Why have I not been here sooner? All those camping and caravanning trips as a kid too. At just six miles long and one mile wide, Northern Ireland's only inhabited island is absolutely PACKED with so much to see.
This post has been the most time-consuming yet to create, shortlisting 500+ photos down to a number that hopefully does a decent job showcasing the island, without overkill!
THE RATHLIN ISLAND FERRY
The ferry to Rathlin departs from Ballycastle on Northern Ireland's north coast, just over an hours drive from Belfast. The service operates multiple times daily and all year round. It's recommended you book your ferry tickets at least 24 hours in advance (link here) AND make sure you check the weather before you go. If the seas are choppy, sailings will be cancelled - which means you may get stuck on the island for longer than planned! Don't worry though, there's a good pub ;-)
Our tickets were £12 return per person, plus I brought my mountainbike which was an extra £3.30. We were trying to make the trip as economical as possible so the bike was a handy mule for carrying all the food and drink we had in tow.
Not many pics taken on this leg of the trip - the rain was on and off plus we literally got into the car park 15 minutes before the ferry was to set sail - leaving five minutes to unpack and get into the queue!
Taking a few pics as we arrived into Rathlin harbour, I started listening in as a teacher talked to his day-trip class about the harbour's surrounding area. My earwigging must have been as subtle as a brick through a window though, as right after he finished talking to the kids the teacher gave me a friendly hello and we ended up talking for a few minutes about the island and our planned trip...he even passed on a spare map. Legend!
RATHLIN ISLAND HOSTEL
Just ten minutes walk from the harbour drop-off point, our accommodation for the night was easily found. The Rathlin Island Hostel is in a great location, just a stone's throw from the shoreline (which turned out to be quite useful for our wine and coffee-exploits as you'll see later...).
With the sun just starting to show, we had a quick nosy around the hostel - everything looking decent for the £50 we paid for the night. We had 'Room 2' - a family room that sleeps 5, so plenty of space. More info here.
LAY OF THE LAND
As grateful as we were for the map given to us by the teacher, navigating the island was quite simple. Road signs point out the three main roads on the island - to the lighthouses - with the harbour area being the hub that connects them.
In saying that, I thought it would be handy to create this simple map of the main points for you to save. Pay kindness forward as they say.
On day 1 we headed along the western road (in red), while on day 2 we did the loop to the south (in green). We didn't get a chance to check out the route to the east, plus there were plenty of other walking trails away from the main routes - so a good excuse to plan a second trip.
If time allows, do what we did and use bikes to explore the island. Though a bus service runs between the harbour and west lighthouse, there doesn't seem to be one that goes to the south. Bikes can be hired from Soerneog View Hostel, £10 for half a day (see here).
Though our sights were set on heading west, within a minute of collecting the rental bike we were already on a detour. We were hearing weird noises coming from the shore and curiosity got the better of us.
Passing the picturesque white stone beach and old boat house, we quickly discovered...
...seals! Noisy, sun-worshipping, awkwardly-shuffling seals to be precise.
Not knowing how human-friendly or scared they would be, we didn't go too close - but hopefully you can make out from the phone pics that they actually are seals.
OK NOW WE GO WEST
After an initial steep road beside the church, most of this cycle is easy enough. Only on a couple of occasions did we opt to get off and walk.
Take your time and stop at the various lookout points - well worth it.
Shortly after entering the Kinramer area, you'll see an old stone cottage to your right.
Over on the left is a great stop for a picnic with views of Northern Ireland's north coast - Fair Head to the far left, Portrush to the right and Donegal in the distance (oh, bring a picnic by the way).
Fed and watered, just five minutes later we arrived into the RSPB Seabird Centre and (the upside-down) Rathlin West Lighthouse (full info here)
...and we're on the lookout for PUFFINS, as the best time to see them is apparently late May to early-August.
