There's a sense of dreamy loneliness about this spot, rising 8 km (5 miles) offshore beyond the tide-rip of Sloch na Marra (Valley of the Sea). One hundred people still live on Northern Ireland's only offshore island, among the twin delights of history and wildlife. In 1306 the Scottish king Robert the Bruce took shelter in a cave (under the east lighthouse) and, according to the popular legend, was inspired to continue his armed struggle against the English by watching a spider patiently spinning its web. It was on Rathlin in 1898 that Guglielmo Marconi set up the world's first cross-water radio link, from the island's lighthouse to Ballycastle. Hiking and bird-watching—look out for the Atlantic nomads: choughs, puffins, guillemots, and razorbills nesting on the cliffs and sea stacks in the summer—are the island's main activities. In 2014, four new waymarked walking trails, covering 32 km (20 miles) were opened and have been given quality status, meaning they are amongst
the best available. You can download the maps to these Rathlin walks at www.walkni.com. The Boathouse Visitor Centre (028/2076–2225) houses a collection of photographs, tools, and implements from the island's past. The center is open from April through mid-September, and admission is free. A high-speed double-decker catamaran, the M.V. Rathlin Express, cuts the 10-km (6-mile) journey time crossing over the Sea of Moyle to 25 minutes; from July to September it runs six round-trips daily (£12.50; reservations 24 hours ahead essential). Unless the sea is extremely rough, the M.V. Canna ferryboat also makes four daily round-trips (£12.50, reservations also essential). This more leisurely trip can take up to 45 minutes; be mindful of the weather to ensure that you can return on the same day. The last return to Ballycastle is at 4:15 pm for the Rathlin and 5:30 pm for the Canna.