Camping in Ireland: Out on the island -Rathlin Island

Irland: Rathlin Island

Northern Ireland’s largest island is a highlight for hikers, campers and backpackers.

Just get out! Just out? How about a little tour – a few easy days with backpack and tent even? All this by sea!? Northern Ireland’s largest island is Rathlin Island, a gem in the North Channel. Interested? Then off to Ballycastle in County Antrim. For the first night, book online into a pod, B&B or hotel of the pretty seaside freshness. Check in early in the afternoon and off to the town. On the way to the ticket office of the Rathlin Island Ferry at the harbor, be sure to pre-order a portion of fish & chips at Mortons: for pick-up! Just like the ferry ticket! At least in the low season. Because online is not possible over winter (until April 4). But the office is open: from 8.30 am to 5 pm. And only one hour lunch break: from 12.30 pm. That’s how it is! But even they just want to get out in between.

The order is waiting: delicious fish in crispy breading – freshly caught and ready to eat. The ultimate is the ice cream parlor on the corner – opposite the little park near the sea. Tomorrow we’re off. A chat and nightcap in one of the quaint pubs is never to be scoffed at.

After breakfast, another stroll through the charming little town. Behind the small marina the passenger ferry to Rathlin Island departs. Walk onto the ferry and then over to the island. Depending on the season, you can book a B&B or hostel online in advance. Otherwise ask at McCuaig’s at the harbor on Rathlin: The pub has delicious bar food all day. But very special is camping at the sea. Wild camping is allowed – after consultation with the tourist office – at the edge of the settlement: on the small pebble beach towards the east lighthouse, in direct sight and earshot of a grunting seal colony. The perspective from this small island changes very basically: tangible on the horizon opposite is the island of Ireland, the red shimmering cliffs of Antrim – with the suspension bridge of “Carrick-a-rede” in the west. It’s not far to the pub and back. Well then, good night!

Wonderful hiking trails open up the L-shaped island. Bikes and guided island tours are available at Soerneog View Hostel & Cycle Hire. A hike to the West Lighthouse is a must. There at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) observation point, there are still puffins. According to studies by the Zoological Society of London and Cambridge University, breeding grounds on the Atlantic coast are in danger of being lost.

Loosely, a few days can be spent on Rathlin to enjoy time and space decoupled. Back by boat to Ballycastle and perhaps along the Causeway Coast to the UNESCO World Heritage Giant’s Causeway. The best way to do this is via the Ulster Long Distance Trail. Great panoramas and perspective changes on the way. Maybe also a stop at the Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge or even walk over the paid (13 GBP pp) suspension bridge to the Island of the Salmon Fishers? The coastal path is freely accessible: tangible on the horizon opposite is Rathlin Island.  

Important Information

The Rathlin ferry’s winter schedule starts each October 1 and runs through April 4. Online bookings are possible until September 30, then on site at the ticket office at the port of Ballycastle. Opening hours from October 1 to April 4 from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. each day (lunch break from 12:30 p.m.-1:30 p.m.). Bookings can be made on the day of travel up to 30 minutes before departure, but can also be made in advance by phone or e-mail, pick up and payment of tickets then on the spot. Those who take the 8.30 ferry can also pay on board. Bicycles can be taken on board. Many facilities on Rathlin Island are available seasonally, please check in advance.

To learn more about camping in Ireland, listen to Tourism Ireland’s podcast.

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