‘Rathlin Island Seal Trip’
Home to approximately 150 people, it would take a certain type of character to actually live on Rathlin Island. It’s only got one pub, a Co op for your grocery needs, a small handful of eateries, which mostly are in the small selection of guesthouses, as well as a couple of tourist souvenir shops.
It has that typical Irish country side scenery with flocks of sheep and grazing cows. Rugged and green, with blue sea. Seals adorn the rocks, looking suspiciously at the tourists, as they lead the charge onto Rathlin from the ferry landing. The rickety bus captures the first wave flocking towards the Seabird centre as the rest troop off on walking trails that wind across the Island.
The place isn’t that big. A reverse-L-shape, Rathlin Island is four miles (six kilometres) from east to west, and 2 1 ⁄ 2 miles (4 kilometres) from north to south.
How to get to Rathlin Island
You will need to get the ferry from Ballycastle harbour. We drove approximately an hours drive, up the M2, from Belfast to arrive in Ballycastle bathed in sunshine. As we set sail from the town’s sunny harbour, the weather eerily crept in.
The usually visible Island shrouded in a mist that stretched it’s tenticles out towards Fair head on the mainland. The ship’s horn blew as we neared the thick, foggy, protecting band. It was like sailing into a land chronicled by C. S. Lewis.
The crossing to Rathlin Island
Rathlin Island is just 6 miles from Ballycastle across the Sea of Moyle. It’s also just 15.5 miles from the Mull of Kintyre in mainland Scotland, as well as the Scottish island of Islay. Our crossing was pretty calm, although a coolness seaped in as the mist descended.
£12 return each person. The journey was approximately 40 minutes, or 30 minutes for the faster ferry. There are several crossings daily in the morning and early afternoon. However there is quite a gap after lunch to get the return. You will find most people have finished up their hiking, bird watching and seal spotting an hour or two before the next crossing, so they will mingle in the only bar in town.
What to do in Rathlin Island
The trails of Rathlin Island
It’s easy to find your way around the Island. While everyone headed for the bus, to the Bird Centre, we started off on the Rue Point trail.
On the way you will spot charming houses and stores in colourful shades of blue.
We walked the country lanes and rambled through the fields past flocks of sheep and mooing cows.
And, even though it was misty, we could still see the beauty of the land, Indeed, we enjoyed the peace and quiet of not another person insight.
The purpose of this particular trail was to spot the seals and boy we weren’t disappointed. To make it even better, the fog lifted from above, while hanging around the edges, and the sun was starting to shine.
At Church Bay stands a large, grey basalt rock chair built to inspire artists who visit the island. It is known as The Writers Chair. The throne like chair was created by the Ballycastle Writers Society and Causeway Coast & Glens Heritage Trust.
The front of the chair is inscribed with a quote from Irish poet Seamus Heaney that reads: “When you sat, far-eyed and cold, in the basalt throne, the small of your back made very solid sense. You gathered force out of the world-tree’s hardness if you stretched your hand forth, things might turn to stone.”
On the back of the chair is a list of writers, poets, singers, and songwriters who have experienced what Rathlin Island has to offer.
Picnic with the seals
Past the old abandoned McDonnell House, we headed down to the water’s edge in search of seals. Eagle eyed, Knox, detected the web-footed, aquatic, mammals sunbathing, almost camouflaged, on the rocks. There was also a few immersed in the cold sea.
Quietly does it
Seals are quite shy creatures and can be spooked easily. So we approached with caution. It was such a treat.
It’s very important to give them space. Therefore, we sat back a little, behind an abandoned building, and sheltered from the wind. All the while, our eyes feasted on the lovable creatures in our midst.
We’d already prepared lunch so we ate. Calmly, we watched the dog liked creatures as they lounged on their rocky nest or wobbled into the sea. Truely, a once in a lifetime moment. Total and utter bliss away from the maddening crowds. Amazingly, there was not another soul insight.
Rathlin Island Lighthouses
Rathlin has three main lighthouses to let sailors know there’s a huge big rock plonked just off the north coast of Ireland.
Rue Point Lighthouse
Down by the seals stands the Rue Point light house. This particular structure doesn’t have the usual lighthouse top that most expect. It runs off electric and is operated from the East Lighthouse.
East Lighthouse Rathlin Island
Rathlin East Lighthouse was converted to electric operation in 1981. On March 1995 the lighthouse was converted to automatic operation and the Keepers were withdrawn from the station. The station is now in the care of an Attendant and the aids to navigation are also monitored via a telemetry link from the Lighthouse Depot in Dun Laoghaire.
West lighthouse Rathlin Island
Down by the seabird centre, this lighthouse has a unique distinction of having the light stationed at the bottom of the structure. Actually, Rathlin West Lighthouse is also one of the 12 Great lighthouses of Ireland.
Experience the views of Northern Ireland’s largest seabird colony which includes puffins, guillemots and razorbills at the West Lighthouse Seabird Centre.
You will get a pair of binoculars so one can get up close and personal with these terrific wildlife wonders. In fact, Puffins and many other birds use these remote shores to nest. They are viewed from afar in this protected zone.
£5 entry fee for adults and £2.50 for children, with the first child free of charge and under 5’s completely free. Students can get a deal of £3.50.
How to get there:
A popular way to get around the Island is by bike. Follow signed Sustrans route (route 93) from Rathlin harbour, approximately four miles away you will find the centre.
Once on the island, there are privately operated buses running from Church Bay to the Seabird Centre. Additionally, bus fare charges apply and can range from £4 return to £5.
There is an RSPB walking trail guide available to download with directions to the West Light, Craigmacagan, Knockans and Roonivoolin trails.
McCauigs, the only pub on the island, is basic, unassuming and set in a more modern building which was unexpected. I guess we were expecting a more traditional pub with cosy nooks and crannies. The bar is quite open planned, with lots of outdoor seating, where you’d see lots lovely pooches visiting the island for their first time to. In Rathlin, though, dogs have to stay on a leash at all times.
The sun shone through the mists, brightening the hues around us, as we approached the pub to enjoy a great pint of Guinness.
Rathlin Island Recap
Certainly, Rathlin is great day out and definitely one to tick off the travel list. Most definitely, we would recommend it, especially if you love nature. Indeed, you will not be disappointed! Go and relax with the wild locals and enjoy a wee pint after a hard day walking the country paths.
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