With a population of roughly 150 people this small pre-historic volcanic island (6 miles long and 1 mile wide) is situated off the north east coast of Ireland and it’s the northernmost point in Northern Ireland.
We visited the island in the beginning of June this year as we wanted to watch the birds particularly the cute puffins who gather here from April to July. We took the ferry in Ballycastle. The journey takes between 25-40 minutes. If you click the links below you will find more information about the ferry’s timetable and prices.
Once you arrive you will instantly warm up to such a picturesque harbour and a small village with quaint houses. If you follow the road to the left of the pier there is a bus that for £5 will take you to RSPB West Light Seabird Centre and then back to the harbour. Alternatively you can walk, the journey will take approximately 90 minutes.
The journey on the bus starts to unveil the stunning beauty of this island. The beautiful landscape with different shades of green where cows and sheep seem to be oblivious to what is happening around them, the lakes, the sea and the breathtaking cliffs. Once you reach the top you will be amazed by the natural beauty of the place, it’s indeed overwhelming and believe me you will try to capture this scenery from all angles with your camera.
The access to the RSPB Rathlin West Light Seabird Centre has a cost of £5 (you will also be provided with binoculars to watch the birds). Here you can find more information about the wildlife and the lighthouse. This is a real working lighthouse that is part of the Great Lighthouses of Ireland tour.
There is a total of 162 steps down the cliffside (98 to the viewing platform and 64 to the bottom floor of the up side down lighthouse).
When you reach the observation platform you will be rewarded with the amount of birds that nest on these cliffs. You will not only see the cute puffins but also guillemots, kittiwakes, razorbills and fulmars. What a sight! You won’t be disappointed. Take your time to enjoy this moment.
Inside the cliffside there is also an exposition that shows how life was for people who lived in the lighthouse and you can also learn more about those beautiful solitary towers that provide orientation to boats.
We then took the bus to return to the pier and went to the Boathouse Visitor Centre to enquire about walks and maps. The Visitor Centre also offers you information about the island’s history, the shipwrecks that took place here (one of the most famous happened during the first world war when the HMS Drake from the British Navy was bombarded and sank here; also, in 1987 the hot air balloon that belonged to Richard Branson crashed into the sea close to Rathlin).
The first place we headed to was Mill Bay which is a short distance from the Visitor Centre. Our goal was to watch the grey and common seals but unfortunately, we weren’t lucky. But don’t feel disappointed you can stroll along the beach, enjoy the peace and tranquility of the place and collect some more pictures to remember. We were also informed that there is other wildlife you can admire here like dolphins, bats (close to the church), Irish hares and a Golden hare very distinctive as it has golden fur and blue eyes.
We decided to walk to the East Lighthouse located 3.2 km away from the Visitor Centre. It’s a very nice walk that allows you to have a full view of the harbour and some of the landscape of this beautiful island. This lighthouse was built in the 19th century and by the end of the same century Marconi established a radio connection between the lighthouse and Ballycastle.
For more information regarding other trails click in the link below.
After a day of exploring this outstanding island it was time to go back to the harbour and give our legs some rest, so we decided to go to Manor House, a picturesque hotel and restaurant built in the 18th century. It was refurbished in 2016. It’s very cosy and well decorated, you will feel at home.
If you like history let me just add a bit more information. It is said that Robert the Bruce, a famous warrior Scottish king who is a national hero as he bravely fought against England to regain Scotland’s independence, took refuge at Rathlin Island after being defeated by the English. In a cave he observed a spider that for seven times tried to bridge a gap between two rocks to complete its web. This gave him inspiration and courage to trace his plans to fight the English and regain his crown. Truth or a myth, who knows?