The Rathlin Food Tour was a programmed event during the Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival. The festival celebrates the maritime heritage of Rathlin, Ballycastle and the body of water that lies between – Rathlin Sound.
Having visited the island a few times both as a child when the Puffin Bus lacked any kind of suspension as we bounced our way across the rugged terrain, and as an adult for RSPB guided walks I was keen to return to sample more of island life. I booked another family boat trip with my uncle on the Aquasports rib (you can read about my other Aquasports tour here) and after perusing the varied festival programme booked the Rathlin Food Tour.
Proprietor of North Coast Walking Tours, Caroline, also hosts food tours on the coast. Currently she offers food tours of Ballycastle, three hours of sampling the delights of the locally grown and expertly cooked produce. For the Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival Caroline gave our varied group a perfect taste of the island. Accompanied by my sis-in-law and friend’s parents we were greeted at the harbour with the rest of the group.
Our first stop was breakfast in the Watershed Cafe, merely a stones throw from the harbour. Here breakfast comes served in a roll – sausage, egg, bacon and black pudding topped with tomato relish set us up nicely. As a random aside the bathroom facilities consist of one outside loo, clean and pristine and not at all like the outside loo of my childhood visits to my granny’s seaside cottage – dark, full of spiders and damp with stale salty sea air, ugh!
Our group was then joined by Nicky Sebastian, author of the handy illustrated guide Eight Walks on Rathlin Island . Nicky, a resident of Rathlin for the last 13 years is a wealth of information on the history and legends of the island. Walking next door to the Manor House she told us of the Gage family, the early owners of Rathlin Island who built the now listed Georgian house. They also built the kelp store and the walled garden, the remains of both can be still be visited today. Having been derelict for a number of years The Manor House has undergone recent refurbishment to transform it into a 3 star guest house. It is currently open for enquiries and bookings from early 2017.
Walking along Church Bay we passed fishing vessels in the harbour and sail boats out on the glistening sea whilst hearing stories of the many shipwrecks lying beneath the surface, including the infamous HMS Drake which capsized after being hit by a torpedo on 2nd October 1917.
Once we reached the remains of what was once the Kelp Store Caroline presented the second course of our tour. Dining on delicious pumpkin seed wheaten bread from Central Bar in Ballycastle, topped with beetroot and dill chutney from The Woman Next Door and delicately smoked mackerel from Fergus the skipper on the ferry. The North Coast Smokehouse of Ballycastle provided their delicious salmon, with a selection of their smoked seasonings- sea salt, dulse and black pepper which I tried with Thyme & Co Cafe’s tomato and apple chutney. Our tasty feast was all washed down with a selection of beers from Glens of Antrim Craft Ale & Beers including the Rathlin Red, well of course!
After indulging in the incredible views across the water we walked further around the shore taking a circular route back towards Church Bay. Nicky pointed out to the group the hill of Crocknascredlin, otherwise known as The Hill of the Screaming. It marks a sad chapter in the island’s rich history. In the seventeenth century The Macdonnells of Rathlin came under attack from their Scottish enemies, the Campbells. The womenfolk of the island looked on helplessly from this hill to the farmland below where their husbands and sons were slaughtered by the Campbells. Brutal. Swiftly moving on we passed farmhouse ruins before coming to the Coastguard Station House.
At the old station you’ll see the initials and names of the coastguards who would meet here before their shift.
And so to our last port of call, Mc Cuaig’s Bar. Overlooking the bay it’s huge roof sign is like a beacon as you arrive into port. Sitting on the terrace we soaked up the Rathlin sunshine over bowls of hearty Irish stew with crusty bread and ice cold Guinness to the backdrop of some tradtional Irish folk music from the céilí band. (Taster video here)
While the tour was a special festival event the cafe, pub, food producers and history are all worth checking out any time of the year. Hopefully we’ll see Caroline and her tour back at the next Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival running from Friday 26th May to Sunday 4th June 2017, I know I’ll be back to the island to enjoy a stay at the new Manor House and explore a little more.