Sunday, May 6, 2018
Morning comes early today. Breakfast is at 8:00 in order for us to make the 10:00am ferry to Rathlin Island. Today we opt for a more simple repast – scrambled eggs, Irish bacon and mushrooms. Perfect.
I mess around with re-packing in order to be able to take only my smaller carry-on onboard the ferry. I do NOT want to lug around my big red beast of a suitcase. The weather looks great but we both pack raingear just in case.
The Spirit of Rathlin awaits us and the crossing is a smooth 25 minute ride – 6 miles across the Sea of Moyle. Our plan is to disembark, meet our B&B host, ditch our things, grab our rental bikes and go. When we reach the ferry dock on Rathlin we scan the folks onshore to see if we can figure out which one is Hilary from Arkell House B&B. She is easy to spot. Hilary is the smiling figure who is scanning the ferry passengers trying to find US!
We are driven (all of about 1/2 mile) to Arkel House to check out our new digs. This place is way cool – a big, seaside Victorian home that has been converted to a B&B. Our room is up top (teeny narrow stairs…). She has it decorated in a luscious pink and has wonderful Victorian pieces scattered around. We love it.
Enough messing around – the Island awaits. Hillary drives us (another 1/4 mile) to the bike rental home where we find our “steeds.” She will have a packed lunch for us and will deliver it later. When we ask her where to meet her for the lunch, she tells us “I will find you!”
The main destination for the ride is the Rathlin Seabird Center on the other side of the Island. Supposedly there are zillions of seabirds that come here to nest beginning in April. Among the species are supposed to be Puffins! It is a 5 mile ride out to the sanctuary. Ten miles roundtrip? I can do that, right? I am assured that it will be mostly downhill… ON THE WAY BACK! What the #@ck? Wonder what it will be like to get there?
The ride is stunningly beautiful. The weather is absolutely cooperating today – sunny and nice. There is the craggy seacoast on one side and wonderful, pastoral scenes on the other. Even the hills don’t seem too bad. Yet. I granny gear it and ride up most of them. There are a couple of doozies where I have to suck it up and walk my bike. Rich is patient as he zooms up all of the hills.
We pass many of our fellow ferry passengers who are walking the 5 mile trail to the sanctuary. (A lot of “walkers” come to this area of Northern Ireland to take advantage of the beautiful trails.) Every now and then we are passed by the Puffin Bus transporting folks who are too lazy to walk or ride… (Can I get on board?)
After a long uphill climb we finally see the Seabird Center. It is almost 1:00 – our designated “lunch time” so we decide to wait for Hilary. Surely she will find us here. Then we can get our lunch and take as long as we would like watching the birds without her wondering where we are. Sure enough, at 1:10 she shows up carrying a big bag with our packed lunch. Sweet!
Our bikes are simply left outside the visitor building – no need for locks here – and we descend the trail towards the lighthouse and the birds. This is way cool! There are literally thousands of birds perched on every available ledge of the rock outcroppings. We brough our binoculars and spend quite a lot of time viewing the varieties. The Puffins are easy to spot with their orange feet and colorful bill. We remember when we caught a glimpse of these unusual looking birds last year in Iceland. You can read about that HERE.
There are guides here that can tell you anything you want to know about this phenomenon. The birds come from April – August to nest and hatch their young. We are told that the remainder of the year they spend simply out to sea.
When we have had our fill of bird-watching we find a great picnic spot and unload our riches. Hilary has packed delicious Salmon Sandwiches, crisps, apples and bottles of Lemon Water. How lucky are we?
On the ride back we decide to go past the bike rental and take another 2 mile ride out to the lighthouse on the opposite side of the island. The fog is starting to roll in and the scenery looks mysterious. Very cool. My legs are starting to complain, but I persevere.
We come to a spot where the road ends and gravel begins. Hey – these are mountain bikes, right? I can tell you right now that I am not made for mountain biking. omg – Every rock is jolting not to mention that I feel like my bike could slide out from under me at any moment.
Where is the road?
I suck it up and try standing on the pedals. It is worth it to note that Rich appears to not have any trouble at all.
When we reach the lighthouse area the gravel road ends. I am content enough to have reached this point and look at the lighthouse from afar. Not Rich. He wants to walk the rest of the way out to the point. My arm is twisted. He is right – it is beautiful out here.
After the walk back to our bikes we take some time to look for sea lions in the cove and are thrilled to find several just bobbing around in the water. Their faces look huge!
Somehow I summon the energy to ride back to the rental place. We turn in our bikes and ask the owner how to walk back to Arkell House (remember, we came here by car and didn’t pay attention). She looks a bit stunned and shows us the ONE road that leads directly to the harbor where our B&B is located. Ok, then. Rich mentions we are in desparate need of a pint of Guiness and are not sure where the ONE pub is. Now she looks entirely perplexed and says “You’re staying at Hillary’s, right?” “Yes.” “Well just look across the street!” Duh.
It wasn’t too difficult to find McCuaig’s Pub. When we arrive it is full up with passengers waiting for the return ferry. The friendly bar server (Katrina) pours us two pints and asks us if we will be wanting dinner. Since it is one of only two “restaurants” on the island, we tell her that we do, but a bit later. She warns us that they stop serving at 7:30 and there is a large party coming in at 6:00. Ok – we will return at 7:00 for dinner. She will be awaiting us.
Back to Arkel House and a much needed shower and brief rest before returning to McCuaig’s for dinner. Katrina is indeed waiting for us. Since Gin and Tonics are really big in the UK I decide to indulge. There are so many different kinds of gin that I don’t know about so I ask Katrina for her recommendation. She doesn’t hesitate to offer me a brand new kind that is made from potatoes in County Donegal – Muff. It says it has essence of lemon and rosemary .Done.
Oh yes – it is good. When topped with a fresh blood orange slice it is dangerously good. One will taste just like another. I decide to take it super slow and stick with just this one! Rich has a Guiness and we toast to my “first and last bike ride of 2018!”
Two delicious Irish Stews later and we are quite satisfied. My legs are beginning to feel the first twinge of aches from the ride today. Time to cash it in for the night.