Popularity can be problematic when it comes to natural wonders like the Dark Hedges.
As one of the most photographed locations in Northern Ireland, it is also rapidly becoming one of the most fragile.
The Dark Hedges on Bregagh Road just outside Ballymoney has suffered yet another loss of one of the centuries beech trees in the heavy rains of last Tuesday, highlighting the precarious nature of this iconic location.
However, plans are afoot to secure the location and make it more accessible to the thousands of tourists who currently make the pilgrimage.
Few people know that the Dark Hedges were originally planted over 200 years ago, by the Stewart family, owners of the Gracehill Manor House. The new owners of the house, Hedges Hotel and golf club are offering use of their carpark to coaches and cars free of charge in an attempt to preserve the Dark Hedges and ease the mounting traffic congestion around the site.
With two restaurants, a numbers of bars, plans for a gift shop/cafe and amazing views of the Dark Hedges from the Manor House, Gracehill, a large and growing local employer, is happy to provide the warm, local service that tourists from across the world expect.
Stephen Gray, spokesperson for Hedges and Gracehill commented: “The number of cars and coaches visiting this area has dramatically increased over the last few years. This is a double-edged sword for the local area, bringing with it opportunity, but also weakening the natural infrastructure of the Dark Hedges themselves. Added to this are the frustrating and often dangerous problems concerning traffic, parking and general disruption for the area.
“That’s why we want to invite people to use our grounds to park their cars. The Dark Hedges are a only a stone’s throw away, so tourists can take a wander down and enjoy the Hedges in all their splendour.”