Going to the Birds: A Trip to Rathlin Island

Want to get close to nature? Plan a trip to Rathlin Island, 9.7km (6 miles) off the coast north of Ballycastle. The tiny island is 6km (3 3/4 miles) long, and less than 1.5km (1 mile) wide and almost completely treeless, with a rugged coast of 60m-high (197-ft.) cliffs, a small beach, and crowds of seals and seabirds in spring and summer. Once you get there you'll realize that it's not quite as isolated as it seems -- it has a resident population of 100, plus a pub, a restaurant, and several guesthouses, should you miss the last boat to shore. This is a favorite bird-watching spot, especially in spring and early to midsummer when the birds are nesting. Given that there's little else to do here except to take in the scenery, it's no surprise that the island's biggest draw is bird-watching at the Kebble National Nature Reserve on the western side of the island, and the RSPB Rathlin Seabird Centre (tel. 028/2076-0062), located in an old lighthouse. There’s no charge for entry, but you have to be let in by the warden; call in advance to arrange a time. From here you can watch colorful puffins, guillemots, kittiwakes, fulmars, razorbills, and other birds. It’s open April and the fist half of September, daily from 11am to 4pm, and from May to August, daily from 10am to 5pm.

Boat trips operate daily from Ballycastle pier; crossing time is 50 minutes. The round-trip fare is £12 for adults, £6 for children, free for kids 4 and under, and £32 families. The number and schedule of crossings vary from season to season and from year to year, and are always subject to weather conditions, but there are usually several crossings a day. It's best to book well in advance online or by phoning the ticket office (tel. 028/2076-9299; www.rathlinballycastleferry.com).

If you find yourself wanting to stay a little longer, Coolnagrock B&B (www.rathlin-island.co.uk; tel. 028/2076-3983), which has distant views of the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland, costs from £70 for a double. It’s open April to October.

For more information about Rathlin visit www.rathlin-island.co.uk.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.