Go and see the puffins at Rathlin Island!
By ELEANOR MCGILLIE 1 March, 2017
Are you coming to the North Coast and fancy a day out you will not forget? Live It Experience It recommends you go to Rathlin Island. Here’s Eleanor McGillie’s take on the island where banshees, puffins, flora and fauna all co-exist.
Rathlin Island, the island where farming, fishing and tourism keep the economy ticking, is a superb find just 14 miles from the Mull of Kintyre and six miles north of the seaside resort of Ballycastle on our stunning North Coast.
The views, the experience of the narrow road tracks and the fresh sea air is truly something else.
Around 100,000 visitors including local families from across Northern Ireland, the south, the UK, and further afield, will join bikers in their preparations to travel to the North Coast for the biggest annual outdoor event in Ireland.
This is a prime opportunity for people to experience the raw truth of Northern Ireland and what we have to offer.
I travelled to Rathlin Island to experience for myself what was so special about this place where there are tales of banshees, a huge population of puffins and wildlife which will take your breath away.
A high swell made for a choppy ferry crossing with a few faces on board going a lighter shade of green but it was fun, thrilling and is the only way to get to the island.
The island, which is home to a vibrant working community, immerses its visitors through storytelling from the moment you arrive.
It totally depends how active you are feeling but there are several ways to explore this rugged landscape. You could get off the ferry and start walking, you could hire bicycles, take a boat trip or you could do what we did – jump on a Puffin Bus with the well known Frances McGinn who makes sure you get a good yarn on the way round the bumpy island roads.
It’s a quirky place with its many places to stay, the pub, a post office, grocery shop, souvenir shop, well equipped play park, a primary school for a handful of children and a few places to get something to eat.
You will see people from all nationalities on the island, including people like us from Northern Ireland, enjoying the day tripper experience.
As you tour the bumpy roads you will see people scattered in the hills as they hike. You will spot the ornithologists with their bird watching glasses glued to their heads, photographers with their long lenses, geologists inspecting the landscape, botanists checking out the wealth that lies within the hedgerows and locals enjoying a good old cup of tea in their gardens.
From May to August every year it’s peak season for the colony of seabirds which attracts ornithologists from around the world for a spectacle of the Atlantic nomads – puffins, razorbills and guillemots – who make the cliffs and sea stacks their nesting sites. But the wealth of wildlife is plentiful as people get the chance to see the seals either sleeping on rocks or playfully putting on a show, you will see wildfowl such as ducks, geese, snipe, grebes and coots.
The wildlife is spectacular. Most of the coastline is cliff with a mixture of limestone and basalt. Looking out from inside the window of the bus can be quite daunting as the bus meanders the narrow road on the edge of 200ft cliffs and the sheer drop is not for the faint hearted.
Botanists and nature lovers will glory in the colourful display of primroses, orchids, heathers and honeysuckles and fuschia which paint the hills and give off a distinct island perfume.
Rathlin Island is known for many things – its loughs and marshes, the harbour, the boathouse, its festivals and traditions and the lighthouses.
Rue-Point Lighthouse tower was built in 1921 after severe storms destroyed the original light which was built in 1917. There is also East Lighthouse, built in 1856 and The West Lighthouse, built between 1912 and 1919.
Island traditions include music, song, dance, storytelling, raft races, model yacht building and racing.
Points of interest include Puffin Cottage, the Boathouse Visitor’s Centre, Ballyconagan Waymarked Trails, Knockans Viewpoint and Picnic Area and Kebble Nature Reserve to name a few.
And rightly so, the islanders have their own code of conduct which they respectfully ask visitors to adhere to so the island remains a clean, safe and enjoyable place for residents, visitors and for the wildlife.
Motorbikes are not allowed on the island but this is one place worth getting getting off your bike and taking in this beautiful experience.
And, last but not least, if you have never heard of the banshee you will definitely hear about it on Rathlin Island. The banshee is said to have a particular affinity with the island. Believe in her or believe in her not but the female spirit on Rathlin, like many places, is recognised by her cry – somewhere between the wail of a woman and the call of a seal.
Live It Experience It’ is a group of journalists and travel writers who tell the story of our members. We work collaboratively with our members, which are tourism businesses, to promote Northern Ireland through water, air and land based activities, food and drink and great places to stay. Together we let our visitors know of all of the amazing things Northern Ireland has to offer. To become a member business in of ‘Live It Experience It’ call our office on 028 3756 8436 or please submit your information through our online form. T&Cs apply – Sign Up Here Let us tell your story! Live It Experience It is the NW200 tourism partner for 2018.