Spring had arrived on Rathlin Island. Fields were dotted with the starry, yellow of celandines while violets clustered together on grassy banks. A purple patch of milkwort masqueraded as another clump of violets and primroses produced pale yellow drifts on road verges. Peacock butterflies twisted, climbing into the air battling each other for their own island space dropping once the fight was over to sunbathe on a rock or feed on the primroses below. A thicket of blackthorn, white with blossom, provided a singing perch for a willow warbler and overhead the croaking call of ravens came and went as they quartered the skies.
The journey to the island had been entirely uneventful, we took the 10:30 ferry from Ballycastle; a small boat that could take a handful of vehicles for locals and businesses to Rathlin. The gentle swell caused little movement on the boat although the keen easterly breeze meant passengers favoured the sheltered side. Arrival was typical of islands everywhere as locals clustered the quay to collect deliveries of food, pipes and all manner of bits and pieces, the ragtag of vehicles ready to transport people and items to all corners of the island.
We tried to catch the bus out to the western end of the island but it was full so we changed plans and walked out to the East Lighthouse along deserted roads. We met an Irish hare who was either unaware of our presence or unbothered by it. It loped off into the verge ahead of us, soon lost in the heather.
The East Lighthouse is the oldest and most lighthouse like of the three round the island. From here the Mull of Kintyre, Islay and Jura could be seen to the east and north. Below us but out of sight is Robert the Bruce’s cave, the supposed home of the famous spider that is said to have influenced him to try again and defeat Edward II. We returned to the buildings that cluster, albeit with some reluctance, around the harbour and Church Bay. Here is the Church of Ireland church, a miniature version of a stone church with its tower, hidden up a steep hill behind is the Catholic Church. Here too is the Manor House, island shop, bar and small museum tucked into an old boathouse. Seals loafed in the harbour and eider ducks clustered and bobbed on the water.
A walk south along the shore passes the old kelp house, a roofless ruin that was used to store kelp collected and then processed for soda and iodine. Here the drystone walls are a vivid white of limestone, uncomfortably bright in the sunshine; further south they change into a greyer limestone then into almost black of basalt. The south end of Mill Bay is where, unsurprisingly, the watermill stood. Water tips down behind the building, still flowing to provide power to a long-gone waterwheel. The land to the south is dotted with loughs with coot and tufted duck amongst the reedbeds. Old trackways lead off to long abandoned houses and farmsteads, a reminder of times when the population here was far higher and every corner of land was cultivated. Now sheep and cattle graze pasture where once potatoes and oats would have been grown.
Our return to the relative normality of mainland life was on a hired boat, the fast ferry being in for repairs. A quick journey back with the cliffs of Fair Head picked out on the early evening sun and the beach of Ballycastle Bay a crescent of sunlit sand.