After spending a few days in Belfast, I took the bus to Ballycastle on the Causeway Coast. I was about to start my Causeway Coast Way hike the next day, and I decided to arrive early in the day at Ballycastle to drop my suitcase and explore the surroundings. I arrived at the village just as a ferry to Rathlin Island was leaving, so I decided to jump on the opportunity to explore this island!
Rathlin Island is located 10 kilometres north of Ballycastle. It is Ireland’s northernmost inhabited island (it has a population of 150) and is known for its large seabird population (its bird colony is one of the most important in Europe). On Rathlin Island you can find guillemots, kittiwakes, razorbills and, most importantly, puffins!
When I arrived on the island, I had to decide what I wanted to do. The island is not very big (6 kilometres from east to west and 4 kilometres from north to south) so it is easy to go around on foot (or bike). My time was short though: we were in the early afternoon and the last ferry to Ballycastle was leaving at 17:30. In all, I had about four hours to explore the island.
I decided to head for the western tip of the island. This is where you can find one of the three protected nature reserves home to the seabird colonies and I decided I wanted to see puffins. They are, after all, the stars of the island.
There is a shuttle bus that goes back and forth between Kebble Nature Reserve and the ferry terminal, but I decided to walk. The road to the reserve is about 5 kilometres and is relatively uncrowded, which allowed me to take the time to enjoy the nature of the island.
Rathlin Island is not just about seabird. You can also find several sheep, goats and cows, recalling the time when the population of the island was self-sufficient. Rathlin Island is also home to seal colonies, but since the road I was on did not follow the coast, my chances of seeing a seal were rather slim. I had to content myself with seeing hares running in the fields.
At one point I reached the highest point on the island, Sileveard, 134 metres above sea level. From there I could see a good part of the island stretching out before me: the village where I arrived, the southern tip of the island, the road I had just traveled. I could see all the way to the Irish coast and the mountains of Scotland.
After more than an hour of walking, I finally arrived at the Kebble Nature Reserve. I continued to follow the road to the western tip of the island, where the lighthouse is located. And it was when I reached the coast that I began to hear them: the cries of thousands of birds mingling with the sound of the waves.
There is a small interpretation center on the seabirds and an observation platform overlooking the cliffs. The interpretation center offers binoculars, which I took advantage of in order to better observe the birds. And there, in the midst of thousands of razorbills, guillemots and kittiwakes, I recognized some specimens of puffins with their colored beaks and feet. They were not the first ones I had ever seen, but I think this was the first time I’ve seen that many of them in one place.
I spent a lot of time watching the birds. Too much time. I eventually realized that my ferry was leaving in a little over an hour and I had 5 kilometres to walk to get back to the village.
So I almost run all the way back to the village and finally arrived in time for my ferry. But I regretted not having had more time on Rahtlin Island. I would have liked to walk to the southern tip of the island where there is another bird sanctuary. Or to the east lighthouse, from which Marconi made the first radio transmission tests between Rathlin Island and Ballycastle on July 6th, 1898.
But I unfortunately had to take this last ferry to get back to Ballycastle. And just as we were leaving the island, I saw a few seals near the village sunning themselves on the bank. Seals, puffins and sheep, it’s still not bad for an afternoon!