Head to Northern Ireland’s biggest inhabited offshore island for a really spectacular cycle surrounded by sea and endless skies.
Rathlin Island offers stunning scenery and rich wildlife. For years, conservation bodies have been working together with island farmers to protect the special habitats needed by the endangered species of plants, birds and animals that still flourish there.
The island has three main cycle routes - west to Kebble, Bull Point and West Light Viewpoint (4 miles); south to Ushet and Rue Point (2 miles); and a circular route towards the north-east corner (1.5 miles).
But the most popular cycle route is this road and track route west across the beautiful island. From harbour-side seals to the clamorous seabird colony, four miles of heath and ancient meadow provide a wealth of wildlife to enjoy.
Ferries and fast charters operate from Ballycastle, on Co Antrim’s north coast, to Rathlin Island’s harbour six miles across the Sea of Moyle where the Atlantic meets the Irish Sea. Contact Rathlin Island Ferry Service on 028 2076 9299.
From Rathlin harbour slipway, turn right and meander past the Manor House and round Church Bay, before turning left at the crossroads above McCuaig’s Bar. Continue to climb the road that bears left and twists uphill until a small plateau is reached.
Once this steep climb has been accomplished, the route is fairly easy going until you reach Kebble Nature Reserve. Here the road disappears and the last mile is on rough track.
This track ascends to the tip of the western arm of the island at the West Lighthouse, where, in spring and summer, the RSPB Seabird Centre is open for watching puffins and thousands of other seabirds on the cliffs and off-shore stacks. Watch for a number of cattle grids along this route.
Around the shoreline at the harbour look for eider ducks and seals. By the Emigration Memorial at the top of the hill, admire sweeping views over the village, south across the traditional meadowlands of the island to Ballycastle and Fair Head on the Antrim coast, out past the distant Kintyre peninsula and closer in to the East Lighthouse, standing above the spot where Marconi’s first commercial use of radio across the water was put to the test reporting on shipping arriving in from the Atlantic over 100 years ago.
Look out for moorland birds, such as chattering stonechats perched on posts, wrens darting in and out of holes in walls, skylarks trilling in the sky or wheatears dipping, bobbing and flashing white rumps.
Ravens and buzzards may be seen soaring over the cliffs and perching on rocky outcrops. Northern Ireland’s only pair of chough have approved the habitat conservation work carried out on the island in recent years and rewarded everyone in 2007 with the first fledged young on Rathlin for 20 years.
Towards the middle of the island, in the marshes, may be herons, hen harriers or snipe. Listen for lapwing and look for hares, especially Rathlin’s glorious golden hares — another marvel of this magical place.
As the route passes through two stone pillars it enters Kinramer Area of Special Scientific Interest designated to protect the pyramidal bugle, a small spring flower — very rare in Ireland, but locally abundant on Rathlin. The road winds up the hill at the end to reveal the most dramatic and scenic view — a crashing sea below towering, ancient, black, volcanic eruptions, stained white in summer from the thousands of seabirds congregating for their breeding season and raising their young on precipitous ledges.
For further information on cycling or any other outdoor activity, contact Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN), tel: 028 9030 3930 or go to www.cycleni.com .
CAAN in association with Belfast Telegraph have provided this information. Every care has been taken to ensure accuracy of the information. CAAN and Belfast Telegraph, however, cannot accept responsibility for errors or omissions but where such are brought to our attention, the information for future publications will be amended accordingly.
Cycle Name: Rathlin Island.
Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty: Causeway Coast and Glens.
Nearest big town to start point: Ballycastle for ferry to Rathlin harbour.
Terrain: Very quiet country roads, some track sections.
Access Restrictions: Generally traffic is restricted to islanders only, so apart from a minibus there are few cars and farm vehicles. Walkers also use this route and there may be cattle on the unfenced stretch through the nature reserve.
Facilities: There are a number of places to get food and drinks at Church Bay. The RSPB Seabird Centre also sells some refreshments. Car parking at ferry terminal. Cycle hire on island 028 20763954.
Publications: RSPB ‘Step Ashore’ trail guide to the Rathlin Island Seabird Centre.
Cycle Developed By: Sustrans and Rathlin Development and Community Association
Map: Sheets 5 of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discoverer Series, available from Land & Property Services Map Shop (lpsni.gov.uk).