying "My God, why couldn't they make this thing closer to the parking lot? This is ridiculous!" happen to have an American accent?...as an American living in Ireland I happen to be rather aware of how we are perceived abroad. I would have to say this sounds sadly typical of someone from a hopelessly car dependent country in general and "us" in particular

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    1. "Did the person you overheard ...happen to have an American accent?"

      Yup.

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  10. I think that all beautiful places should have car parking lots some distance away - say good 2 km. This would (mostly) filter out the type of people who shouldn't be there in the first place (as in people who litter and don't bring any beauty in other ways).

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    1. I agree. Having a parking lot there changes the place completely. It is as if tourists consume it rather than visit it.

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  11. I wouldn't be so hard on Americans.
    as a Canadian who worked in the Niagara Falls tourism industry through high school I have seen people from pretty much all nations say some very silly things either as open questions or comments made under their breath. Americans just tend to say them a bit louder, that is all. If people travel outside of their normal comfort zone they tend to loose reference to what is normal and can't understand why anything would be different from what they are use to. Thus forget that a walking tour involves walking or that the island is a natural occurrence not a man made one that could be located closer to the parking lot. Many people don't understand why you can't stand under Niagara Falls not thinking that it would be impossible to construct such a platform or that the water would crush them. They also get upset that they have to walk (or bus) about 10 minutes to see the waterfall not thinking of how many cars they are passing or how nice the gardens along the way are. People may be quick to blame Americans but it is Canadians, English, Europeans and pretty much anyone else who I could converse with.

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