An easy walk on an enchanting and remote island

'On the ferry, I knew I’d glimpsed a magical place of 100 souls'

Rathlin Island

Rathlin Island

 

Coffee and a raspberry muffin were never as welcome as on that mid-December morning in Sarah’s WaterShed Cafe on Rathlin Island. It was now 11.30am and I’d left a dark frosty Dublin at 6.45am for the 10.30am island ferry from Ballycastle and I was tired. By the time I’d finished, the low sun had cleared the mist over the Antrim Plateau, and was flooding the little Christmas-ready cafe with sunlight. And now, with my mind and mood very positively altered, I set off to walk the linear Rathlin Trail from the harbour away out to the “upside down” West Lighthouse.

My first port of call was the shore-side Church of St Thomas, and its story-telling headstones of generations of deceased island residents, including a Captain Gage of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. A poignant little cluster of headstones told of unidentified drowned sailors for whom Rathlin had became their final resting place.

Then it was on up the hill, past the Church of the Immaculate Conception, to the high Knockans Viewpoint. There the island quietly introduced me to its neighbours – the low hill of the Mull of Kintyre, Torr Head and shapely Fair Head, and the coast all the way to the Giant’s Causeway in the west. Picnic tables and information panels, and the sheer beauty of the vista, prompted a short hangout – but I was booked on the 3pm return ferry so I soon struck off for the spectacular western end of the island. On my way, I accepted a lift from a fellow Southerner, and now longtime island resident, Julie Staines, who shared with me something of her deep love and knowledge of her island home.

Mid-winter

With her help, I made it out to the West Lighthouse and the remote and beautiful Kebble Nature Park, and lingered for a while enthralled by the Atlantic swell playing around the sea-worn basalt stacks of that exposed west coast. The sea shone silver under the weak sun, already dipping on its short mid-winter journey.

I walked back to the harbour enchanted by where I was – a sleeping dormant island of little fields, dry stone walls and homesteads, with nothing moving under that soft and undemanding winter light. There were no visitors, no birds and no wild flowers, only a deep silence accentuated by hints of wind and distant waves. And with that mystical sense given to us Celts, I saw the clouds take the form of swans over Fair Head and the Sea of Moyle, and imagined the sad songs of the Children of Lir in the wave and wind-sound.

On the ferry, I knew I’d glimpsed a magical place of 100 souls, and that a new season would come and bring colour, céilithe and craic as well as seabird spectacles and wild flowers. But I’d been privileged to share with it a brief moment of its quiet time, and just loved it.

Map: map of all island walks available in the Rathlin Island Ferries ticket office (00442820769299)

Start/Finish: Island harbour area

Effort: About 12kms, 200m of climbing, about 3.5hrs (bikes for hire)

Suitability: easy, a paved track for most of the route

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.