Rathlin Island

The unspoilt landscape of Rathlin Island is one of the most tranquil spots in Northern Ireland and gives visitors a chance to wander the shoreline undisturbed.

Rathlin has an extraordinary amount of wildlife. Many visitors come to see the Royal Society for home to several seals as well as the occasional dolphin.

The RSPB’s Seabird Centre is home to one of the largest colonies of seabirds in the UK and each Many hundreds of puffins arrive to breed over the summer months. Birdwatchers can also see wheatears, peregrines, stonechats, skylarks, lapwings, auks, gannets and gulls.

Around 100 people live on Rathlin Island and offer a bus service that runs to no particular timetable – likewise the island’s pub and shops are usually open, but occasionally services are interrupted by the needs of the farming community.

The island’s museum documents its interesting history. Rathlin was inhabited since at least 795 AD, when Vikings raided the church, and Scottish king Robert the Bruce took refuge on Rathlin in 1306 – it was here that he supposedly took inspiration from a spider spinning its web.

Rathlin Island also has a darker history – two massacres took place here, one carried out by forces commanded by English explorer Sir Francis Drake in the 16th century and again nearly 100 years later when the Scottish Campbell clan attacked their enemies, the MacDonalds.

Rathlin Island is a six-mile journey from Ballycastle, which has a fast passenger ferry and a slower car ferry service.

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How’s your head for heights? A narrow, swinging bridge, 20 metres long and suspended 100 feet above the rocks and sea below, links mainland Northern Ireland with a tiny outcropping of volcanic rock known as Carrick-a-Rede. Many years ago it was a much more precarious crossing, when salmon fishermen would use the bridge to check their nets, before the catch here dried up. Today the bridge is one of the country’s most beloved visitor attractions - around a quarter of a million people every year make the trip across and back, though every now and again some lose their nerve and have to be rescued from the island!

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