At £5 for adults and £2.50 for children, this place is definitely worth it. As well as the spectacular views, the staff are so friendly and eager to help you identify each type of bird through the complimentary binoculars or telescopes. Once you've happily gawked at the activities of the thousands and thousands of birds, go check out each floor of the upside-down lighthouse.
^That obviously wasn't one of our puffin pics above. But we did see plenty of them through the binoculars :)
As well as a bird eating another bird. Which was strangely addictive to watch. That sounds weird, I know. But then again people are choosing to watch Love Island.
Did you know how many lighthouses are in Ireland? Or that there's a magazine for lighthouse enthusiasts?
Finally getting use to the smell of the seabirds, we ventured off back along the road we initially came...with the sun finally sticking around. How class are these views?
That stone cottage I was telling you about earlier...
And with that, it was time to reward ourselves with a quick trip to the pub before heading back to the hostel for dinner.
Shout-out to Natalie, Sarah and Dumb-Dumb the dog - who entertained us for an hour with stories of Dumb-Dumb's antics and working on the island harvesting kelp (essentially dangling off the side of a boat in a wetsuit chopping seaweed). After the second Guinness they even tried to talk us into helping row an old boat back to Ballycastle with them the next day. :-0
DINNER DONE, LET'S GO SEE OUR MATES AGAIN
No, not to the pub, but back down to the shore to see those seals from this morning. As we munched our way through our Marks & Spencer Dine for 2 £10 dinner, the noises we heard earlier that day were now on a whole other level. So with wine glasses in hand, we finished off the day watching the sun disappear as nearly 50 seals splashed, barked and snored their asses off in every direction.
DAY 2: HELLO AGAIN SUNSHINE
With needing to be on the 3pm ferry back to Ballycastle and hoping to fit in a walk to the southern lighthouse, day 2 started with a sunny 8am rendezvous with our new shore-mates.
As you'll see below, not only is the distance to the southern lighthouse far shorter than yesterday's western venture, the landscape is also a lot gentler.
Keep an eye out for that Roonivoolin Trail gate. That's where the loop of the southern walk rejoins itself (see green line below). We opted to head straight past this and follow the path directly south to the lighthouse, leaving the coastal walk for the way back up.
My favourite part of this walk was finding Doon Bay. Just before the route hooks right, inland around Ushet Lough...
...look out for these two 'bites' out of the natural rocky wall on the left. If you've a dog with you, leave them tied to the gate here. Climb over and head to the gap on the left...
Standing on the ledge looking out, the curved inclines of Doon Bay make it feel like you're on the set of Lost or Jurassic Park. Out of all the photos I've ever taken, this is probably top of the 'you have to be there' list - the static image not doing the vast area justice at all.
Carrying on south you'll soon see Fair Head on the mainland in the distance..
...and randomly a few hexagonal stone pillars identical to those found on the Giant's Causeway.
With the midday sun beating down and neither of us having sufficient water or sunscreen on, we decided to make the shades of the 'Smugglers House' our stopping point for the day before heading back along the coastal loop. Again, another reason to come back as the Rue Point lighthouse was only another ten minutes dander (see second pic below).
Remember that gate I said to look out for earlier? The end of the Roonivoolin Trail? Once you come back up the dirt track to Ushet Point, the start of the Trail is on your left. Definitely another walk which needs to be on your hit list - and a fairly easy one at that - with superb elevated views of the Northern Ireland coast and eventually the Rathlin harbour area itself.
In no time we were back at the old boathouse, just in time to see the old traditional boat - that we could have been on if we'd had that third pint of Guinness the day before - slowwwwwllllyyyy row out of the harbour.
And with that, our time on Rathlin was all but over. With still so much left to see, I definitely recommend you consider an overnight stay on the island - you'll likely have to book well in advance if it's a weekend you're planning your adventure.
A pic of the Rathlin Express ferry I forgot to take on the way over. Notice how much the ice cream has melted in just a few minutes? Scorcher of a day in the end, despite the return of cloud by this stage.