5 minutes with Matthew McMullan
Grab 5 minutes with Matthew McMullan, Operations Manager of Carrick-a-Rede, and get a glimpse of what it's like to manage this iconic site.
What does a typical day entail for you?
As Operations Manager for the National Trust at Carrick-a-Rede, I manage the day to day running of the site and oversee everything that goes on. This includes preparing rotas, checking the weather forecast for that day and monitoring bookings. When the team arrives, shortly before 9am we sit down and discuss the plan for the day. Our first time slot for the bridge is 930am-1030am. Thankfully now that we have online booking, visitors can book online for their chosen slot for the day, which makes it a lot easier for them - and for us too. Throughout the day, it’s all about making sure we are on top of everything so that visitors can enjoy the best possible experience.
What has been the most interesting wildlife you have come across?
The sea life. We quite regularly see dolphins, porpoises and seals, but I’ve also been lucky enough to see a basking shark near the bridge recently which was pretty awesome In the three years I have been here there have only been sightings of basking sharks twice!
Are you currently working on any exciting projects?
We recently launched a new online booking system for Carrick-a-Rede carrickaredetickets.com which enables visitors to book their timed-tickets online up to four months in advance, allowing them to plan their day so that they can make the most of their trip, exploring all the special sites and the beautiful views the North Coast has to offer.
This development has been introduced in response to the increasing visitor numbers to the site and to make sure the visitor experience is as good as possible.
Historically, there was no control over the flow of visitors to the site which meant long queues and thousands of people walking over the island. This system enables us to put a cap on the number of people who we can bring over the bridge every hour.
As a conservation charity we are committed to preserving and protecting our special places and spaces for everyone to enjoy. With visitor numbers on the rise, the new online booking system helps us to manage visitor numbers, supporting our commitment to delivering a sustainable tourism offering as well as helping to improve the overall visitor experience.
Roughly how many people would you see at CAR every-day?
On really busy days we could have thousands visiting the site, but there are restrictions on how many people can cross the bridge to the island. Some people don’t cross the bridge itself. Some people just want to do the walk, or they’re too scared to do the bridge which is fine too …..
What’s your favourite memory of working with the National Trust?
It has to be introducing timed tickets. The time and the work that went into getting that right was huge. The sheer effort that went into getting the number and the volume right for the amount of people crossing the bridge was ground-breaking for us. We had to try and keep the number down to a manageable level and restrict the flow of visitors slightly, but that has had a huge positive impact on visitor enjoyment as well as the environment. We’ve had the best scores in terms of visitors’ enjoyment that I’ve ever seen in my time here and that is as much down to the timed ticketing system as it is to our Staff and Volunteers.
Do you have a favourite National Trust place?
I’m not being funny but it has to be Carrick-a-Rede. There is just something I find quite spiritual about the place. There are certain places you can go on the site where it is only you… you and your family, you and nature, and the sea and the sounds. It is food for the soul.
There is a little bench too, at the view point… where you can go and sit on the bench and watch the people cross the bridge, look at the world around you and enjoy it.
What’s your favourite time of the year?
Crisp winter mornings, where you come down on to the site and the North Atlantic stretches out from the bridge like a sheet of glass. There is a nice fresh air and no wind (sometimes). It’s still busy but it is quieter than what we are used to in the summer. You can just enjoy the nature around you, away from the hustle and bustle.
What does the National Trust mean to you?
Conservation - conserving what we have for future generations. It’s bigger than you and I. It’s about the kids… our children, and then their children. It’s about making sure we look after what we have for the future.
What do you love about your role?
The visitors that come from 160 different countries welcoming them and showcasing what we have here, the people that I work with here they are the characters that make the place special, and the place, there is connection with this wonderful little part of the world and I hope to work here for a long time to come.
If you could have any other job what would it be and why?
I’d love to work to some degree in football. Be it youth football or on a bigger scale. My own team is Everton but it’s cold sometimes here in the winter, so I’d love to work at Barcelona FC in the heat!
Give us one reason why we should visit a National Trust property?
To get out and enjoy the spaces and connect with culture and history of things around us, in our local environment that we wouldn’t normally know about.
Tell us one thing we might not know about the National Trust?
We are the nation’s largest farmer (UK). We look after about 618,000 acres of land and about 2,000 tenants.
And what about something we might not know about Carrick-a-Rede?
We have those two previously working quarries. One was a limestone quarry - called Larrybane - which is now a GOT location. And then the stone for Dublin, Edinburgh and Glasgow came from the Dolerite in Brockie quarry, which is also at Carrick-a-Rede.