Northern Ireland

Antrim Coast Road: Driving the route my ancestor built

Andrea Bald Image copyright Andrea Bald
Image caption Andrea Bald is the great-great-great-granddaughter of Scottish engineer William Bald

The Antrim Coast Road has become one of the iconic drives of Europe - but for one woman it represents the journey of a lifetime.

Andrea Bald is the great-great-great-granddaughter of William Bald - the man whose road changed the face of the Glens forever.

In 1831, Mr Bald was tasked with connecting the area's small towns and villages.

Up until then, the people of North Antrim lived as one community with their closest neighbours in western Scotland - connected by the sea.

Image caption Before the construction of the Coast Road, the communities of North Antrim and Western Scotland lived as one - in the Kingdom of Dalriada

The Kingdom of Dalriada, as it was known, comprised the northern part of County Antrim and some of the Inner Hebrides and Argyll, in Scotland.

It was easier to trade with those across the water than to traverse the mighty Glen to the likes of Ballymena or Belfast.

Many other engineers had been consulted on how to link the Glens with the rest of Northern Ireland, but most suggested a series of complicated bridges and passageways.

Jewel in the crown

Mr Bald had a different vision. He set out to literally blast a road into the miles of towering sea cliffs - and succeeded.

Image caption The road is flanked on each side by lofty cliff faces or miles of deep blue ocean
Image caption The Antrim Coast Road is a jewel in the crown of the Glens

The Antrim Coast Road - or the A2, to give it its less romantic name - hugs the dramatic coastline. It is flanked on each side by lofty cliff faces or miles of deep blue ocean and is a jewel in the crown of the area.

Ms Bald, who is also an engineer, believed her father's story about his grandfather's accomplishment was nothing more than a family myth.

As a child in the 1950s my Dad was told by his father, 'my grandfather built the Antrim Coast Road,'" she recalled.

"Without any details to go on - not even a first name - in about 2002, Dad decided he should search on the internet and came across an academic paper from the 1960s about William Bald, the man who built the Antrim Coast Road.

'Amazing feeling'

"By 2007 he had found quite a lot of information about William, his work and his family, but we hadn't found any records to confirm that he was really ours.

"I sent away to the UK for my great-grandfather's birth certificate, which confirmed that his father was Charles Bald, CE (Civil Engineer), eldest son of William Bald."

Image caption Ms Bald, along with her son Levi, visited the Antrim Coast to experience the road for herself

Now Ms Bald, along with her son Levi, has visited the Antrim Coast to experience the road for herself.

"It was an amazing feeling, driving the road," she said.

"It's such a beautiful area and certainly lives up to its reputation, it's just spectacular, but having the family link made it super special for me.

'Mystery ancestor'

"In one way it was like going to an ancestor's house or gravesite.

"What I found really weird was that there were all these people who knew all about William Bald, my mystery ancestor.

"Levi and I stopped at a spot just north of Carnlough that my Dad had researched on the internet, called Largy Road.

Image copyright Andrea Bald
Image caption Ms Bald was struck by the enormity of the job taken on by her great-great-great-grandfather

"We talked to some people at a house there, sure enough, they knew the little stretch of road as Baldy's Branch, linking the old road down to the new coast road, or Baldy's road.

"It sounds sort of cheesy, but I guess it really instilled in me a sense of pride, learning about how significant the road really was to the communities of the Antrim coast."

Ms Bald was struck by the enormity of the job taken on by her great-great-great-grandfather.

"It's hard to fathom the scale of construction so long ago, and how huge a job it was to blast the cliffs and build miles and miles of road," she said.

'Intrepid sort of bloke'

Image caption Shaping the Coast will air on BBC Two Northern Ireland on Sunday 9 October at 22:00 BST

"It dawned on me when I was there that there simply was no road before, no access by land to some parts, especially the headlands - so William must have been out in a boat to assess and plan and figure out what he was going to do.

"He must have been a pretty intrepid sort of a bloke."

Shaping the Coast will air on BBC Two Northern Ireland on Sunday 9 October at 10pm.

The three-part series will explore the largely unknown story of the creation of the Antrim Coast Road, as well as stories about its history and its people.

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