Introducing Rathlin Island
In spring and summer, rugged Rathlin Island, 6km offshore from Ballycastle, is home to hundreds of seals and thousands of nesting seabirds. An L-shaped island just 6.5km long and 4km wide, Rathlin is famous for the coastal scenery and bird life at Kebble National Nature Reserve at its western end.
The island's most illustrious visitor was Scottish hero Robert the Bruce, who spent some time here in 1306 while hiding out after being defeated by the English king. Watching a spider's resoluteness in repeatedly trying to spin a web gave him the courage to have another go at the English, whom he subsequently defeated at Bannockburn. The cave where he is said to have stayed is beneath the East Lighthouse, at the northeastern tip of the island.
The RSPB's Rathlin Seabird Centre at Rathlin West lighthouse provides stunning views of the neighbouring sea stacks, thick with guillemots, kittiwakes, razorbills and puffins from mid-April to August. During the summer a minibus service runs there from the harbour; public toilets and binocular hire are available.
If you don't have time to visit the Kebble Nature Reserve, the best short walk on the island is through the National Trust's Ballyconagan Nature Reserve to the Old Coastguard Lookout on the north coast, with great views along the sea cliffs and across to the Scottish islands of Islay and Jura.
The Boathouse Visitor Centre, south of the harbour, details the history, culture and ecology of the island, and can give advice on walks and wildlife. Paul Quinn offers guided walking tours of the island.